The Nonpartisan Global Human Capital Journal Endorses Barack Obama for U.S. President

Cites International Mindset, Judgment and Flexibility—Ambiguity and Global Transformation Form the Backdrop

Obama_PresidentThe 2008 U.S. presidential election has been the most dramatic in recent history by any measure. Converging economic, cultural and political issues are increasing the level of discomfort among voters and raising the stakes. In endorsing Barack Obama, I have considered the candidates in several dimensions, but my primary perspective has been that of a management consultant. The United States is a client in crisis, and I have asked myself, “What kind of leader does the country need, given the challenges it faces?” Barack Obama is my prescription, although there may be unwelcome side effects. If circumstances were different, I might well have favored John McCain.

Too often campaigns pander to voters by suggesting that selecting political leaders is like ordering by ticking boxes on a Web page. Even though voters may like to believe that political contenders have the ability to bring about the changes they support, a better indicator is looking for the things about candidates that are more independent of circumstance, like character, attitude, underlying beliefs and formative experience. Of course, the effect of any elected political leader is a function of his/her interaction with the other political forces with which s/he engages. In making my decision, I regarded the candidates through several lenses:

Flexibility and Capacity for Change—The shift to the Knowledge Economy is forcing political parties in all countries to redefine themselves. Consultants, journals and academics have espoused a globalizing economy for years, but the fact is, it is becoming far more actionable and immediate down to the individual level. Social networks and Web 2.0 make it possible for individuals to “go global.” This will increasingly change politics and the context of the nation state itself. This is a poignant time for the United States because it is the leader of the 20th century status quo, and it will be increasingly confronted with the choice of whether to cling to past glory and ideas or to move beyond. Barack Obama rates higher in this dimension than John McCain, giving him a significant advantage.

Leadership—contending for the presidency is a grueling proposition for anyone, and it is a useful indicator for how a candidate will perform in office. Barack Obama has risen to the occasion, where John McCain has faltered. The difference in the candidates during the debates was striking. Obama came across as being more grounded and confident where McCain struggled more to find himself. On the issue of “fighting evil,” the candidates had strikingly different responses. McCain: “Beat it.” Obama: “Let’s not forget that many evils have been committed in the name of fighting evil.” When the rules of engagement are set and relatively certain, the most effective leaders are often those who can motivate others to take the hill. That is John McCain. However, the rules of engagement are changing rapidly, and Obama is better suited to perceive and make decisions that accommodate changing conditions. He appreciates nuance and ambiguity.

International mindset —the United States’ international reputation has suffered significantly during the George W. Bush presidency. It is easy to observe that “the world is getting smaller,” but not so obvious how to lead within the new context. As I have written repeatedly in these pages, the world is undergoing a profound shift that will force people to be more collaborative. Human beings’ capture and use of knowledge is drastically increasing our wealth and negative impact on the Earth, and our survival depends on trying to lead within the context of increasing interdependency. Although I do not subscribe entirely to the Obama Campaign that “John McCain is a four-year extension to George W.,” his propensity to see countries and people as “for us or against us” is a weak indicator for his ability to guide the country through the uncertainty it faces. Obama’s openness to engage Iran, Cuba and others is a positive sign that he is willing to try a new approach. If it is to retain its position as a global leader, the U.S. must transform itself and move beyond old paradigms.

Significantly, my clients, associates and friends around the world are virtually unanimous in their desire that the U.S. elect Obama. Of course, the U.S. president’s first responsibility is to the United States, but that increasingly means leading through consensus and diplomacy, two areas in which Obama shows significant promise and in which John McCain is lacking. The world is becoming more complex and ambiguous, and the U.S. needs a president who can think of his feet and pull together teams of talented people who may come from unorthodox quarters.

Economic policy—This is the area in which I have the greatest concern, as I generally support a more open economy with minimal trade barriers and government interference. Obama has made numerous references to “protecting American workers” that a Democratic Congress would ostensibly be only too happy to accommodate. The U.S., like other major industrial economies, is experiencing a transition to a knowledge-based economy. As in all transformations, it is causing disruption and uncertainty for workers in traditional industries. For example, the U.S. automotive industry used to be the envy of the world due to its innovation and efficiency, and its entitlements are built on these bygone days. Protecting aging, outmoded industries would prolong the transformation process and damage the economy significantly in the long term. That said, no Democratic candidate could win the nomination were s/he to reject the “workers’ cause,” so I estimate that Obama’s actions would be less than his rhetoric.

Judgment—McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin shows an appalling lack of judgment for a key member of his proposed team. Most sources chalk it up to his storied impulsivity or a “gut” decision. His impulse to call off the first debate to be in Washington to deal with the financial crisis showed uncertainty under crisis; Obama, in contrast, steadfastly committed to the debate. As a 72 year old man, McCain is holding up surprisingly well to the rigors of the campaign, but I have to wonder whether he is physically and mentally up to the presidency. In light of this, his selection of Sarah Palin is that much more debilitating. You might say it went beyond the pale.

Resilience—John McCain is an admirable man who has shown bravery and resilience as a veteran. Obama also rates high in this category, having risen to prominence by his intelligence, determination and ability to manage. That said, the context of each candidate’s ability to face uncertainty and to recover from setbacks is quite different. Here again, the edge goes to Obama, as he has consistently shown himself able to deal with ambiguity and to spring back from unexpected assaults.

Innovation and Change —Barack Obama has vanquished the Democratic machine by understanding the potential of Web 2.0 and knitting it with old-fashioned on-the-ground organizing (for more, see Web 2.0’s Impact on 2008 U.S. Presidential Election…”). This bodes well for his performance as president. The U.S. (and many other countries, by the way) desperately needs to reevaluate its political establishment, which is significantly outmoded and living in the past. I value Obama’s use of new technology and emergent organization. The Obama campaign was a start-up David to the Clinton Machine’s Goliath.

Character—Barack Obama has spent a significant part of his formative experience abroad and has multiculturalism in his DNA. Although many (U.S.) Americans may be uneasy with this, Europeans understand better how valuable this can be because it widens perspective and gives credibility. In Obama, the U.S. would have someone with deep understanding of various parts of the world. During the Sarah Palin family dust-up, he showed integrity and decency when he didn’t have to—by pointing out that he had been born when his mother was 18 (Palin’s daughter will be 17). John McCain has also shown himself to have a strong and committed character, but I think he would be better suited to remaining a senator. He would be an unhappy president; he has largely been an unhappy campaigner; the fruits of his independence have made the campaign more difficult as he has had to compromise in many areas. In the context of the presidency, I give Obama a significant edge.

Organization—Both men have had to face division within their parties: McCain has tried to accommodate “traditional” conservatives, many of whom have not been able to get comfortable with his penchant for finding his own way on critical issues. Obama has had to recover from a long, bitter race against Hillary Clinton, but in retrospect that challenge appears less intractable than McCain’s lack of success in uniting the Republican Party. Obama has run an admirable campaign, and he has shown himself to have significant organizational skills. He has broken many barriers and overcome biases of race, money and perceived lack of experience. Much of his ability to do this has come from his ability to galvanize people and to run a tough, disciplined campaign. A potential weakness is Obama’s relative lack of experience at dealing with Washington (D.C.) skullduggery.

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