Step 1: Commit to Personal ChangeIn 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.
Step 2: Fire Pelosi and ReidThe two congressional leaders -- Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- crafted and delivered a win. When it comes to rallying a party-line vote, both have proven their worth. But neither was able to deliver any congressional Republican votes. And that will be the key leadership skill if November elections alter the liberal-conservative balance. Different leadership styles are appropriate for different leadership situations. Leadership literature calls this "situational leadership." In the 1980s, Lee Iacocca was able to pull together a warring management and union at Chrysler to bring the company back from the brink. Several years later he was pushed out. Iacocca was a turnaround master, but average at a company that required operational excellence. Success in one situation doesn't ensure success in another.
Step 3: Create a Joint Change VisionIn business, there is a fine line when partnering with unions. CEOs look for high-level buy-in and on specific projects, but typically don't include union leaders on day-to-day leadership teams. Engaging Republicans in high-level planning and for the next two years will greatly improve relationships and increase the probability of initiative passage.
Step 4: Renew the Congressional Operating ModelEvery organization needs periodic renewal, a time to analyze its operations and commit to performance improvements. The process begins with an appointed leadership asking foundational questions. For Congress these might include:
- How should Congress operate? What must it deliver and how?
- What are the roles of congressional leaders and representatives? How and when should they be measured and how should those measures be publicized?
- What behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable and what are the sanctions for inappropriate behavior?