For charismatic Obama, trust factor diminishing

Posted Aug. 02, 2009, at 6:53 p.m.

Barack Obama and his Chicago cabal are attempting to set the stage, direction and leadership tone for his presidency in the “Hawaiian Boy” style, a charisma-based format, which was used in his election campaign and continues in his presidential policy campaign.

The late Peter Drucker, the noted professor of business at Claremont College in California and winner of the Medal of Freedom in 2002, in a 1988 treatise appearing in the Wall Street Journal, offered in his analysis of leadership qualities, the leadership perspective of his time. But, today it is still applicable, as the conclusions are timeless. Drucker says you cannot lead with charisma: You must lead from trust. If you don’t have trust, you have nothing. Trust is garnered, however you want to call it either in business, government or politics, by performance and so far Obama’s candidacy has left a host of open performance questions. Therefore, his trust factor is diminishing.

Drucker’s conclusions were drawn from studies of noted world-class leaders; Drucker concluded, any one of which, if they had been called to lead, did not and could not lead by charisma (“George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower had no more charisma than a dead mackerel, but were great leaders”). There has to be trust, or as Drucker says, he would be a “misleader.” History knows no more charismatic “leaders” than the past century’s “triad of misleaders: Stalin, Hitler and Mao — men who displayed charismatic style, but failed in gathering the needed trust.

The continuation of Obama’s campaign charisma style, as Obama is attempting, with his “Hawaiian Boy” technique is a composition of toothy smiles, handshakes and friendly arms-around embracings, embellished with cute sloganeering and soaring rhetoric, but, with a noted absolute minimum of leadership detail. To wit, real leadership starts by building trust (and might just conclude with some charisma) on the merits of policy details emanating from potential “game changing” deeds.

Unfortunately, Obama had little to draw from other than his short Senate record. The lingering question is where is the record for comparison purposes? Words are nice, and rhetoric is pleasing to the senses, but it is in performance, past and present, that we will judge. Obama has little past record of significant stature so, at this point, at the end of the first six months of his presidency, with all the polls indicating a gathering lack of support, and disbelief in his ability to achieve his policy objectives, his lack of depth, borne from his lack of significant prior experiences, is showing through. Charismatic content and formulations that worked well on his election campaign are now being scripted to enhance believability on his “policy” trail. The time is long past when charisma by itself might have carried the day. It won’t. Obama needs to come to grips with that component.

The “Hawaiian Boy” tag is not a negative comment; it is a stylized descriptive statement about the conduct, style and character, and how “they” get by. The “Hawaiian Boys” live by manipulating events and tourists, as their key element is getting the tourist to hire them for the purpose of manipulating the “target” so as to attract bigger fees from them.

Let’s start at the top: Obama’s presidential campaign was outstanding. It was a marketing grand slam, and I offer, he would make a great executive for an advertising agency. But it seems to stop there. This is also where his needed trust element factor never got off the ground. All he ever presented were his marketing slogans. About health care, he pitched, “It’s going to bankrupt us, if we don’t fix it.” He talked in broadly sweeping terms. He talks about dollar concepts within his plan without detailing them. Broad strokes, yes; specifics not many. Obama needs to understand he needs to come out from the shadows — the answer is candor — for achieving his goals.

Alan Henry of Northport is a former public broadcasting executive.

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