Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Does Obama Do It?

Part of the reason why some people in the progressive blogosphere were upset about, say, Obama's embrace of faith-based charities, is that they had convinced themselves that Obama agreed with them about everything. (The FISA bill is a separate issue; there Obama really did say he'd filibuster a bill with telecom immunity, and when the bill came, no filibuster and a yes vote.)

But generally, Obama seems to have an ability to make just about everyone think that he agrees with them, even when he doesn't. Conservatives like Andrew Sullivan think he's conservative, or at least "temperamentally conservative," which basically means "he's not a conservative, but I feel like he somehow gets it anyways," even though he's a liberal Democrat. Likewise, people to the left of Obama think that he is where they are, people who want to see radical change in race relations think he can single-handedly bring it about, and people who want a new bicycle think... you see where this is going.

But Marc Ambinder is the first to see that Obama's ability to make everyone think he agrees with them may first and foremost be a management strategy:

Obama was new to national politics, so new, in fact, that his circle of advisers and confidants hadn't yet fractured into competing camps with different philosophies. No factions means fewer leaks to the press.

As the campaign progressed, disagreements hardened and some advisers started to regularly ally with others against others, but Obama seems to have figured out a way to make sure that everyone in his inner circle felt empowered just enough; that they felt as if their views were being solicited and respected.

So -- no real factions, no leaks, little drama.

If there's a leadership lesson here, it's: cultivate productive disagreement by refusing to align yourself with any particular point of view; seek input from everyone; don't buy into the cult of the singular adviser or strategist.
Also see Ambinder's first post on "Management Secrets of Barack Obama": it's smart too.

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