Presidents and The First 90 Days

With the reorganization of our part of the company finally made, several of my peers and I are re-reading and consulting Michael Watkin’s “The First 90 Days.” For those aware of the popular business book, Watkins’ premise is that in any leadership job, you have less than 90 days to establish yourself as a leader in the eyes of the organization, get significant “quick wins” and create a sustainable momentum that will propel you forward as you hit the inevitable resistance.

It’s an outstanding text and actually more applicable to leadership positions. I used an adaptation of that strategy when going back to school a few years ago (you have 30 days to establish in the eyes of the professor that you’re a driven, bright, focused and attentive over-achieving student, after which your actions and even your infrequent screwups will be interpreted in a good and tolerant light) and use it when I engage any new community, role or group.

Reading about our president this morning made me realize that someone should have bought him that book. It’s probably too late for him, since it appears he’s chosen to let two Nixonian-style hate-obsessed radicals run his presidency for him (Axelrod and Emanuel) and that increasingly validates the concerns that the president’s complete lack of leadership experience may have been too much to overcome. But if I were to meet the president, I realized my advice would predominantly be from The First 90 Days:

1. Don’t mention your predecessor again. The reason you got the job is because the people (on both sides) overwhelmingly got tired of Bush. They fired his party because they couldn’t fire him. Got that? You got the job with zero experience because they were that disgusted. When one gets an executive job, you never, ever bitch about your predecessor and the mess he left. THAT IS WHY YOU ARE HERE, STUPID. Each time you complain, it sends up red flags to competent professionals that you’re either totally incompetent or emotionally obsessing. What you’re not in possession of is control over your focus. This is completely unacceptable in leadership and gets you quickly fired in the real world.

2. Assemble an exceptional team quickly and keep the reigned in and focused. If you watch the Sunday shows, Axelrod and Emanuel run their boss and define his agenda. They write his teleprompter notes. It is terribly bad for you to hire anyone who transparently illustrates that they, not you, are running the show (especially when their show is the absolute disregard of your boss’s goals and directives, and furthermore, is focused on attacking your boss and damaging the company’s condition). Good people make or break you. Good people work to solve problems, not attack others. Good people are often not even heard about. Again, experienced executives know this first hand. Who you hire reflects so much upon you.

3. Identify your boss’s goals, especially those which led to your hiring (and the other guy’s firing), and put those front and center. The American people were tired of corrupt and powerful special interest, concerned about the economy and seeking an end-game strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, in that order (per most analysis I’ve reviewed). Abortion, gun rights, banning or legalizing immigrants, creating government healthcare and establishing a new carbon credit speculations and derivatives bubble for Soros, Gore and their associates were not on that list – on either side of the agenda. What’s going to get you fired fast is not only putting your agenda first, but doing the opposite of your boss’s agenda. Corruption? Powerful insiders? Keynesian “stimulus” proven by the top economists to fail which… failed to create all but 30,000 jobs (while using $10 billion of “stimulus” to invest in a Brazilian oil company so your campaign backer Soros can quadruple his investment)? Insane debt and spending that never benefits American people but goes to your powerful friends and backers? And an inept muddling about in Iraq and Afghanistan even when you got the strategy handed to you and put your own General in charge (the same general you can’t seem to find time to meet with or even read his report)?

4. Personal character is foundational and is only lost, not gained, at this stage. Being seen taking endless vacations, date nights, traffic-jamming trips for ice cream or hamburgers, endless international flights and use of company resources for no apparent business gain within your first “90 days” signals you’re a short-termer. It confirms the suspicion that for you, it’s all hat and no horse. You’re Play-Acting the Presidency. While token sacrifices are foolish, the Big Other (Lacan) expects it and you’re signaling sociopathic tendencies by rejecting that expectation. Bush gave up golfing while soldiers were at risk. Clinton feigned the obligatory tears and kept his narcissism hidden from the public (where it should have stayed). For the remaining three years, set aside you, Mr. President, and accept the Identity of the office and its definition.

Never too late, but…
Realistically, the First 90 days are over. We’re a week away from the year anniversary of Obama’s election and activation of his transaction team. He’s probably secured the distinction of a single-term president by now, but per the outside chance he might want a second one, he needs to act boldly and re-define a new 90 days. Fire the top advisors and team, replacing them with modest people who are transparent, open and in the service of the American people. Accept the role and identity of the presidency, setting aside the narcissistic self. And most fundamentally, clear the agenda of all but the people’s top three:

  • Create a Climate for Job Creation and Growth
  • Radically Reduce Government Spending and Corruption
  • Create Iraq/Afghanistan Exit Strategy

All else is off the agenda for now. If you earn a second term by accomplishing these three, you might get to consider other items in alignment with the people’s goals then. For now, this is your sole focus.

Failing to re-create the 90 days, we approach the signification of the Anniversary. At one year, people’s opinions will firm and your failure will be certified. Two elections, not one, will reject and punish your party in the signal by the populace to the political landscape at large that their three agenda items are not negotiable. You’ve got no more than a week to put your “new 90 days” in place, Mr. President. Are you up to the challenge?

Our Responsibility: Faulty Hiring Process
Last but not least, it would appear to me that the American people need to change our CEO screening process. We’re confirming Plato’s claim that democracy will always fail as the people elect popularity figures who tell us what we want to hear (and then just go on to steal from us and give to their powerful friends). No more elites. No rock stars. No sociopathic narcissists. No playboys. No pseudo-cowboys. No country clubbers. Right now, I’d be looking for a quiet and boring but exceptionally gifted CPA to clean one-hundred years of corruption and uncontrolled governmental growth. Instead of using Obama’s socialist mop, we need to start with a wrecking ball.


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