CEO Obama Didn’t Manage to the Lower 10%


President Obama delivered his controversial speech to students today. So far, no brains have been washed and the nation has not turned socialist.

Politically, I am about as middle-of-the-road as they come. I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats. I vote based on my views about the issues more than I vote for a political party. I have no political axe to grind — on the issue of the president’s speech or pretty much on any issue. So take that into consideration as I say this:

The uproar over the president’s speech to the nation’s students is stupid. And from a communication standpoint — because this is a blog about communication — the expenditure of negative energy around it is fairly representative of what happens in corporations and other organizations every day.

You see, Obama is the CEO of the United States. As CEO, he wanted to address a segment of the population with a message intended to help focus them on an issue that affects the entire company — I mean, country. In other words, as CEO, he was trying to show some leadership.

Many CEOs — at least the good ones — often do the same thing. Have you ever read a CEO’s column in the company newsletter or on the intranet? “As we begin another fiscal year, I think it’s a good idea to take a look at the work that lies ahead…”

Here’s what CEO Obama was saying to the people in whose hands this country will rest before you know it (oh, and to their parents, too):

  • Every student has great potential and an equally great responsibility to discover what it is.
  • You’ll never live up to your potential by goofing off and not taking school seriously.
  • There’s no excuse for not trying.
  • It’s important to work hard, pay attention in school and complete assignments.
  • You won’t love every subject and every teacher, but that’s no excuse for not doing your best.
  • The best teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools don’t mean anything without students’ individual responsibility for their work.

I would love for my kids to hear the CEO of our country say those things. They can hear these messages from me (their direct supervisor) every day, but they might carry more weight coming from the head honcho.

Unfortunately, cynical political extremists turned the speech into a big deal. They accused Obama of trying to push his political agenda onto children. (Personally, I could buy into a political agenda that includes platforms of personal responsibility and hard work, but that’s beside the point.)

If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes in an American workplace, you’ve seen this behavior before. The CEO announces he or she will give a speech or hold a town hall meeting and within minutes the cynics start their griping: “Here comes more corporate bull****. More propaganda. Trying to make us drink the company Kool-Aid.”

In the workplace, we know who those cynics are. They’re always spreading their negativity to anyone who will listen. They promise doom and gloom. They start rumors about layoffs. They gossip about their co-workers. They run and hide whenever work is being assigned. They are the 10% on the low end of the bell-shaped curve. They’ll never get ahead in their careers. Call it bad karma or whatever.

They’re the same type of people who made such a fuss about a simple pep-rally speech delivered by the CEO of the country. The only difference is that, for some reason, we have allowed them access to the political stage with a huge megaphone. Whereas in the workplace we just shake our heads and say, “That’s just the way Norbert is; he’s just a cynical old fart,” for some reason we allow the same type of people to get a lot more attention than they deserve in the political arena.

Just as we hope our managers at work won’t manage to the 10% at the bottom of the bell-shaped curve, Obama shouldn’t manage to the 10% on the political fringe. Whether or not we agree with the nation’s CEO politically, I believe most of us in that bell want him to show leadership and most of us want to hear what he has to say. He did the right thing by communicating in spite of the complainers.

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3 Responses

  1. Very well said, Robert. While your analogy isn’t perfect—CEOs aren’t elected by employees, and I think people legitimately reject the notion that the president is the “boss”—it carries a lot of water anyway, at least with us communicommandos.

    • I agree, David — not a perfect analogy. But I think the same negativity that threatens to derail CEOs when they make a good-faith effort to communicate with the people in their organizations also threatened to derail Obama in his effort to communicate a valid message to students (and their teachers and parents). Fortunately, he refused to allow that negativity to affect his leadership in this episode.

      What I don’t understand is why the Americans who I believe are mostly open to such leadership, even if they don’t always agree with it, are so willing to let the highly vocal minority shape the public discourse. We essentially ignore that bottom 10% in the workplace and forge ahead with the work before us (again, whether or not we always agree with the CEO’s decisions).

      Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but we’re allowing the fringe to take control of the wheel too often, IMHO.

  2. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that rather than a bottom 10%, the figure is closer to a bottom 30-50%. When you’ve got more than 60% of Republicans believing that Obama was not born in the U.S., the fringe is no longer the fringe, it is the mainstream. We are in a very dangerous position in this country where there is no longer a “middle,” and people are willing to fight and shoot each other for their political beliefs. I fear that we are headed for another Civil War-type conflict that will rip us apart. We shouldn’t fear terrorists from outside and not fear political extremism from within.

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