No matter how lofty ideas and goals may be, they will fail without strong leadership and effective management.
So you’ve got some great ideas for a new business. Maybe you’ve discovered a way to make your company work better or even change the very industry in which you work. You also have this great vision of success and accomplishment. Maybe see yourself as a consummate entrepreneur or transformational leader who will stir the passions and loyalty of followers. Most of all, you are absolutely convinced that what you want to do is the right thing to do, not only for you but for others as well. If so, then say hello to President Obama and multitudes of others who have felt this way, only to fail. Their dreams fell prey to an ailment now coming to be diagnosed as the Obamanemia Syndrome: a failure to exhibit consistently strong leadership and management.
There’s Something Missing . . .
Simply having a great idea, a passion to be successful, a willingness to take a risk and a commitment to work hard is great—but it’s not enough. Nothing will come of this – other than disappointment – unless you can demonstrate strong, consistent leadership traits and effective management skills. It’s like you have promised your friends a wonderful dinner and have all the makings splayed out on the kitchen counter. But if you have no idea or experience putting these ingredients together to make the dinner come out as planned, then what you have is a recipe for disaster and disappointment. Despite great ideas and a passion to succeed, it is the inability to exhibit strong leadership and management skills that causes one to suffer from Obamanemia.
More words than there are grains of sand on the beach have been written in an effort to inoculate people with the leadership skills and management techniques to keep them from becoming Obamanemic. But the best way to become immune is to observe real-time, real-life examples of the challenge to leadership and management that others have faced as they attempted to implement a new idea or change. The best current example available is President Obama and his desire to bring forth health care reform.
A number of leadership and management principles are essential for implementing any new idea or to bring about change. Just a few of these would include:
- The ability to demonstrate a clear need for the new idea or change that is understood and accepted.
- A well-defined, simple, effectively communicated vision of what is to be accomplished.
- Understanding that complicated problems are best resolved with simple solutions.
Much can be learned by reviewing how these principles were followed or violated by President Obama as he sought to reform health care in America.
Point One: Is health care really sick?
Despite the fact that over 40 million Americans had no health care coverage and that millions more were under-insured, President Obama was never able to convince a majority of Americans that reform was needed; let alone that government was the solution. As a result, there was no great ground swell of support for the changes he proposed. This inhibited Obama’s freedom to present a clear vision outlining his ideas for a better health care system and sucked him into a pedantic debate over the cost and effectiveness of the existing system that is both confusing and unwieldy.
If, as a leader, Obama had focused the debate on the morality of a health care system that was based on privilege rather than right or need – something that people could have understood – he would have been in a much better position to control the debate, gain acceptance of the need for change and engender support for his vision. The tenor of the debate could have been: American citizens have a right of free speech, a right to vote, a right to receive a basic education; along with a right to fire and police protection. Should American citizens be denied the right to receive basic health care? Or is health care a privilege reserved only for those who can pay for it?
After all, of the 50 largest industrial nations in the world, America is the only country that does not offer basic health care as a right of every citizen. This was a simple, specific issue that everyone could understand and decide. Once Americans had decided whether heath care was either a right or privilege, the debate over “if” something should be done would be over.
The failure of President Obama to crystallize the health care debate in such simple terms opened the door for those opposed to change to control the discussion and delay the process. In effect, he was drawn into a debate trying to justify the workings of the new system that had not yet been quantified. This allowed the opponents to shift focus away from the need and attack the solution. The failure of Obama to clearly delineate and gain acceptance of a need for change was the first symptom of Obamanemia.
P0int Two: Making the complicated more complicated
There was no question that the existing health care system was complicated, inefficient and selective in benefits offered. President Obama made the mistake that many bureaucrats and weak leaders make and that is to assume that a complicated problem can only be solved with an even more complicated solution.
By the time Obamacare emerged from the sausage factory called the United States Congress, the bill was 2,000 pages in length and contained 350,000 words of government-speak. In addition, over 11,000 pages of regulations were needed to explain what was in the 2,000 pages. It is estimated that more people understand the meaning of life than understand the meaning of Obamacare. The only result that can come from offering a complicated solution for a complicated problem is to give everyone a severe case of Obamanemia.
President Obama failed to understand that the way to solve a complicated problem is to offer a simple solution. And it’s not like a simple remedy was not available. Instead of needing 350,000 words to parse out the solution, it could have been done using just 10 words:
All American citizens will be required to enroll in Medicare.
Since its inception in 1965, Medicare has been refined and restructured numerous times and has proven to be an effective provider of health care for citizens over age 65. The rules, administration and structure are in place – and its web site works! A simple solution – and one that everyone could understand – would have been to simply open up Medicare to those below age 65. (I know there is more to it than we can go into in this post, but the point is that if an objective can be attained by making an existing system better, it is a lot simpler than trying to invent a new system.)
Point Three: Chowing down on the elephant
The final point that brought on Obamanemia was a management failure. You know the old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Obama tried to eat the whole elephant in one bite and that will always give you a good dose of Obamanemia. No matter how you slice it, offering initial coverage to over 40 million participants and fundamentally changing the system in one fell-swoop on day one is a virtual impossibility. Obama did not understand what all successful leaders do and that is that big changes are best implemented one step at a time. Do simple things, but simply do them till the goal is reached.
It’s not that Obama did not have examples to follow. Given the highly-charged caustic political debate and resistance to Obamacare, it may be surprising to many that when Social Security was introduced in 1935, the opposition and emotional debate was even more scathing. Although he was not accused of being a foreign-born Muslim, Roosevelt was branded as a socialist out to destroy democracy and capitalism. Just as with Obamacare 75 years later, the opponents of Social Security called it unconstitutional and fought to have it repealed. They even took their case to the Supreme Court where just as with Obamacare, Social Security was ruled constitutional by a five to four vote.
There was one big difference between Roosevelt’s approach to Social Security and Obama’s to health care. Roosevelt did not try to eat the elephant in one bite. When Social Security was introduced, less than five percent of the workers were eligible to participate. Roosevelt may have wanted everyone covered, but as an effective manager he understood that the path to universal coverage was one step at a time. He recognized that once the basic concept was accepted, then over time – step by step – the final objective would be achieved. So even though Roosevelt faced as much, if not more, opposition and criticism as Obama, his understanding of managing change made him immune to Obamanemia.
And the Moral of the Story …
The lesson for all of us to learn is that even if we have a great idea and desire for a new business, a new product or a belief that change is needed to be better, that is not enough to bring on success. Can we convince others that there is a need for what we propose? Can we lay out a clear, focused vision that others can understand, support and even take on as their own? Do we have the talent and patience to manage the process? Always keeping our eye on the objective, but recognizing the best way to get there is one step at a time. The truth is that unless we can understand and exhibit the fundamental principles of leadership and management, all of our best ideas and intentions will just lead to a bad case of Obamanemia.