Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Six HR Leadership Lessons From Barack Obama

There are clear lessons that all HR leaders can learn from Barack Obama’s march to the presidency.  Sure, there’s a difference between running a political campaign and running your career as an HR leader.  However, you can certainly apply these six lessons within your organization and as you think about your HR career.


OBAMA LESSON #1:  Adopt A “Yes, You Can” Mindset.
In advancing your HR leadership career, you will no doubt encounter many obstacles.  You must resolve to eliminate them.  Consider just a few of the obstacles Obama had to overcome in order to reach the highest position in the land.

-He was raised by single white mom and grandmother
-His father left him at age 2.
-He was born in Hawaii not in the continental US
-He freely admits having experimenting with drugs including cocaine
-His entry-level job was as a $10,000 a year community organizer in Chicago
-He started as Democratic underdog well behind Hillary Clinton and John Edwards
-With 4 years of political experience, he was deemed too light to be president
-He was accused of associating with terrorists.
-He was accused of being a socialist
-With the middle name Hussein, he was accused of being a Muslum
-He is a black man seeking an office only held by white males

Any of these could have been used as an excuse or reason to pursue a different career path.  But they weren’t and were conquered by his “Yes you can” mindset.
OBAMA LESSON #2:  Articulate a clear, consistent leadership vision – and make it big!
If you’re an HR leader and you want to inspire followers, you must have a clear, consistent, big ­vision. You cannot jump around with one message one week and another message a week later.  Nor can you confuse or scare people. McCain’s health-care policy, for example, had real merit. But when he presented it, no one understood it.  Obama first articulated his vision back in 2004 when he was a largely unknown speaker at the Democratic national convention.   His simple one-word vision was: Change.  That one word that became his mantra, his platform for many initiatives representing change from the status quo and a vision of the future that he repeated consistently and unwaveringly in various forms.  This clarity and consistency of purpose galvanized followers.

OBAMA LESSON #3:  Smarts can trump experience!
Don’t let the fact that you don’t have enough years toiling in the HR trenches keep you from taking on the mantle of leadership.  In the presidential debates with McCain, Obama responded to questions about his relative political inexperience by providing an expert’s grasp of facts, data and well articulated positions on key issues like healthcare, energy, and security.  However, he didn’t do it alone.  He prepped himself tirelessly, repeatedly seeking out experienced and well-respected advisers smarter than he was on these topics  … and then meshed their ideas with his own judgment and personal values to shape his own philosophy.

OBAMA LESSON #4:  Passionately embrace technology and new ideas!
One of the most impressive elements of Obama’s campaign was his unprecedented use of technology.  E-mail marketing, the Flckr the photo sharing site, YouTube, social networking and other internet tools were leveraged to the max for fundraising and communicating to his constituents. If you visit Obama’s site you will see that Obama, for example, has an account with every high traffic social networking site on the Internet. More importantly, each of those accounts are very active and drive traffic to the main website. Not only does Barack Obama actively participate in all of the largest social networks online, but he owns his own social network, where supporters can ‘network’ with other
supporters:  Awesome!

OBAMA LESSON #5:  You must engage all constituents and lead inclusively!
In a diverse multi-cultural world you must be able to engage others and lead inclusively and connect across departments, teams, racial lines, generational lines and various special interests. Barack was able  attract supporters for his campaign as diverse as Snoop Dogg…and Warren Buffett!  His mantra for change: “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is only the United States of America” was his rallying cry for inclusion. .

OBAMA LESSON #6:  You must inspire confidence in others!
When he says “I’m asking you to believe.  Not just in my ability too bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.” Barack Obama is further evidencing great leadership.  . Why? Because he is indicating his desire to empower people.  We all know the HR leader in the workplace who attempts to hold on to his power by taking away and demoting everyone else’s. It is counterproductive and it doesn’t work very well. A great HR leader, on the other hand, will empower his/her people and make them feel like they are an important part of the process. Obama is exceptional at this.

There are clearly many other leadership lessons to be learned from Obama’s rise to the presidency.  And the pundits will be analyzing them for years to come.  But as an HR leader, nothing prevents you from taking these six lessons from Obama and putting these into action now!