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Obama Must Launch Offensive Against Gridlock

Stocks in this article: UPS GE

We all know leaders who can get things done but whose tactics leave a path of destruction. With each successive effort, organizational antibodies gather against the individual and his progress slows or even stops.

President Obama recently passed his first major piece of legislation. He won, but left a path of destruction. The numbers tell the story; Washington is in turmoil, perhaps more now than ever before. Last Monday's Pew Research poll found that almost eight in 10 Americans say they don't trust the federal government and have little faith it can solve the nation's problems.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, calls this, "a very, very negative climate of opinion about government."

With no course correction, the November elections will change the balance of power and meaningful change will slow or even stop. For the administration to achieve its aspirations beyond 2010, it must immediately launch a major offensive against gridlock.

It is possible to run a healthy organization with an opposition party. Take unions for example. Without an adversarial relationship between a company and its people, there would be no need for a union. Nevertheless, successful corporations like United Parcel Service (UPS) and General Electric (GE) are unrelenting in their quest to improve union-management relationships. Companies that ignore their unions end up like Eastern Airlines.

Working effectively with an opposition party is also possible in government. The Clinton administration passed Medicare reform, the first tax cuts in 16 years and four consecutive balanced budgets without a House majority and with the highly adversarial leader New Gingrich. Ronald Reagan never had a Republican House majority, but his persistent negotiations with Tip O'Neill delivered dramatic changes at home and abroad.

Obama can deliver on his promise of a post-partisan Washington. But it won't be easy. Here is a four-step recovery plan:

Step 1: Commit to Personal Change

In corporate America, no change, especially cultural change, is possible without CEO ownership. Similarly, there is no person other than the president who has the ability to break gridlock. Success or failure is in his hands.

First, Obama must decide, unambiguously, whether he will recommit to his vision of a post-partisan Washington. And his behavior must be absolutely consistent with that vision. A New York Times article last month had the headline, "Scolding GOP, Obama Makes 15 Recess Appointments." That's not it.

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