Do You Need Your Own "Rahm?"
Great leaders have a deep, accurate understanding of their own strengths and deficiencies. And this often leads them to appoint a lieutenant who provides balance. Whatever your personal politics may be, Obama's pick of Emanuel, someone whose strengths are very different from his own, says a lot about him as a leader.
Barack Obama radiates a cool, steady calmness. Watching him from afar, you cannot imagine him coming down hard on people to get things done; this is not his style and he knows it.
That's why he chose as his chief of staff a man who according to NPR's Morning Edition loves to "win." Brash, bold and abrasive, Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton White House aide, is opposite of Obama's cool; he's fire and passion backed with relentless drive. For someone of Obama's temperament, Emanuel is an ideal chief of staff, a job that H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon's chief of staff, viewed as being the "president's S.O.B."
Emanuel's selection demonstrates how leaders need to surround themselves with people who complement them, not replicate them. Emanuel's not afraid to ruffle feathers so he can play the heavy when Obama needs someone to twist arms, one of the ways to get things done in Washington. Every senior leader needs someone like Emanuel, perhaps not with the title of chief of staff, but with the power of it. and the power to drive things forward. Here's how.
Control access. The chief of staff manages the leader's most precious resource: his time. He controls the leader's schedule, whom he sees and when he sees him. Strategic access to the boss is critical to getting things done. The chief of staff grants access as a means of influencing outcomes. Essentially the chief of staff says that if you play the game, you see the boss. If you don't play the game, you are frozen out. As a result, you lose your own influence and the ability to get things done. In short order, you'll be gone.
Crack the whip. This is Emanuel's forte; he's not afraid to apply pressure, to play the heavy in service of the cause. By doing so, he allows his President to stand above the fray and if necessary to swoop down and soothe bruised egos, but only after the deal's been done. The same applies in the corporate world; a senior leader needs someone who can cut through bureaucracy so that initiatives are completed on time and on budget.
Tell the truth. Astute senior leaders worry all the time about what they do not know. Like emissaries, wise chiefs of staff keep their eyes open and ears to the ground to find out what's really going on. Each has their own "canaries in the coal mine" who alert them to what people are saying and doing. It's not the gossip that matters; it's news of real progress on initiatives that matter. It's also critical that a chief of staff tells the senior leader when he's wrong. Not many folks have the willingness (or guts) to do that. A chief of staff who can stand up to his boss serves his leader and the organization well.
Emanuel demonstrates one characteristic different from Obama; he's willing to sublimate his leadership to a higher cause. Obama did not wait "his turn" to run for president; he seized his chance. Emanuel is the fourth highest ranking Democratic congressman and was in line sooner than later to become Speaker, assuming the Democrats held serve. So despite his brash exterior, he does possess something else that a chief of staff needs: a sacrifice of personal ambition.
A senior leader who can find someone such as that is a fortunate leader indeed
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