The State of the Union

I’ve been re-reading “Primal Leadership,” and it seems timely in light of tonight’s State of the Union address.  The speech was so wonderfully crafted to represent a leadership model espoused by Goleman, et al.,  an emotionally-intelligent, values-based leadership. I heard a little Stephen R. Covey in there also,  as President Obama seemed to want to convey that he ‘sought first to understand, then to be understood.’

While the President was speaking, I couldn’t help but grab the laptop and start taking notes. Some of the moves were elegant, like chess, others were a bit Hollywood in the appeal to baser emotions.  Overwhelmingly, the style he spoke with was exciting to watch and I think upon further analysis I can learn a lot.

The outline I made while listening is as follows:

1. Celebrate past triumphs over the daunting and uncertain, stressing that, at the time, nobody knew if the struggle would end in triumph.

2. Acknowledge that real emotions are being felt and that there is pain in the struggle, right here and now.

3. Set a broad goal that speaks to hope and faith, still owning that improvement needs to occur.( ‘government that matches American peoples’ decency’)

4. Owned difficult unpopular decisions, made a case for what worked and what didn’t. Used humor to release tension in room. (bank bailout was ‘about as popular as a root canal,’ lightly teased Republicans for not standing when he spoke about tax cuts)

5. Again acknowledged that there is real emotional loss and that change is imperfect but crucial.

6. Laid out plans, both specific and general, using examples, for how to proceed with recovery.

7. Made the case for change;  created burning platform using emotionally charged language. (‘time to act is now’… comparing US to foreign competition, posing image of US in second place as untenable)

8. Laid out more plans, more specific, told more stories.

9. Spoke of a lack of trust and faith in the followers, challenged leaders to rise to the occasion. (‘we have a deficit of trust,’ ‘we need to close the credibility gap,’ give the people the government the deserve’)

10. Acknowledged challenges in moving forward, differences of opinion and diversity that make the leadership strong. Gave examples of how faith was lost in bits over time. Added specific areas that need work in order to regain faith. (don’t ask, don’t tell, equal pay laws for women, broken immigration system)

11. Closed with an argument for the values that drive the leaders and followers,  spoke to the resilience of the followers through hardest times, raised a call for people to gather together as future heroes.

I am a supporter of the President’s change initiatives, but I worry about the long-term value of some of the tactics he’s using.  In goading people to fight together, it may be triggering a fight-or-flight response and those who do not agree or need some time to get swung, will go straight for the flight.  Finding a common enemy outside the US might work to unite us on a shallow level, but in the end it is with acknowledging our differences and embracing our common values we shall be truly joined in struggle. I can see how he used both of these messages, but I am unsure if there is potency in the latter when trust is an issue.

This brings up some important questions of leadership that I’m trying to wrestle with in regards to mourning organizational loss, regaining trust, and building confidence in systems. I’m going to have to chew over this a little (and maybe crack a few more books) but I’m going to use this State of the Union address to launch from. It’s as good a place as any…


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