Monday, September 27, 2010

It's All About Leadership, Stupid!

I got on a Michael Douglas kick this weekend because his new flick “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” was coming out in the theaters. I, of course, took in Wall Street 1.0 again. Among the other Michael Douglas films I reprised, “The American President” caught my attention.

The particular line that got to me was one uttered by Michael J. Fox, who played a sort of George Stephanopoulos character to the President. The scene was set in the Oval Office of the President and the President and his chief advisors were discussing the direction that should be taken with respect to a crime bill. The conflict being addressed concerned whether or not the President should “play politics” and disappoint his friends, including his “girl friend” Annette Bening, or be true to his leanings and go for the environmental package.

He, at the time, chooses to “play politics”, and is taken to task for it by Michael Fox. The line that stuck with me was this:

“People want leadership and in the absence of leadership they’ll listen to anyone who comes to the microphone.”

This statement really resonated with me because I believe that is the situation we are in now in the United States. People want leadership, but they are not getting it.

Leadership starts with the CEO, the Chief Executive Officer.

There is no way others within or without the organization can exhibit leadership and set up the tone and the culture of the organization. But others try, especially opponents.

And, if the leader does not take charge, people will “listen to anyone who comes to the microphone.”

President Obama speaks. He is constantly speaking. Something small comes up and he goes out and makes a speech about it. Something large comes along and he goes out and makes a speech about it. The problem is that he is just speaking…not leading.

One of my firmest beliefs is that CEOs and their teams need to listen to the market and try and discern what the market is attempting to tell them. The “market” may be wrong, but, to me, the wisest action is to listen to the market and only claim that the market is wrong after a serious and thorough study attempting to support the fact that the market is correct.

What is the market saying right now?

Well, who is dominating the airways and printing presses these days? John Boehner. Christine O’Donnell. Stephen Colbert. Jon Stewart. Rush Limbaugh. Nancy Pelosi. Carl Rove. The Tea Party movement. The Party of “NO”. And, so on.

President Obama spoke at the United Nations this week…and it was just another of his many speeches. Who really listened to him?

President Obama is visiting homes trying to establish the “common touch.” Where is the leadership?

Obama is speaking a lot, but, people seem to be listening to other people who are grabbing the microphone. Conclusion: people do not feel that Obama is leading the nation.

A health care bill was passed on the watch of President Obama. But, the view of the voters is that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Congress did all of the work.

There is a new financial reform package the Chris Dodd and Barney Frank crafted. Where was Obama?

And, the earlier stimulus bill. The public perception was that the Obama administration turned this over to the Congress, fully supporting a bill that contained a lot of old programs that benefitted the interests of members in Congress. All Obama just praised the fact that a stimulus bill was passed.

The market perception seems to be that President Obama, himself, did not send up any bills to Congress in these areas; he turned the tasks over to Congress, urged them along, and accepted whatever Congress produced and sent to him.

The market does not see President Obama as “the” leader in any of these initiatives. His absence, then, has allowed the microphone to be dominated by others.

This lack of leadership has particularly been felt in the areas of economics and finance. No one seems to know where the administration is going or what the administration is going to do. What about another stimulus program? What about the Bush tax cuts? What about foreclosures? What about the big banks? What about the consumer protection agency? What about the insurance companies that are raising rates? What about the credit card companies that are raising fees? What about the Chinese currency? What about the government’s 61% ownership in General Motors? What about how GMAC pursued its foreclosure efforts? What about…you name it?

Talk about a free market!

If there is no leadership, then anarchy takes over.

There was the cry against big banks. But, the Obama administration (including the Fed) seems to be doing everything it can to help the big banks at the expense of the smaller ones. The administration talks about the United States being strong economically, yet its policies are just accelerating the re-positioning, economically, of China and Brazil, Russia and India, and other emerging nations. The administration talks about helping out the middle class and blue collar workers yet its policies promote the bifurcation of the work force, lessened capacity utilization in industry, and greater income inequality.

And, this is why people, other than the President, are dominating the microphone.

The Michael Douglas President finally did make a stand and began to tell the people where he really stood. The Michael Douglas President became a leader. Although this change came right at the end of the movie, it was the turning point of the movie. And, you knew what the President was going to do in the future, nothing more needed to be said in the movie. In taking this turn, the President began to dominate the discussion again.

Do you think this might happen in the real world? In the United States? Do you think it might happen in the near term?

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