By the time one has lived into their mid 30's or beyond, the chances are one has either worked in or belonged to a large organization. It could be the boy scouts, or a political party or a large firm. In my case, it was Price Waterhouse/PricewaterhouseCoopers where I worked from 1994 through 2001.
If you have been a member of a large organization, chances are you had the opportunity to see how a change at the top impacted how that organization functioned.
I work in IT and I observed at PwC how the same large IT organization, technicians, developers, system administrators, managers and directors worked through three different CIO’s.
Somehow, the same people performed very differently depending on the leadership of the organization.
When Mark took the reins as Price Waterhouse's CIO in 1996, he gave a speech that was very inspirational. I still remember some excerpts of it and my memory is not good in general so the fact that I can remember any of it says something about the quality of the speech. In that speech, he made it clear that he understood our challenges and he understood how hard we all were working. He also said that if we were open to change and worked with him, he could make a big difference in the quality of our work experience.
To make a long story short, we trusted him, and things changed a lot for the better both for us and for the organization it was our job to support. I also seem to remember working a heck of a lot of hours under Mark, and enjoying every single minute of it.
The reason this applies to the criticism of Obama's cabinet picks should be obvious. Someone who knows how to be a leader can make a big difference in how an organization and individuals in that organization perform. The leader sets the tone and expectations, inspires (or fails to inspire) and follows up to make sure their expectations are being met.
We know what Obama’s expectations are. He wants to bring an end to the Iraq war as rapidly as possible. He does not believe in torture or extraordinary rendition. He does not believe in warrant-less wiretapping. He believes in Universal Healthcare. He believes in sitting down with leaders of countries with whom we have disagreements to find peaceful solutions to our issues. He has committed to finding the best and brightest people to turn our economy around and that brings me to another point.
The one thing that could stand in the way of even a great leader is if the people under the leader did not have the basic knowledge and abilities to perform the tasks that would be assigned to them. Obama is making sure this is not an issue by hiring some of the most competent and experienced people available. Some of these people may have performed a certain way while on their own or within the administration of a different leader, but that does not mean they will perform the same way under Obama.
Mark completely changed the way we all did our jobs. It was the same people, but we improved how we measured the effectiveness of everything we did. We improved our knowledge of how IT affected the business and changed how we delivered our services based on that knowledge. We literally changed under his leadership. Even today, 12 years later, when I think about my career, job capabilities and ability to conceive how IT works on an enterprise level, I think of them based on how they were pre-Lutchen and post-Lutchen.
I know from my own experience and from watching how Obama led his campaign that he is the kind of leader who will set very high expectations and insist that they are met. Moreover, I know what Obama’s expectations are and I listed some of them a few paragraphs above. Knowing all of this, I am not going to occupy myself with overanalyzing every single one of Obama’s cabinet picks. I think most of the people that are doing that have a pre-existing desire to see Obama fail and the rest don’t know a good leader when they see one. I look forward to Obama proving his early naysayers wrong.