10 Reasons Why Obama Should Appoint Romney as Secretary of Business

In a surprising move, President Obama has appointed Governor Romney as Secretary of Business, in charge of new business creation and with the mandate to drastically simplify the regulations for small businesses.

Fantasy, you say? Yes, for now, but this would be a brilliant move. Here’s why.

Obama needs to demonstrate what he means by change. Obama’s second term is, among many things, about fixing Washington’s gridlock, putting America back to work, and delivering on the American people’s wish for change. A defeated Republican Presidential candidate as a key Cabinet member would definitely be a good way to state that Obama is serious about fixing the gridlock.

Business is Romney’s specialty. Business is also arguably the area where Obama’s first term achieved the weakest results. This was Romney’s claim, but the American people likely agree for the most part. In fact, there is a widespread belief that if the 2012 Presidential election had indeed been simply a verdict on the economy, Obama would have lost.

Fixing the gridlock in Washington demands grand gestures. Both Obama and Romney have talked about the importance of reaching across the aisle. True bipartisanship must be concrete. You must have something to show for. It also demands great symbolic acts of faith. Romney as Secretary of Business would definitely be an act of faith.

Obama has succeeded with surprising appointments before. When Obama defeated Hillary, he realized two things: he needed to heal the divisions in the party and he needed support from the Clinton camp. What did he do? He appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This was a surprising, smart move which rapidly healed the wounds the defeat had made, at least in the eyes of the public.

Obama would rub in Romney’s flip flopping nature. President Obama would in one move show the contradictions of Mitt Romney (during his campaign, Romney said there was no point in having both a Secretary of Commerce and a Secretary of Business)

Obama would show there is opportunity for all. Paradoxically, by putting Romney on the job, Obama would also demonstrate that he is prepared to put the best people in the top jobs in his second term, regardless of background. This would be change. This would be the new, emerging America, one where all ethnicities and social demographics should be electable for office—even rich white men with track record from Wall Street and Bain Capital. There were times during the recession and during the campaign where it seemed Obama disliked the “fat cats” so much he was unable to listen to any of their advice.

Romney would reach across the aisle. Being the Secretary of Business is likely a real vantage point from which it would be possible to demonstrate real leadership that matters to jobless, entrepreneurial, hardworking Americans. These were issues he campaigned on. Spending 800 million dollars on a campaign would then have been a worthwhile investment. His legacy, almost regardless of whether he himself would generate true improvements, would be that of a pragmatic business person with real intention to make politics work for business. Paradoxically, with Romney, the Secretary of Business might actually become important. Without him, the role might be unclear at best. It would get lost among other Cabinet roles and would add little value.

Republicans would get an ideal platform to renew the GOP. Republicans would get a chance to make contributions to their favorite agenda: favoring business. They would get a chance to show that this also means helping small business. Romney would need to make his ideas concrete: he would help bring about tax reform, regulatory simplification etc. If Romney succeeded, Republicans would have a real card to show for the 2016 Presidential elections: their bipartisan efforts enabled tax reform, made entrepreneurship and business creation the competitive advantage of America again. The alternative; four more years of gridlock, would certainly not help the GOP.

Obama would get credit for trying to fix his relationship to business. He would have put the person near half of America’s electorate believes is the best for the top job in charge of one of the key priorities of the nation: helping business to ensure economic recovery across the board. Obama would also take a step closer to Wall Street again, after a few missteps and mistrust.

Obama and Romney working together would be leadership from below. Appointing Romney as Secretary of Business, both Obama and Romney would embody true leadership from below. They would demonstrate a willingness to contribute wherever their skills are needed, regardless of prior formal position. Leadership from below is a question of attitude, not position.

In reality, of course, Americans wish that Washington would realize that America—its demographics, ambitions, methods, even its identity—has already changed. What America has changed into, is going to be the central question of Obama’s second term. It will demand even more of Obama than appointing Mitt Romney as Secretary of Business, but it is a start.

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Can President Obama Exhibit Leadership From Below?

So Obama won, McCain lost. Republicans are out. Democrats are in.  What now? Obama has campaigned on change, on being the challenger, on being different. He has deployed a web savvy campaign strategy focused on micro contributions from hoards in addition to, not instead of, large donations. All of this is very trendy, very smart and very well known by now. See, for instance, Eric Legale’s blog on Obama as the President of the Internet Generation.

What few have pointed out is that Candidate Obama preached and practiced Leadership From Below. For a quick tutorial, check my post on What my Daughter Taught me about Leadership. But how can a President Obama exhibit Leadership From Below? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? After all, it is arguably the most powerful position in the world. Why would the President need Leadership From Below?

In fact, there are five reasons why Obama still needs the bottom-up perspective:

1. Formal power if fine, but not enough

Leadership from below does not mean that you cannot have formal power. It does not mean that you need to be the underdog. It does not mean begging to lead or begging people to support you. Rather, it simply says: to enact change, I need to inspire followership. The recent book Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders by Harvard Kennedy School‘s Barbara Kellerman is right on. You can only lead when you are allowing people around you to voice their concerns. Leadership From Below means never assuming you are the only voice in the room, even if you always have the last word.

2.Macchiavelli is out of date

Macchiavelli, who has been the elite’s unchallenged management guru since the 15th century said it is better to be feared than to be loved. The reason is that when you are loved, you can still be fooled, but when you are feared any challenger is a fool. The trouble with fear is that it is very unpredictable. It was ok to be a feared dictator in the Italian Renaissance, it is not ok to be a feared President in 2009. Public perception is volatile. When markets operate in fear, they collapse. When people are afraid, they turn to terror. When co-workers fear you, they simply change employer. In short, Machiavelli is out of date. Leaders should recognize that centuries have passed and complexity has increased. Not by much, I would say, but enough that it is safer to be loved than feared.

3. The US has a complex constituency

Being President does not only mean being the President of a country. You are also a global actor. The case could be made that there are more Obama supporters who did not have the right to vote than did, if you count 2/3 of citizens in Europe, and many, many across the world. Seldom has a campaign invigorated so many non voting parties, people, and pundits. While the US President does have formal power over the US mainland, his powers over the world are severely limited. Well, his powers are limited unless he plays his cards well. I believe the George W. Bush era slogan was “if you are not with us you are against us”. It didn’t play so well. Leadership from below is the way to go when you are building partnerships, trying to enlist opponents, working through intermediaries, in short, when engaging in diplomacy.

4. To enact change, a leader must be consistent

Leaders without formal authority need tech savvy, listening skills, social antennas, and a good pitch. With these you can master any situation. Many Presidents have had at least the latter two, but have let all of these skills go when they took office. But Obama will need to maintain them. The credibility of his message depends on staying open, approachable, and diplomatic. The formal authority of a Presidential office might stay largely the same when a new President takes office, but what he or she makes of it does not.

5. Military and financial crises demand buy-in

It would be easy to think that the military and the financial sector are best governed top-down. After all, employees in both sectors are well used to taking orders from above. However, it seems clear to most people that this approach has not worked and will not work, at least not now. The US is slowly coming to terms with a world where followership is more important than leadership. In his new book Tribes, marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the renewed importance of the tribal type of leadership in contemporary society. We want a leader, but we want a stake in where we are being led and why. When the military spends most of its time winning hearts and minds instead of firing bullets, and the largest banks suddenly are state owned, the model is about to change. Stakeholder leadership is suddenly in fashion. As citizens we have bought ourselves a share in the the financial meltdown. As citizens of the world, we have a stake in reducing terror and unrest. A President that does not see it as his first priority to win buy in for his views, will fail. Unilateralism is out. Multilateralism is in. Buyout is out. Buyin is in.

May Obama and his advisers read this blog and have a great day. Enjoy the first day as President elect. Best wishes, and, my advice is, stay the underdog!

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