Health Care Legislation: A Sign of Failed Leadership

Health Care Bill Passes But The Administration’s “My Way or the Highway” Approach Offers Some Solid Evidence of How NOT to be a Leader

If you were confused, angered and bored by the shenanigans revolving around the final stages of the health care reform debate, even to the point that you have tuned it out, you are not alone. But whether you favored or opposed the current health care reform legislation, I hope you didn’t miss this golden opportunity to study real life examples of both good and bad leadership.

True leadership is the ability to inform, inspire and motivate followers to adopt the leader’s goals as their own and work to see them achieved.

True leadership always revolves around the idea of achievement; the attainment of a goal. Leadership is about doing, not, not doing. The reality is that it is far easier to be against something without offering constructive dialogue for improvement, but that is not leadership. That’s anti-leadership.

Although it’s a bit I risky to use a political process such as health care as a case study in leadership, it is real life, and it offers plenty of lessons. Part of the problem is that much of the health care debate is about politics, not necessarily the right thing to do. The Republicans – their pockets lined with millions from the insurance industry – and clearly only targeting the next election, are not interested in doing anything other than preventing anything from being done.

The Republicans would be in a much more credible leadership position if they had acknowledged that the health care system in America has failed to provide all Americans with the right to basic health care coverage, and then offered positive and constructive solutions. The fact that they have not is evidence of obstructionism, not leadership.

No matter how strong or how much in the right a leader might be, the chance for success is nil if half the people he is attempting to lead are actively and aggressively acting to sabotage his efforts. Can you imagine how successful a CEO would be if half the people in his company were dedicated to seeing his efforts fail?

It’s no surprise, then, that President Obama has exhibited both strong and weak examples of leadership. He receives high marks for his focus and consistency. He has expressed the vision of what he believes is the right thing to do and has consistently stuck to it. In the ferocity and intransigence of the opposition many weaker leaders would have backed off long ago and moved on. It would have been easy for Obama to use the economy, terrorism and the war in Afghanistan as excuses to bail out knowing he “fought a good fight” on health care. And he could blame the Republicans for blocking reform – and move on. But, to his credit he has not.

However, some weak leadership techniques on the part of Obama exacerbated his challenges for success and, in fact, played into the hands of the Republicans. As I have written in previous blogs, Obama failed to simplify his vision in terms that everyone could understand, and few could disagree with. Instead of positioning his vision as an effort to assure that every American had the right to basic health care coverage, Obama spoke in the broad concepts of “health care reform.” This failure to clearly and effectively define his vision in clear, simple terms opened the floodgates for those opposed to basic health care for all Americans to raise any number of issues, no matter how specious they may be.

In addition, President Obama failed to maintain control over the debate regarding his vision. A strong leader always sets the terms of the debate and forces those opposed to be on the defensive. By not taking the lead in developing the specific steps needed to achieve his vision (Obama allowed the House of Representatives to develop the plan) he put the structure and fate of his vision in the hands of others; a sure sign of leadership weakness.

Effective and strong leaders will always empower others to implement their vision, but they will never allow others to define their vision.

When Obama began to see his vision for health care reform going down to defeat he undertook to initiate tactics that are a sure sign of failed leadership. It was an attitude of “the end justifies the means” and it is “my way or the highway.” A confident, strong leader – no matter how committed they are that their vision is the right thing to do – will always hew to the belief that doing the right things is the only way to achieve the right thing.

Obama allowed those pushing the reform through Congress to use (at least attempt to use) tactics and tricks not befitting a strong leader. One could certainly argue that those opposed to reform have been less than ethical in their attacks, but that does give license for the leader to stoop to the same tactics. To do so, even if they are successful, damages the credibility, respect and long term power of the leader. Anytime a leader is required to use his power to adopt a “my way or the highway” style of leadership he should recognize that he has failed as a leader.

No matter what the end result may be in the health care debate, one thing is clear, the experience is a great study in leadership or the lack thereof.

And the Moral of the Story . . .

The practice of real leadership is much like being a good salesperson.

The salesperson’s job is to identify his prospects’ need, demonstrate that his product is a solution to the need and then motivate the prospect to buy the product to solve the need.

The leader must be able to offer a clear vision of what needs to be done, demonstrate that his plan will solve the need and then motivate others to “buy in” to his vision and solution.

Just as the salesperson will fail to make a sale if he does not identify the need, offer a product that solves it, and closes the deal, the leader who fails to accomplish any of these points will fail as a leader.

Even the most accomplished salesperson does not always make the sale, but if he remains true to the principles of effective salesmanship he will make more sales than he loses. Even the most effective and strongest leader does not always achieve all his objectives, but if he remains committed to the true principles of leadership, he will succeed more than he fails.

Still, even though the historic health care reform bill has passed, one cannot help but feel that the Hobsonian choice of “take it or leave it,” and “my way or the highway” was not the way a true leader should have achieved it.

4 responses to “Health Care Legislation: A Sign of Failed Leadership

  1. Your reviews of Obama are mixed in terms of leadership. This I agree with, but your statement that to be a good leader you need to be like a good salesman is only half true.

    Ben Franklin said, ‘it is better to be than to seem’.

    I do not like being sold. For example, when in business, people can tell when they are being sold as corporate management tries to sell some policy change that is obviously will only downgrade employee positions.

    I think a good leader has vision like you said and follows through with this based on principles and appeals to people’s higher nature. Maybe it is sales but maybe it could be called something else.

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