SOTU UFebruary 4, 2010 Leave a comment
With the dust now fairly settled from President Obama’s first State of the Union Address, I feel like it’s safe to offer a few comments here without being labeled an aspiring pundit. IISC friend and fellow network-phile Bill Traynor of Lawrence CommunityWorks captured some of my own feelings initially – impressed by the speech, on board . . . for now. Coming into that evening I was concerned about what I had been picking up as a big push of the “Obama brand”, leading me to ask along with Naomi Klein whether the man in the Oval Office is more about symbolic gesture than substantive change. Suffice to say that I don’t have the behind-the-scenes knowledge to confidently declare how much is actually getting done. But to the extent that anything in front of the curtain matters, and we know at least some of it does, I came away with some real adaptive leadership lessons from the SOTU Address.
Once again saddled with “the biggest speech of his career,” Barack Obama held his own. Starting with a brief history lesson which included reminders of how our country’s progress has rarely been assured, he took it upon himself to be a teacher and (fore)father-figure, not our best friend. He offered hope where he saw it, without backing away from some hard truths. He pointed to signs of our economy’s uptick measured with the acknowledgment that many are still suffering. He spread responsibility around the room, including directly at the Supreme Court Justices, laying our government’s extended family issues out for all to see, while also admitting to his own shortcomings. “I never said change would be easy, or that I could do this alone.” He talked at us as if we were adults. I like to think many of us rise to that recognition.
What struck me most in this particular presentation was how the President, through his posture and rhetoric, walked the difficult line between arrogance and irrelevance. He was not shy about making his agenda known or pressing his case directly to stakeholders in those stately chambers and beyond. And yet he was also clear that what we are facing is a complex set of issues that will not go away, for which the administration does not have all the answers, and that require all heads coming together. I didn’t agree with every policy prescription uttered. And I certainly have my doubts about what Washington can get done in its current configuration. But I do know there is plenty for heads and hands to do outside the Beltway. And so I’m watching, Mr. President, taking your cue and digging in here. “Let’s get it done.”