If Obama was a CEO and this year's State of the Union address was an annual shareholders’ meeting of a publicly traded company, he would be fired.
Already under a performance cloud and beset with historically low confidence numbers, this was a critically important meeting. He desperately needed to reenergize confidence in his leadership, but he failed to achieve his objective.
We, the shareholders remain unconvinced.
As an organizational psychologist and management consultant for more than twenty-five years, I have helped many CEOs face critical junctures in their leadership. These moments of truth define them. Some rise to the occasion and renew their constituents’ hope.
Others cannot find compelling and broadly accepted answers to the problems burdening the organization.
The president failed to persuade us that he’s up to the task. How did he get off track?
The first report shareholder’s want to hear is the financial results—the net earnings or loss. Shareholders would be stupefied at the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet of a company run like the United States government.
The amount of debt Obama has created in five years with no obvious means, timetable or even intention to pay back would make shareholders apoplectic.
A second financial report would point out the “return on investment” of his trillion dollar stimulus package—by most estimates negligible. Those shareholders who were not stupefied would be seething over the company’s poor financial performance.
By the time the president got around to reporting that no meaningful cost reductions and elimination of meaningless and duplicative programs were made on the expense side of the ledger, many shareholders would already be committed to a leadership change.
A CEO must also present a convincing and hopeful vision for the company’s future.Shareholders want to know what grand initiatives he or she plans to bring about the vision.
For example, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, will be on the hot seat soon to prove that Apple can remain a leader in innovation.
GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, will be closely watched to see if her bet on revitalizing Opel will pay off.
The president presented mainly small tactical initiatives. While not unimportant to the small number of expected beneficiaries, focusing on raising the minimum wage in the State of the Union seemed small-minded and not particularly inspiring.
By now shareholders’ interest is fading.We would also want to hear about the progress of big initiatives the company has taken in the last year or two.
“You’re saying you spent over $600 million on a website, and it doesn’t even work yet. You’re kidding, right?”
When explaining the implementation of a major undertaking, owners of a company have every right to expect the truth, no matter what. Being saddled the mantle of having made the “biggest lie of the year” would undo most shareholders.
Incompetence is one thing, but lying is unconscionable.
Another quick way to get sacked is to be seen as arrogant and mean-spirited. Obama’s threat to congress, “I have a phone and I have a pen” is absolutely feckless.
Imagine a CEO telling a shareholders’ meeting that, “If all those people in my organization don’t start doing what I want, they’re really going to be in trouble…I’ll just take unilateral action go over their heads.”
An attempt to appear like a strong leader who is in charge would be seen as insecure and lacking in confidence.
We wanted to hear that our CEO has a way to get his diverse constituencies to work together to accomplish the grand vision…that even though they have differences, they can work together for the common good of the enterprise.
“You’re saying that not one piece of meaningful legislation was passed last year, and that your key executives will hardly even speak to each other, much less collaborate? What kind of team have you built? Are you even engaged in leading them?”
By this point, it would not be much of a discussion. The only remedy shareholders would accept is a new CEO.
We, the voters, are the shareholders of our country and have our first chance for new management in about 10 months.
It will be a bit longer before we can elect a new CEO of our country.
Going forward Americans must start acting more like shareholders and recognize that we need to elect individuals with competence and character (vs. star power), and be more careful to vet those who aspire to the position.
We must do a lot better the next time we elect a new CEO.
Tim Irwin, Ph.D. is an organizational psychologist, speaker, and author of the new book, "Impact: Great Leadership Changes Everything" (BenBella Books, February 4, 2014). He has consulted with a number of America's most well-known and respected companies and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.