Crisis Management: Obama – Does His World Glad-Handing Work?: Crisis Leadership
When President Obama smilingly shook the hand of oft-anti-American Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, opened travel to Cuba, and schmoozed other problematic world leaders recently, he pleased, puzzled or angered observers. I too wondered, “Why so many dicey communications across old fault lines?” Yet I sensed that it made sense. Here’s my rationale from several management perspectives: crisis, non-profit, and corporate.
In a crisis, as regular readers know, communications is a critical component: chiefly keeping stakeholders in the loop. All who have a stake need to hear straight from you how you’re solving the problem. Stellar public statements or news interviews are cold comfort to key audiences forced to learn and discern your actions and words through secondary sources. In this world of crises within crises you could say the world’s leaders, like them or not, who intend us well or not, are stakeholders in Obama’s future, America’s future. So, from a crisis point of view I believe the President is duty-bound to communicate directly. If he wants any chance of getting support for his initiatives or at least avoid serious obstructions he has to talk to these people.
There’s another crisis philosophy I see beneath Obama’s glad-handing. Public relations experts know it is to your advantage to have a relationship with reporters. If they’ve met you or ideally, know you, they will tend to cut you slightly more slack than if you’re merely a name, a photo or the subject of a news release. Furthermore, if reporters are acquaintances they are a bit easier to persuade. The presidents of Venezuela, Cuba, and Russia certainly aren’t journalists but they are human beings who might – might – respond to Obama as such.
So how about the non-profit perspective? Non-profit executives rely greatly on the cooperation of volunteers and low-paid staff whom they are mostly compelled to motivate and manage with reduced latitude for hiring and firing much less “cleaning house.” They have to achieve aims through leadership, constant communications, mutual goal setting, and plain old friendly persuasion. Troublesome individuals and especially volunteers often can’t simply be ejected. Non-profit leaders must try to get them on their side.
In a sense the world of Barrack Obama is like one huge non-profit. He must play in the sandbox with the people in there with him. Ignoring the bullies accomplishes nothing. He cannot afford to pick up his marbles, go to another playground and throw stones at a distance. He must try to get them to see the world as the U.S. does or at least explain the consequences of opposition. Other strategies, while sometimes necessary, are much more challenging.
Finally, just from a “management by walking around” philosophy, Obama cannot hole up in the White House like a chief executive who never leaves the C-suite. He’s got to see and be seen. The US Marine Corps urges commanders to go to the front and see it with their own eyes on occasion and not rely only upon reports from subordinates. The President’s doing that.
Nevertheless: a cautionary note. Admitted Obama-fan Frank Rich of The New York Times warns of the lack of a political counterweight to the popular president and says, “It will be incumbent on (Obama) to remain grounded when there is so little opposition… to challenge his high-flying course.”