January 22, 2010

I said back during the primaries that, as a former executive recruiter, I just didn't see enough executive ability in Obama to make him an effective president. (People retorted that his well-run campaign proved me wrong. I didn't even try to explain that candidates don't run the campaigns - and if they do, it's the sign of a poorly-run campaign). But whatever.

When I used to recruit for C-level jobs (CEO, COO, CTO, etc.), I was often flooded with resumes from people who'd had similar titles, but no strategic experience -- and you could tell after a short conversation. They hadn't been in leadership positions, hadn't redesigned their organizations, designed any new initiatives, hadn't really moved the ball down the field at all. They thought that simply having and keeping a job with a high-level title was enough, and couldn't even conceive there was more to being a strategist. They were process people -- caretakers.

But they just wanted it so much. At first, I'd talk to my manager: "Couldn't we give this guy a shot?" But he finally drummed it into me: Putting someone in a high-level job for which he or she's not suited doesn't help anyone, least of all that new hire.

You can't will yourself into a strategic mindset. Either you have that kind of executive personality and thinking ability, or you don't. And I think it's pretty clear at this point that Obama doesn't:

WASHINGTON — President Obama signaled on Wednesday that he might be willing to scale back his proposed health care overhaul to a version that could attract bipartisan support, as the White House and Congressional Democrats grappled with a political landscape transformed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Senator Harry Reid said Democrats did not see a clear path forward on the health care bill.

“I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on ABC News, notably leaving near-universal insurance coverage off his list of core goals.

[...] Inside the White House, top aides to the president said Mr. Obama had made no decision on how to proceed, and insisted that his preference was still to win passage of a far-reaching health care measure, like the House and Senate bills, which would extend coverage to more than 30 million people by 2019.

Which reminded me of this:

While then Sen. Barack Obama was considering running for president, his advisor and friend David Axelrod worried in 2006 that Obama would have to toughen up for a White House campaign. Axelrod told Obama that he was thin skinned and he wondered if Obama could take the punches that would come in a presidential campagin.

"You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don't relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched," Axelrod wrote in a memo.

Axelrod's strategy memo to Obama is revealed in "The Battle for America 2008," a new book by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson about the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Obama's charmed political career came in part because of puffy, fluffy non-critical press coverage. Axelrod fretted about how Obama would do in the rough and tumble of a campaign.

'It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don't know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch.'"

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