President Obama: A Bad Manager?

It’s well understood that being president of the United States is one of the toughest jobs in the world. And from the time he entered the Oval Office, President Barack Obama was presented with a series of dizzying challenges that would’ve severely tested the most capable and experienced of leaders. That said, his administration would have had more success were it not for one thing, according to an opinion piece that ran in the Sunday New York Times: President Obama is a lousy manager.

In the essay, David Rothkopf, chief executive of the FP Group and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues that Obama’s skills as a chief executive warrant only a “C” — and then “only if graded on a curve that takes into account his predecessor’s managerial weaknesses.” Despite some notable achievements in his first term — the elimination of bin Laden, the healthcare law, equal-pay legislation, financial-services reform — the administration has some shortcomings that are traceable to the way Obama has chosen to run the government, Rothkopf writes:

The administraiton has not done a good job of delegating to and empowering cabinet officials. Nor does it seem to have built necessary teams and coalitions or anticipated and planned for likely challenges. The Obama team’s failure to make the most of stimulus fudning, to make progress on climate change, to react swiftly to international crises in Egypt, Libya and Syria, and to maintain good relations with allies on Capitol Hill and beyond stem from lack of managerial skill.”

The seemingly united Obama presidency is, in fact, “a fractitious group whose members are often at odds with one another,” writes Rothkopf. Part of the problem is that unlike most previous presidents, Obama didn’t have any executive or leadership experience that would have served as a template for running a government effectively, he writes. Then, there’s the president’s aloofness and the “stranglehold” that long-time associates allegedly have over his time and attention, which leaves many top advisers feeling shut out and disconnected from him, according to Rothkopf. The president’s allies in Congress feel that he doesn’t consult with them, he writes, and the nation’s CEOs don’t feel listened to, either:

Chief executives who have visited the White House for much-publicized consultations with the president and senior staff report that Mr. Obama appears to be more interested in delivering his message than in listening to others. This, too, speaks to Mr. Obama’s management weakness. Selecting a diverse team, creating a system in which ideas surface, listening to those ideas and then empowering others to put them into action are the cornerstones of good management — and of effective leadership.”

Rothkopf is fair enough to note that Obama has been stuck with one of the most unpopular and dysfunctional Congresses in recent history. He further notes that part of the problem is the American public: “The American electorate doesn’t ask questions about management skills.” And neither does Congress, when it comes to scrutinizing appointees to run large government agencies, he writes.

Rothkopf’s essay does not note the general consensus that Obama’s two presidential campaigns have been some of the most effective and well-run in recent history — feats that surely speak to some level of management skill. And, plenty of other observers feel that Obama is a skillful manager and leader. A survey conducted last spring by the University at Buffalo School of Management of 100 professors who specialize in American politics and the presidency, asking participants to rate Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney on leadership skills, gave a significant edge to Obama. Participants, who were asked to rate both men on the School of Management’s LeaderCORE program, gave Obama signficantly better scores than Romney on seven of the 10 competencies.