Though we've seen a lot of Obama before various audiences for two years, we've learned very little about how he works with those around him. We know little about his day-to-day style and approach toward leadership, management and organization. This missing information is even more intriguing given that this President - in six short weeks - has already made many far-reaching decisions to address our economic crisis and just proposed a bold, ambitious, enormous FY 2010 budget that charts an alternative course for the country.
Who does he talk to about all these moves he's making? How does he process and prioritize information? How does he try to control meetings? Who influences him the most?
We can deduce certain things from Obama's well-organized, disciplined presidential campaign. He found excellent people to run his campaign and he seemed comfortable delegating large, demanding pieces of it to them. It seemed he stuck to the "big picture" and his performance on the campaign trail.
We've read reports that Obama likes to hear arguments made at meetings before displaying a skill at synthesizing the salient points that must be addressed. I wonder how he runs other kinds of meetings when he must declare quickly what he needs from those in the room.
I am very curious how Obama interacts with his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, for instance. We've heard all about Emanuel's big ego, confrontational style and ability to say "No." I'm curious how and when Obama says "No" to Emanuel. In what way does he regularly tell Emanuel what he wants him to do and how does he hold Emanuel accountable?
I'd like to know how Obama gets what he wants from Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton or an array of others on his staff or in his Cabinet. What roles has Obama worked out for David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, both important advisors from Chicago days?
Obama comes across as a "big picture" thinker who likely attempts to set the large goals and strategy while leaving many details to his staff. If so, how, exactly, does he go about leaving matters to the discretion of others, including his Cabinet secretaries? I wonder if he trusts those under him so much that things might be a bit "loosey-goosey" in his Administration. Who knows?
I think it's fair to say that, overall, the details about these dynamics are very important in determining how successful a President can be over four or eight years. If Obama is regularly interested in hearing contrasting viewpoints on major issues, that alone could influence his way of defining his role and positions. Does his White House team ensure internal debate on matters to be decided?
How does Obama handle conflict and dissent? Who among his top aides really challenges him when they believe he is wrong? How does Obama then treat those individuals?
How Obama deals with Secreatry of State Clinton may be a fascinating example of how the President exercises leadership. He seems comfortable delegating to a large extent, but, how will he handle his first genuine disagreement with Clinton over a foreign policy matter? So far, they seem on the same page about early efforts to explore a new diplomatic relations with Iran. I'd love to hear their conversations. I guess I want to hear Hillary show the appropriate deference to the President. Maybe she does. Who knows?
There was one very sketchy news report weeks ago that seemed to suggest that one night, during the debate over the stimulus bill, Obama invited some House Democrats to the White House and voiced dissatisfaction with their approach in the public debate at the time. Either way, I'd like to hear a few more anecdotes like this - that provide at least a glimpse of Obama's leadership from inside the White House.
The President has been on television more steadily than almost any President I can recall; however, I think the majority of those appearances make sense because one can argue that as a new, young, inexperienced President, it's important for Obama to share his handling of the economic crisis - both to inform people and to display his skills as a means of reassurance.
Obama projects an aura of confidence and energy that, I think, helps people feel he's on top of things. If he would, occasionally, give people glimpses of how he leads and decides inside the White House, that would be another way of reassuring people even more.Let's hope he has a strong, effective approach working with his staff and Cabinet. These days, he needs all the help he can get - with as much support, loyalty and teamwork as possible.