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LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE, WHICH MAXIMISES THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS TOWARDS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SHARED GOAL.
Friday, October 08, 2010
In many ways, when President Obama stood up to deliver his address to the United Nations on September 23, he faced challenges similar to a business leader working inside a multi-national corporation. He's addressing a group of rough equals (who nonetheless form a hierarchy); he wants to move an agenda forward, and to do so he has to combine persuasion and truth in a delicate mixture.
Business leaders can learn four lessons from the way in which Obama approached his task:
1. You can gain leverage with your colleagues by telling the truth rather than sticking to familiar cant.
All companies, like all countries, deceive themselves in ways large and small, and form tacit agreements to leave certain uncomfortable truths unsaid. Anyone who is willing to say them can wield power.
2. Finding the simplicity amidst complexity will allow you to set the agenda.
After setting the record straight on a number of issues, Obama announces "four pillars" — non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people — that then form the basis of the rest of his talk. Inevitably, this simple announcement will set the agenda for many discussions that follow.
3. When you're dealing with a difficult crowd and contentious issues, give a few presents away early on.
The United States has been quixotic in its treatment of the United Nations — like many other nations — using the world body when convenient, and ignoring it when it wasn't helpful. That cavalier attitude has created ill will toward the United States in the UN. Obama's announcement that the US would pay its bills and re-engage with the UN was shrewdly calculated to sweeten the pot and create some good will. Similarly, an executive can create a warmer atmosphere by unilaterally giving away some corporate goodwill early in the talk to sweeten the pot. Address nagging issues that don't cost you very much but have symbolic import.
4. Once you've told the truth, sweetened the pot, and kept it simple, it's time to ask for the hard things.
A well-crafted speech doesn't make the difficult demands until the right atmosphere has been established. And because we have a deeply ingrained need to be reciprocal, never ask for something until you've offered something free first.