Barack Obama has mobilized a new generation of voters through a message of change and hope. At the same time we’re in a time of great change in our country and world much of which is related to the balance of power shifts from a US Centric position to places outside of our country. A shaky employment outlook, a financial system in peril and an auto industry that employs millions that has not heeded the warnings of foreign competition for decades and is on the brink of bankruptcy. The trends and numbers point to a very difficult coming few years in this country. The risk for Obama as a charismatic leader is that sky high expectations will be dashed as the realities of the challenges facing this nation further unfold. As a leader in perilous times, he must manage the expectations of a population about how much can be achieved, how quickly and at what cost.
From a leadership perspective I see two clear challenges – one is archetypal and the other relates to change leadership.
Archetypally, Obama must be aware of the king-killing insticts of the crowd – we hope you’ll relieve our pain and struggle … and if you don’t we’ll blame you rather than reflecting on what we’ve done and how we’ve lived that may have caused this. My advice to him would be: continue the message of hope … and create a context where people can begin to reflect on the challenges facing us and our economy … and challenge us all to think about how we’re living, how we’re each preparing for the future with the global economy in mind (US graduated 50K engineers last year, China graduated 500K … and even if the educations are not on par, remember the Beijing Olympics as an example of what’s possible).
The change leadership challenge is about keeping a positive and achievable vision of the future for people to focus on as our economy restructures and the fall out in terms of layoffs and skill obsolescence.