This week marked President Obama’s first “performance review” of his presidency, as voters went to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. Midterm elections are major elections, mid-way between presidential terms – which means that all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, about one-third of the Senate seats and a handful of gubernatorial seats are up for re-election. Interestingly, the president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections. The midterm elections serve as an opportunity for the public to evaluate where the country is going; they were so important this year, because the Democrats held both houses of congress as well as the White House, so the election served as an opportunity for the nation’s voters to rate the progress, results, and overall policies of the Democrats, and specifically President Obama’s presidency.
Well, the results are in, and the Republicans picked up more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, providing them with their biggest majority since 1946. Many are characterizing the midterm election as a referendum on President Obama’s first two years in office – measuring his progress on the public’s top concerns: the poor state of the economy, record unemployment (approximately 9.6%), and a continuing housing crisis. While the Obama administration has accomplished many of the goals it set out to achieve (Health Care Reform, Finance Reform, etc.) it has not made enough progress on the economy – the top concern of the general public.
There are always leadership lessons to draw from politics and apply to business. In the case of the midterm elections, President Obama can take the message the voters communicated to him and course correct his plans for the remainder of his presidency. What an opportunity President Obama has, to have received real, honest, feedback in a timely manner to adapt his leadership style and key objectives! Some have argued that he shouldn’t have focused so narrowly on Health Care Reform or Financial Reform and instead concentrated purely on improving the economy. Whether or not this is true – it seems that President Obama’s messaging has gotten blurred. He needs to work carefully now to win back the support of his constituency, realign his goals and approaches so that they resonate with the people, and communicate clearly and effectively about how the work he is doing will translate into real change that the people will feel…economic change.
President Obama can also use this opportunity as he re-assesses his change strategy to rebuild his leadership team to prepare for the next two years of his administration. We know that there have been some changes to his team in the last few months, and there’s no better time than now to establish a new team, realigned to the goals of the administration, tightly focused on achieving results. Obama should look internally at his talent as well as externally to identify whether there are strong partners and leaders to help him move his agenda forward in the coming years.