Monday, March 17, 2008

The Clinton-Obama Leadership Race Needs a Rallying Point to Break the Gridlock

Simplistically-speaking democratic delegates are in a bind. Vote for Hillary if you want depth or deep experience. Or, if breadth is the requirement, a symbol of diversity and apparent open-mindedness, vote for Obama. Both are vital for effective leadership. Too bad one of the candidates doesn’t measure up significantly on both. An either-or choice is making life difficult for the Democrats. Without resolution, they are in danger of being divided and causing confusion for voters.

My informal surveys with emerging and experienced leaders reflect the difficulties. The results are extreme: the majority for one or the other with few in-between. Hillary came out on top among approximately fifty government leaders from a range of functions. About half as many staff in a research university, also representing a cross-section of jobs, sided overwhelmingly with Barack. The reasons may lie in what an organization values: getting things done in better ways or jumping into the new and different. Certainly the democratic candidate choice must be forcing a lot of soul-searching.

With so much at stake, the situation calls out for a rallying point that will help differentiate the choice more clearly. Recent articles cite the “popular vote” as a guide. Obama wins that one. But, what are the messages underlying the “popular vote”?

Richard Florida, in his new book, Who’s Your City: How The Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live The Most Important Decision Of Your Life, presents some intriguing connections between people and economic growth that may be playing on the minds of Americans. His data demonstrate correlations between “open to experience” personalities and regional innovation and growth. He explains that openness is an important factor for attracting and leveraging diversity which, in turn, drives prosperity.

Given the dire estimates on the economic costs of the war in Iraq, Americans may instinctively be moving towards a candidate that they believe can generate recovery and growth faster. Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University’s 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics has sent a chill down the spines of political decision makers in the United States: the war has conservatively cost $3 trillion. The bleeding will continue with the cost of war veterans’ disabilities. The meaning of security is changing from protection from terrorists to protection from financial hardship and a lower standard of living. The “popular vote” may be mirroring this shift.

In the end, it’s still a tough choice: “either-or” rather than “yes-and”. Let’s hope that whoever wins is able to reach out across the divide to bring both depth and breadth quickly to the leadership table.

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