Last Updated Sep 23, 2010 6:24 PM EDT
Put yourself in this scenario as a CEO facing a major decision. You, the chief executive, are committed to one course of action, in Obama's case to draw down American military from Afghanistan. The only question is how. Meanwhile, your top strategists, in this case the military brass and intelligence leadership, are arguing for an increase in troop commitment and spending, not less.
How do you handle the discord? How do you drive your decision down the organization?
Obama takes an approach that should be of interest to any CEO or manager of a potentially rebellious unit.
- After dozens of meetings to hear opinions and alternatives, Obama announces he has made a decision, which represents a compromise: a pullout within two years after a short-term surge of 30,000 troops.
- He explains his decision. In rejecting the military's request for 40,000 troops and a no-end-in-sight mission, Obama declares, "I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."
- He sets clear, realistic expectations. The withdrawal will not be accompanied with claims of victory or failure. "Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint," he says, according to Woodward. "It's in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."
- The military delays, and continues to lobby for an increased military presence. Obama grows frustrated, finally demanding, "Why do we keep having these meetings?"
- Obama tells General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] ... unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011."
- Obama's final six-page plan takes the unusual step, according to Woodward, "of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do."
Here's what I liked about the president's approach. Obama let everyone have their say, made a decision, stated it firmly and with clarity. He gave his reasoning. He then focused his attention on execution, not letting the team go down rat holes of second guessing. His final directive included not only the marching orders, but a clear description of what would not be acceptable -- a pointed slap at an openly skeptical military.
So put your CEO hat on and tell us what you think of how Obama handled this situation. Remember, the president could not fire all who disagreed with his approach, even as some of their actions seemed less than supportive. He had to work with what he had, for the most part, and deliver results.
Did he do a good management job?
(Photo courtesy the White House)