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My Report to the President

My Report to the President

Dear Mr. President:

You had requested an executive summary of my analysis of your current ability to influence and create constructive change. I’ve listed the points in no particular order, since they are all important. Sorry we couldn’t meet as planned, but I’m sensitive to the rigor of your schedule.

1. Ironically, perhaps, Americans crave an imperial Presidency. It’s one of the primary reasons that Jimmy Carter served only one term (he wanted to dispense with his limo and stop at red lights, for example). You’re on television too much. You ought to wear a suit and tie more often. No one needs to see you playing basketball all the time. We’ll take your word that you have a good jump shot. Start acting like the leader of the most powerful and freedom-loving country in the history of the world. Americans don’t need another friend, they need a strong leader, and they are looking to you to fill that role. (Note to staff: If unrequited love is deemed essential, elevate executive director of the American Kennel Club to cabinet level.)

2. Stop apologizing. Stop the perception of apologizing. People would rather have your wife place her hands on the arm of the Queen of England than see you bow to an Arab prince or a Japanese Emperor. The United States flag is never, ever dipped or lowered in salute to anyone, anywhere. Take your lead from that protocol. We’ve made mistakes, so has everyone else. We learn better than most, and constantly try to improve. Our country may operate first and foremost in its own self-interest. There is nothing in the Constitution about having to dazzle the Europeans.

3. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. What’s really important? You’re advocating a supposedly historic health care overhaul, but also dashing off to Copenhagen to try for an Olympic decision (that ultimately didn’t even have the U.S. in contention and provided a slap in the face). Why are you interfering with an overzealous cop and a curmudgeonly professor? Let them work it out. You’re not a community organizer any more. Trigger mechanism: Wherever American lives are being lost or are endangered, that’s a priority.

4. When you do communicate, you must provide a higher level of emotional investment. Pretend it’s a basketball game, and you were just fouled but the ref didn’t call it. You create tight intellectual arguments that don’t admit any passion. Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act. Those folks showing up at town meetings to protest proposed health care changes weren’t organized by the enemy. They were people driven to a high emotional pitch by issues urgent to them. You need commitment, not compliance. You need to recapture the fervor of your campaign while leading.

5. Stop starting sentences with “Look!” It’s condescending and perceived as implying that the listener isn’t paying attention. You keep repeating, “Let me be clear….” You need to be saying, “Let me be specific….” Then people will look. And listen.

6. You must be politically effective, not politically correct, which are often antipodal. A “holiday tree” without religious connotation probably manages to offend most people and cause the rest to believe you’re afraid of offending anyone. You did attend church regularly yourself (remember the Reverend Wright debacle). Christmas is not originally a secular holiday, no matter what historical revisionists say. Either celebrate it or not, but stop trying to please everyone. Incredibly, you seem to lose sight of the historical fact of your election, and often revert to campaigning. Use the fervor of running, but the power of your office.

7. The honeymoon is over, the positive ratings are down, so you have to create a more professional appearance for your administration. That scary jet flyover in New York, the crashers at the state dinner, the complaints about no women in your “insiders” fun and games—the appearance is of amateurism, a meeting of a Toastmasters chapter instead of the Harvard Business School. We have a consulting term for this: taking names and kicking ass.

In summary, you need to reduce your exposure but increase the passion of those appeals you do choose to make, based on clear priorities. Don’t be arrogant in representing us, but do exhibit pride in our accomplishments. It’s time to take accountability as a leader. In the Civil War, the highest proportional mortality of any officer was at Brigadier General level (impossible today) because that officer got on a horse in full view and said to his brigade, “Follow me!” as he galloped off to the enemy lines. Those generals showed great courage which engendered loyal troops.

You need to get back on that horse, Mr. President, and people will follow. We want you to succeed because we want to succeed.

My invoice is in the mail, per our agreement. I’ve waived the expenses, since I simply took the Acela and greatly enjoyed having my picture taken at the dinner with Joe Biden and Michaele Salahi. (However, I thought the chicken was a tad dry.)

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 8

  • Dave Gardner

    November 28, 2009

    I hope he reads this. Are you posting it on the White House.gov contact form? They need to see this.

  • Alan Weiss

    November 29, 2009

    I figure I can get by the Secret Service pretty easily these days. I’m using one of my son’s girl friends as my escort….

  • Liz de Clifford

    November 30, 2009

    Alan, who could have said this any better – thank you. Liz

  • Mark Frobose

    December 2, 2009

    I completely agree with Alan on this subject. In an attempt to be ‘liked’, we have the President of the United States groveling before Europe.
    The French didn’t like us during De Gaulle.
    They didn’t like us when I studied in France in the 70’s.
    And now, when we finally have a relatively conservative and non-socialist president in France, our President is to his left? Amazing.
    I have lived and studied in Europe and began my studies there believing some of the things President Obama apparently believes.
    I can be excused. I was only 19 years old at the time.
    That all changed the day I went into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie.
    Instant reality check.
    I realized at that moment that what my father had told me was true.
    He jumped in Normandy in 1944 with the 82nd Airborne and was wounded in action several days later.
    A product of the Great Depression, his grandmother actually had to sell bread in the streets just to make ends meet.
    From his poverty came my opportunity, thanks in large part to this amazing
    country and his incredible generation.
    I love Europe, but I almost kissed the ground when I returned from 2 years of study in France. I discovered what all immigrants already know.
    If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.
    Have you seen anyone floating on driftwood to escape America reach Cuba lately?
    The Europeans have plenty to apologize for and we’re not requiring them to do so.
    America is an imperfect country, but it is by far the greatest experiment in human freedom and opportunity in the history of mankind.
    I agree with Alan. What we need is a strong leader who recognizes the threats we are facing and who ‘leads’ and ‘inspires’ us to take action.
    A leader does not ask everyone else what he should do.
    A leader consults with experts to follow strong convictions which are based on the belief that America is a fundamentally good and just nation, in the process of improving.
    Apologizing to those less perfect than ourselves is a humiliating exercise in self-defeat which lessens our effectiveness and ability to inspire others with our strengths.
    This gives ammunition to the wicked and steals from the just who contribute daily to our security, opportunity and freedom.

  • Ron Ratliff

    December 3, 2009


    Thank you! I spent almost 13 years in Russia and, without question, the Russia with Vladimir Putin as leader is far more vibrant, productive and confident than the Russia with Boris Yeltsin.

    While there, I thought that the desire for a strong leader had something to do with being Russian. After a year of “hope & change” I now realize that it is a human need to be able to be inspired by a strong leader.

    Your reference to the American flag is powerful — and on point — to the issue.

  • Sam

    December 4, 2009


    #2 contains all other excellent points you made.

    There is a point (#8) missing on your list: Do not overpromise and underdeliver. We know that as consultants but politicians (and their advisors) do not.

    I don’t quite understand the parallel Ron made with Russia and “strong leadership.”

    By all standards, Russia is (still) a friendly tyranny (or oligarchy, if that sounds better), very much on the “Road to Serfdom.” Putin just did a TV bit on admiring Stalin, couple of weeks after his minion decried “backwardness” of his own country.

  • Amy

    December 6, 2009

    Thanks, Alan, for contributing your intellectual firepower to this topic! Well said and I look forward to more of your commentary on political issues and personalities.

    I know that when my friend Dave Gardner (a.k.a. “Democrat Dave”)agrees, you are right on!

  • Alan Weiss

    December 7, 2009

    Whether you voted for the guy or not, we all want him to succeed. But you have to be able to take an objective view.

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