I've been traveling around the country for the past few weeks making new video case studies for Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner's "The Leadership Challenge Workshop." It's been great fun and wonderfully informative, interviewing leaders in all sorts of organizations about how they've managed to get tough stuff done.
While it's no surprise to those who have worked with Jim and Barry's research to discover that regardless of industry or locale, the essence of great accomplishment always has some key consistent factors. The leadership stories almost always involved bringing together disparate parts of a single organization to eliminate distrust and find common ground for decision-making. The leaders were universally praised for their listening skills and their ability to hear "what's not being said." Listening is key.
It's remarkable how absent those elements of leadership are in our current national policy debates. President Obama's meeting with Republican leadership on January 29 might have been a good step forward, but we have a long way to go. Mr. Obama's frustration is becoming more evident. When he declared, with sincerity, that he is "not an ideologue," he was greeted with snickers. "I'm not," he insisted. Some of the questions came in the form of partisan diatribes.
Of all our recent presidents, it strikes me that Barack Obama is the first to really want the JOB. Not merely the election victory. Not just the celebrity and the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue. I believe it is clear that he really hopes to lead us all to heal the wounds that keep our nation moving barely forward at a snail's pace. His speech on race during the campaign and his State of the Union message both illustrate clearly his desire to reunite these bickering United States. The development of some listening skills is in order, on both sides.