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John Hope Bryant Headshot

On Leadership: Jobs, Confidence and Debating Obama

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As the founder, chairman and CEO of a large non-profit organization which is the global leader for financial dignity, the only way we succeed (for our client) is to build bridges and to create successful partnerships. I am a common-sense guy, and I tend to want the right answer, even if it is not my answer. So I don't find hardened partisan politics generally useful in my efforts to both bring leaders together, and ultimately, bottom line -- my efforts to create solutions and to empower the poor and under-served of our nation. Increasingly, the middle-class feel poor, and we serve them, too.

My clients are not partisan politics nor, respectfully, politicians -- but poor people.

Over the years I have worked with Democratic and Republican presidents alike, from President Clinton, to President Bush and ,now, President Obama. Our work has been noted by the last five U.S. presidents, I have been honored to serve as an advisor to three U.S. presidents, and I have served as a Presidential Appointee for President George W. Bush, and now serve proudly as an appointee under President Obama. I try to keep my personal bias out of the discussion, and just keep the trains running on time. Poor people simply do not care about my political persuasion or yours, frankly. They simply want a reasonably better shot at a life for themselves and their family tomorrow than they had yesterday.

And all of this brings me to this conclusion -- I believe that President Obama is right to call for a Jobs Bill, and our Congress and U.S. Senate would be right (and smart) to pass every aspect they can find agreement on, and fast.

At this stage of the American experiment, it is not so much about the bill features itself, but what it represents for the nation's soul. Her spirit for enterprise, clarity, moving forward.

Yes, intelligent people can and will debate for some time about whether this provision of the bill or that one should be included, or even more so, whether the impact of the bill's passage would be mostly short-term or long-term in nature. All of this is legitimate, but at the moment, none of this is the real point.

I have believed for some time that what we have been experiencing is not so much a recession, but a global reset. And that what we are experiencing is not so much a pure economic crisis, but a crisis of virtues and values.

In other words, America (and, by extension, many parts of the world) is experiencing a confidence problem. We don't know what we are for anymore, so we default to becoming experts in what we are against.

It seems easier and, if you are an elected official rallying behind what you are against, it is easier even still to get cheap and quick cheers for yourself and jeers for the other side.

The only problem is that today there is no other side, and arguing over tactics and programs when the crisis is primarily a broader one of vision, strategy and clarity (or the lack thereof) is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. If the ship sinks, nothing else will much matter.

This crisis began as a mortgage crisis, and then morphed into a financial crisis, and then an economic crisis, and then a liquidity crisis -- but now it is a crisis of confidence. We simply are having a "belief" problem. And when belief and faith are lacking, fear takes root. I know a little about fear, and wrote about it extensively in my bestselling business book, LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass).

In short, fear is a prosperity killer.

In this environment, it is easy to cross the bridge from healthy skepticism to a deadly version of cynicism. Cynicism is the death of hope, and the most dangerous person you will ever meet is a person without hope.

All told, I do alright financially, and yet I am also willing -- right along with the majority of Americans who still believe that this country is still the best bet going in the world today -- to pay a little more, and to feel a little more pain, if it means we get on with it. That we restore America, and we find our storyline again. That we get our confidence back, in ourselves.

In this sensitive place we now find ourselves in as a nation, about the worst thing we can all do, beyond getting stuck in petty squabbles about who is "more" wrong than the other guy, is to make "the best the death of the good."

Doing nothing is, I guarantee you, hundreds of times worse than doing something less than perfect. And furthermore, doing nothing at all is even worse than getting the right thing wrong. Often, the wrong answer is the right one that didn't work, but doing nothing is inexcusable for a leader.

What America needs now is clarity of vision, and with that will come increased confidence by all involved.

What America needs now is to better understand what we are for, rather than what we are against.

What America needs now is a unified rallying point, and beating up on rich people, no matter how good it feels -- particularly if you have been out of work for 2 years or more -- is simply not the answer.

Rich people are not even our problem in this crisis. Greed is, and has always been, our problem, and we will have plenty of opportunity in the not-too-distant future to make this right, and bring those deserving to justice. But in the meantime, we have got to get on with the business of growing our economy again, of restoring confidence, and in so doing, CREATING A NEW GENERATION OF JOBS IN AND FOR AMERICA.

Nothing is more laser-like important as a priority for our nation right now, and any energy spent otherwise is a luxury we cannot afford.

And this is why I say "I like what President Obama is doing (with the Jobs Bill) much better than what other folks are not doing."

And so, here is the call to action right NOW.

Either give the American public an alternative vision that makes even more common sense (not to the extreme left nor extreme right, but to the American-middle) maintains a sense of shared pain, shared responsibility and shared prosperity too, all ultimately leading to more GDP growth and a new era of jobs -- or pass the president's jobs plan.

I like what President Obama is doing here, much more than what others are not doing. No society has ever succeeded long-term by becoming an expert at what it was against.

Increasingly, Americans don't want a debate dominated by the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, but the Get it Done Party. They simply want someone to show they can get it done, preferably working together.

Okay, let's go.


John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a Member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.