Obama's Management Style Will Be Key to His Success, Analysts Say

Over the course of his political career, Barack Obama has proven he knows how to run a successful presidential campaign, write best-selling memoirs and inspire millions with his speeches on hope and change.

But when he is president of the United States and suddenly has to manage a deepening financial crisis along with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama will need something else entirely, political analysts say.

He'll need the right management style.

"It's not clear to me that we have a really clear picture yet of what his management style as president is going to be," said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

But Riley believes Obama has shown confidence in his management skills by surrounding himself with powerful and accomplished people, such as Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state and Leon Panetta as CIA director.

"If it works, it would very much be to his advantage," Riley said. "With so many crises erupting on so many fronts, it's not possible for him to tend to everything that needs to be dealt with."

Obama told the Washington Post on Thursday that his confidence in his ability to manage people has allowed him to assemble a powerful team of White House counselors who will compete with Cabinet secretaries for influence over the majority of domestic and foreign policy issues.

"The theory behind it is I set the tone," Obama told the newspaper's editorial board. "If the tone I set is that we bring as much intellectual firepower to a problem, that people act respectfully towards each other, that disagreements are fully aired, and that we make decisions based on facts and evidence as opposed to ideology, that people will adapt to that culture and we'll be able to move together effectively as a team."

"I have a pretty good track record at doing that," he added.

As a presidential candidate, Obama was widely credited by political analysts for running a disciplined and effective campaign. The candidate's camp took pride in containing media leaks and keeping the internal drama typically associated with presidential campaigns at bay. 

But analysts warn managing a presidential campaign is not the same as governing the world's most powerful country.

"The real question is how relevant is that to the business of being president and running effectively an independent branch of the government," Riley said.

But Bill Keegan, director of public relations firm Edelman's U.S. Crisis & Issues Management Practice, said he believes Obama's campaign proved he's got the goods.

"I think he's the right man for the right time," he said, explaining that Obama's management style includes a consensus-building approach with a definitive point of view and an ability to distill a lot of facts and information quickly, which helps him make swift decisions. That style, Keegan said, is perfect for the crises he faces.

Keegan said the wrong management style in the hours right after a crisis is indecisiveness.

"If you haven't firmly established your position -- whether you're facing allegations or catastrophic events -- if you haven't confronted them, you will quickly lose control. Then you see third-party intermediaries take over the dialogue."

While Obama has been outspoken about his plans to revive the crumbling economy, he has stayed quiet on the crisis in the Gaza strip, citing his mantra that the United States should have only one president at a time when it comes to foreign affairs. But Obama has vowed swift action once he is sworn in next week.

Steven Fink, president of the Los Angeles-based Lexicon Communications and the author of "Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable," isn't ready to appraise Obama's management style yet.

"I don't feel comfortable talking about his management style before he's sworn in because no one knows what his management style will be," he said.

"Over the years, every president has had to deal with a variety of crises," he said. "Some management styles have lent themselves better to different crises."

Fink cited Franklin Roosevelt, who led the country through the Great Depression and during World War II.

"He had, in my view, an exceptional management style," he said, citing FDR's ability to multitask and manage crises on different fronts. "One of his great quotes was you need to have a plan. You need to be doing something. His point was you just don't sit there, twiddling your thumbs.

"Now compare that to Jimmy Carter, who I think had a poor management style," he said, pointing to Carter's leadership during the Iran hostage crisis, which many analysts cite as the reason for Carter's defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

"Carter used to have these daylong meetings with advisers," Fink explained. "At the end of the day, he would make decisions, only to go to bed, wake up and change his mind."

No one seems to expect that from Obama, especially if his actions as president-elect are any indication of how he will manage. But Riley, the presidential historian, said the biggest surprise from Obama as president-elect is how many Washington veterans he's appointed to his administration.

"From a scholarly standpoint, he should be doing that," he said. "You're the one at the helm of the ship. You're going to be responsible, but you want an accomplished crew that will salute you, 'aye aye sir,' but will go to the bowels of the ship."