To Lead Change as an Incumbent, Obama Needs New Allies
President Obama, you have been reelected at a time when no one is satisfied with the status quo. You must show that your are serious about solving problems by a willingness to act quickly on a big, national campaign to get action throughout the country.
It's generally difficult for incumbent CEOs to lead turnarounds because of the suspicion that they are stuck on old ideas; citizens will be looking for signs that you really mean it about change. Election to a second term is a chance for a major reshuffle and priority shift. Symbols and signals of change start with your White House staff and Cabinet. Refresh your team with new voices, particularly business leaders who have been job creators.
Look for one immediate major legislative victory and bend all efforts to get it, because your credibility as a change agent will depend on it. You have an opportunity waiting in the wings in Simpson-Bowles, the deficit reduction plan that enjoys increasing support. Demonstrate your personal passion and ability to educate the American people (and Congress) by getting it done. No more committees and waiting around for reports. Go right to action.
Change agents need a rallying cry and burning platform to create urgency for change. Seize the Hurricane Sandy moment. Now is the time to speak out on climate change, revive the idea of an infrastucture bank, and make renewed attention to construction, repair and green upgrading a centerpiece of a jobs plan. Your coalition for change can come first from governors and mayors, whose post-Sandy support was an asset in the closing days of your campaign, particularly the support of New Jersey Gov Chris Christie. Winning over this group can help pressure foot-dragging members of Congress. In addition, use the Sandy moment within the executive branch to insist that government be more efficient. Take your Sandy instruction for speed and collaboration to the entire government; consolidate duplicate functions and continue to review and reinvent government. Seeing what's possible in extreme situations has always helped change leaders in their push for higher standards; make that the new norm.
There's another constituency out there that you haven't used that can be champions of change: business leaders. Mobilize the private sector in a new way. Convene business leaders at the White House and then throughout America to urge them to make pledges for actions that will create jobs and increase skills: mentoring small suppliers, making it easier for them to get contracts, using apprenticeships to train a new generation of potential workers who've been left out, and many other positive steps.
Change will be the result not only of a few bold strokes from the top but also of thousands and millions of positive actions on the ground. You don't need legislation to run a campaign like this. Get lots of other change agents enlisted in the cause, and get them to help you build a stronger nation and better economy.