Obama thinking


  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

As an executive, I often figure that if I am disappointing or even pissing off two divergent groups in equal measure, then I have probably called it just about right. That is certainly the balance Obama is having to strike with Syria in what many people are calling his biggest foreign policy decision of his presidency. Hawks on both parties are calling him weak for not acting quickly enough, doves on both parties are calling him a warmonger if he acts at all. Despite the fact that becoming an elected official in a democracy does amount to a popularity contest, working effectively as a leader is no way to stay popular.

I applaud Obama’s considered deliberation on a matter of such import not just in what he does but how he does it. His approach reinforces his Leadager credentials. Obama is grappling not just with stakeholders and constituencies, but more importantly himself. Erica Ariel Fox’s piece in Forbes, “Understanding Obama’s Syria Negotiation–With Himself”, describes this conundrum insightfully…

  • “On another level, a more subtle one, he’s dealing with a tie-knots-in-your-stomach internal struggle. Because Obama, like all of us, isn’t of one mind. As neuroscientists show us, human beings possess a ‘multiplicity of mind’ that pulls us in different directions. One part of us says go right while the other points left. One says, ‘Strike back!,’ while another urges the prudent consideration of all options. When he’s ready to make a move, Obama will negotiate with the world. But first he needs to broker a deal inside of himself. For Obama, as for all of us when we face wrenching decisions, that can be the hardest negotiation of all…
    • The Dreamer: Riding the powerful wave of hope from his first election, Obama’s inner Dreamer saw a real opportunity for political repair, even healing. I believe Obama’s inner Dreamer still longs for this possibility…The inner visionary in all of us keeps our sight on the best version of tomorrow, despite whatever’s happening today.
    • The Thinker: While the inner Dreamer pines for a better future, the inner Thinker sticks to logic and cold, hard facts. The data simply aren’t there for that dream: We aren’t in a new era of mutual understanding and respect. If we issued an invitation to enter a world with less violence, less extremism, and less bald hatred, that invitation was declined.”

Leaders dream of a better tomorrow, Managers think through the consequences for today. Both together are needed for the surest path.