01/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As Chief Leadership Officer

This is the final installment in a three part series addressing leadership challenges Barack Obama will face in these turbulent times. In addition to Commander-In-Chief, the 44th President will play the roles of CEO, CTO, and most importantly, CLO. These refer to roles of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Leadership Officer. Last time, we addressed President as Chief Transformation Officer. This time, we will examine his role as Chief Leadership Officer.

As Chief Leadership Officer

The new heroes of leadership work to be change agents who are personally dissatisfied with the status quo, create a vision of excellence, and align commitment and support to achieve that vision of excellence.

Change and progress occur as a response to dissatisfaction. If one is satisfied, then there is no reason to change and you stand still. Only out of dissatisfaction come searching, change and growth.

The new heroes of management are those people who will lead the change process, convince the skeptics, cajole the weak at heart and stick with the process when times get tough. They make the decision to put themselves on the line, actively and enthusiastically promoting change, building support, overcoming resistance and ensuring that the change is implemented. They show extraordinary confidence in their personal vision. They are motivated by a passionate belief in, and enthusiasm about, the nature of the change and what it can achieve. Here are some action implications:

Lead by Example: This refers to the act of backing up words with action. People will listen to what you say, but their behavior will be shaped by what you do. True leadership is directionally correct, purposeful motion. The directions are forward, ahead, up. They are not down, backward, behind.

The essential characteristic of leadership is credibility. This means that the individual says what he/she is going to do, and does it. In short, the leader keeps his/her promises. Credibility is the foundation which determines the perceived and actual ability to lead, as well as the integrity that causes others to place their trust in the leader. People achieve high integrity when their words and deeds are one. Integrity involves a certain reliability that permits the followers to know that the leader will, within reasonable boundaries, be predictable. A leader who is frequently unpredictable will soon lose followers.

A major reason that so many leaders fail in their responsibilities is that they have, in either a dramatic event or a series of damaging actions, lost credibility. In some cases, credibility has been lost by leaders putting their own interests or that of their party above the interests of their full constituencies.

Credibility is the essence of leadership. Followers must believe the leader to believe in the leader. They will not believe the message if they do not believe the messenger. We just witnessed this in the recent election.

Inspire a Shared Vision: The President-elect will point the country toward a "navigational north star." People need to know where the country is headed. People perform best when they unite with a keen sense of mission -- knowing where they are headed and that it is someplace special. If the aiming point is clear, and the vision is compelling, it draws people together and pulls them forward.

The vision must move the group's attention away from the demoralizing aspects of "now" to the inspiration of "what could be." People must have a purpose if they are to move purposefully. Without one, individuals drift, go their separate ways, and lose sight of the logic behind collective effort. The mantra from Robert Kennedy is worth rethinking. It states ""Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why'? I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not'?" Robert Kennedy made this quotation famous during his 1968 Presidential campaign.

Create a "Leadership Culture": Research indicates that the highest performing organizations of all sorts recruit talented individuals and place them into focused, driven teams. They let their skill, drive, intelligence and creativity come to the fore. They train them, challenge them and focus their energy on exciting challenges and opportunities. They are committed to giving them the place, the space, the tools and the opportunity to excel. They believe that a business rises and falls on the strength of its leaders -- at all levels of the organization.

Further, leaders of these organizations encourage development by rewarding excellence, serving as role models, and encouraging growth. They push decision-making to the lowest appropriate level and develop subordinates' confidence in their ability to lead, manage and impact results. They allocate sufficient authority and resources to people to enable them to make significant decisions and act independently within their area of responsibility.

The patterns of successful leaders, and the cultures they create, become very clear over time. High performance leaders have an exemplary ability to identify, attract and retain the most talented, diverse group of high performers. They understand the core competencies and skills required to meet challenging business goals and have a willingness to surround themselves with highly capable staff.

They build a leadership team (at all levels of the organization) across boundaries (of function, geography, and endeavor) with a clear, common vision and strategy for its achievement.

The new role of leadership is to establish and sustain the proactive, innovative culture of the organization or, in this case, the country. This requires leaders at all levels who can develop an atmosphere of trust and mutual support with their constituencies so that potential problems can be identified before they become crises. Reciprocal loyalty and mutual respect are the hallmarks of the leadership climate. There is much to be learned here in creating a new "leadership team" for the incoming administration.

A Final Thought

This article suggests the roles of Chief Executive, Transformational and Leadership Officer (CEO, CTO, and CLO) are necessary roles to be played by the President-elect. All three roles require that the President-elect articulate and champion a powerful, inspiring vision of the future. And, then, consistent with that vision, simultaneously implement strategy, operational improvements, and reduce costs to keep the Country moving forward and ensure the American people are enthusiastic and motivated.

The rhetoric of the Election promises nothing short of a metamorphosis in government. Traditionally, most organizations are structured to create stability and continuity. Bringing about major change requires large measures of courage. Implementing a new strategy -- driving change -- requires a leader who can drive an organization, energize its operations, and inspire its people. This kind of leader must personify the organization's purpose, through a style and skill that reflect the quality of the leader's values, thinking, and character -- all necessary to inspire a commitment to the leader's strategy and goals and to secure the allegiances required to make any bold purpose succeed.

The new leaders have special leadership qualities including the ability to see and articulate a clear, compelling vision; the ability to state the mission at hand, the will and determination to see that the course towards those visions is maintained: the courage to take a long-range perspective and hold despite today's pressure; the willingness to empower others to act, and to remove impediments to their success by becoming an enabler; the capacity to display optimism and confidence. Americans, and the world for that matter, are calling out for these qualities in exceptional measure.

Michael has spent 25 years helping Fortune 500 companies undergoing massive transformation. Chairmen, CEO's and COO's of such organizations as Merrill Lynch, Motorola and Lockheed have sought his advice in developing strong leadership teams. You can learn more about Michael by visiting his website at

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