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Kathleen Reardon Headshot

Did We Really Think Barack Obama's "Change" Meant No Insider Experience?

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The reality is setting in this week that the change movement generated by Barack Obama does not mean that everything and everybody is going to be new. Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination, in part, due to her emphasis on experience. But here we are, not one week into the Obama/Biden transition, and a lot of familiar faces are popping up on the short lists for cabinet posts.

What should we make of this? First, if Obama supporters ever thought he'd wipe the slate clean, they hadn't studied politics. Sure, confidence that things wouldn't be the same as the past eight years was realistic, but believing for a minute that even something vastly different could be accomplished without many in the old guard -- at least the Democratic one -- is the thinking of a political purist.

Highly political arenas like Washington D. C. are not suited to purists. The town teems with street fighters. Jimmy Carter learned that the hard way. And Barack Obama is too sharp and too avid a reader to not know that there are at least as many people wanting a new president to fail as there are hoping for his success. He chose Joe Biden for his running mate because he has high regard for experience. The line-up we're seeing now for the top spots validates that.

But where is the line over which he should not step? When are those selected simply too familiar, bringing with them baggage that cannot be left at the White House steps?
There is such a line. It's difficult to define and no doubt the Obama/Biden team are looking carefully for some sign of its presence. The answer lies in providing a blend of the old with the new and the knowledgeable with the promising.

The line is subtle, not a specific number. Locating it requires an uncanny form of political intuition. The politically savvy can see and smell that something even unintended is about to occur - such as supporter discontent -- and they know how to circumvent it.

Obama and his team ran a marvelous campaign. It's hard to imagine that they aren't quite aware of the delicate balance of old and new they're engaging in now. But it doesn't hurt to remind them.

Then there is an even more important consideration -- fit with the stage of change. I learned from years of studying leadership that some who take the reins of power are creative leaders best suited to crafting new ideas but not carrying them out. Others are logical leaders who are content to study details for some time, making sure no rock remains unturned before big decisions are made. Others still are commanding and thus better at carrying out splendid new ideas than they are at thinking them up. Then there are the motivators who are fantastic at encouraging people to try new things and the supportive leader types who help them do it.

I co-authored an article about this called "Leadership Styles For The Five Stages of Radical Change." What Obama and Biden need now is to know their own leadership talents and to surround themselves with people who complement those. They need to assess, too, the stage of change the country is at with regard to economics, health care, defense, security, etc. and put in place people whose leadership inclinations are suited to those stages. You don't choose an entrepreneur with grand, new ideas to lead an effort that is well underway and doing fine. You don't choose a leader who'll spend months reading and soaking in information if the issue at hand is in crisis mode.

So if I were Barack at this point, I'd be thinking of the favor bank and who is owed for such a stellar win. But I'd be thinking too of where new ideas are needed versus rolling out perfectly good ones.

Our new president needs a blend of the old with the new, each selection weighed by consideration of the stage of change that person will lead. This is critical to Obama and Biden's early and continued success.

It's nice to surround yourself with friends who think like you, but once this kind of initial party is over nothing gets done because everyone invited wanted to plan it but no one wanted, or even knew how, to clean up the mess.

Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.

P.S. I've never asked Barack to take the Leadership Style Inventory (LSI), but I'd venture that he is a strongly Logical leader in his style, strong on Inspirational and can be Commanding (move quickly) when needed, but it isn't his preference. This means, as he said in the press conference today, he'll move out on the stimulus package and will want around him people who can do that, but he also said, he doesn't want to rush so that mistakes are made. Those are the words of a Logical leaning leader. That's why he and his team were able to reason/strategize so effectively during his campaign. After he had the information he needed, he acted. He makes informed choices but doesn't dwell past the time when choice is possible.