THE BLOG

The Three Obamas: The One We Elected, The One We Got, The One We Want

09/13/2011 07:03 pm ET | Updated Nov 13, 2011

There's the inspiring leader who articulated a shared vision, speaking from the heart to the heart. That Obama moved millions to elect him.

Then there was the Obama who sought consensus, giving up too much to appease his opponents. That Obama disappointed millions.

Finally, there was the bold and confident Obama who faced down his opponents in his commanding address to Congress on jobs.

All three of these Obamas are familiar to me; each represents one of six styles that exemplify the leaders who get the best results, whether in business or politics.

And President Obama's performance offers crucial lessons to anyone who holds a leadership position, whether on a team or in an executive suite.

High-performing leaders, those in the top 10 percent in business results, are adept at switching among the six styles, selecting the one that best suits the needs of a moment as they would pick the right golf club for a given challenge.

But low-performing leaders tend to get stuck in just one or two styles, which can backfire when they are not up to the need at hand. President Obama had been stuck in a rut of consensus-seeking even when that style has failed spectacularly.

The commanding presence we saw address Congress on jobs was the style he's needed -- and which had gone missing -- throughout the economic crisis, and especially during the debt ceiling debacle.

Here's why. In a crisis -- when people are fearful about uncertainty -- they look to their leader for reassurance, just as a child looks to her parents when she feels danger. Followers need a leader who stays calm and takes command during an emergency; it relieves their fears.

Think FDR's presidential inaugural address during the Depression, with his famous line, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

That's not to say the commanding style suits every occasion. In fact, research finds that this style too often gets used in the wrong situation, in the form of petty office tyrants who alienate their subordinates. Then it drives climate and performance off a cliff.

Each of the six styles has its best uses. The visionary style inspires and motivates performance. Consensus-seeking does well when a decision includes diverse stakeholders. And the commanding style suits an emergency.

The other three styles: the affiliate leader, who creates harmony and connection in a group; the pacesetter, who guides by example a highly motivated and talented team; and the coach, who helps people develop their strengths.

The trick is to apply as appropriate -- and not when they don't work. Let's hope Obama gives us the president we need.