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TheStreet Open House

From Inside or Outside, Change Needs Seasoned Leadership

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week President Obama said one of his biggest first-term failures was to underestimate the difficulty of changing the tone in Washington. He said that Washington "cannot" be changed from the inside; it can only be changed from the outside.

Is that true? Is it impossible to change Washington from the inside, or is the worsening divide in Washington a failure of change leadership?

In April 2009, I wrote a column Obama Must Launch Offensive Against Gridlock. In it, I questioned the president's change leadership strategy and asserted that if he did not make four major changes there would be gridlock after mid-term elections. That is precisely what happened.

One month before my article, The New York Times article ran a story with the headline, "Scolding GOP, Obama Makes 15 Recess Appointments." Scolding and blaming created gridlock which produced more scolding and blaming and more gridlock.

Candidate Obama's post-partisan vision captured the hearts of many Americans. To voters, it seemed simple; all that was needed was a president who was committed to ending the fighting. In a landslide victory, the American public lined up behind the new president -- he had the mandate from the outside. But the president and the public soon learned what many executives have learned -- making change statements is much easier than making change.

The deeper issue is that few Americans appreciate the skills required for successful leadership. Most know that it takes more than ten thousands of hours of practice to develop the skills to be a professional golfer or tennis player. Yet, we assume that the experience needed to be the president of the United States, the CEO of, arguably, the world's most complex organization, is something almost any intelligent person can do with a couple of advisors.

In 2008, U.S. citizens hired a candidate with no formal leadership experience, not even a first line supervisor job, to become America's CEO.

Other 2008 candidates included John McCain and Hillary Clinton. McCain was a legislator. Given the number and impact of the bills he sponsored, he should be considered a successful legislator. But holing up with a small team to write legislation hardly qualifies one to lead a highly diversified organization of just under three million employees. Although there are some overlapping tasks, senator and president are two very different jobs. Governor and President -- that's much closer match.

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