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Joan Garry Headshot

What Kind of Boss Does Barack Obama Want to Be?

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President Obama runs a big shop. He has thousands of employees under his charge. We often think about him in the 'leader of the free world' category but for the purpose of this exercise, I'd like you to think of him as an employer.

What kind of employer should the President be? What kind of employer do we think our newly inaugurated USA CEO wants to be?

We have some hints. I think we are learning that he is prides himself on outreach to folks of all political stripes (regardless of outcome). The political term for it? 'Egalitarian.' He is not new to this as I have come to learn. I had a fascinating email exchange with a friend who worked with him on the Harvard Law Review. "Barack was infuriatingly evenhanded." He sent this note to me after our President-elect selected Rick Warren to offer the inaugural invocation. It was meant to give me hope.

But now I believe it gives me a clue. A clue that could be strategically valuable as the gay and lesbian community learns how to be what I call "constructively impatient" with this new president.

Maybe it's time to look at our struggle for equality differently. Let's try to understand President Obama's "frame" and in so doing 'reframe' our own message.

Historically we have presented ourselves as citizens who are not treated equally under the law and we have outlined the various "issues" we face. There are even buzz words, catch phrases - ENDA, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Gay Marriage, and so on.

But what if we look at the frame of an egalitarian who is a CEO with thousands of employees. I have a sense that being a good and fair boss is important to President Obama. You just get that sense that he encourages folks to try to head out of work a few minutes early to catch a school play. I mean, he sets that example -- he's taken his kids to school a few times already.

Now take the next step with me. Let's look at fairness in the workplace. If you reminded President Obama that Brian Bond, David Medina, Fred Hochberg and the hundreds of lgbt government employees could be fired solely based on their sexual orientation because his "company" does not offer that protection to all employees, how would he feel?

If we reminded him that as Commander in Chief, he has thousands of "employees" in the Armed Forces and that a subset of those employees not only could be fired based on sexual orientation, but actually ARE fired routinely for acknowledging their sexual orientation, how would he feel?

If we made a list of all the Fortune 500 CEO's that are way ahead of him on this subject and have been fully inclusive employment non-discrimination policies for years and years now, how would he feel?

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to reframe the discussion. Instead of talking about the rights and protections we deserve, let's instead put ourselves in the shoes of the guy who will make the decision.

And think for a minute about how that kind of approach might play out with the American public. Instead of "Gay and Lesbian Americans are not treated equally under the law and we've got to change that," (a completely true statement and yet a political hot potato thanks to those who have effectively positioned the debate as one focused on 'special rights'), try this hypothetical soundbite:

"As part of my role as President of the United States, I am also a CEO of an enormous operation with responsibility for thousands of employees. In that role, I am committed to making the best hires and creating the best environment I can for everyone who works here - from the White House chef to the Secretary of State. In this, I am no different from the CEO of any public company. Americans deserve the best from their government and so we will work hard to hire the best and give them the tools to be successful. I will ask people to work hard and I will make sure that this work environment will treat all employees fairly, regardless of gender, race, religion. And sexual orientation. If that policy is good enough for CEO's of Fortune 500 companies, it's the right one for my employees as well."

And with that, in comes Employment Non-Discrimination Act and out goes "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

You have to admit. You could hear him saying something like that, couldn't you?