Striking the right balance

August 13 - pencil According to The Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama has become quite the micromanager. He sets daily Oval Office meetings with his various direct reports and wades through minutia that surprised more than one source quoted in the text. That worrisome to me.

I'm not a big fan of micro-managing. Many historians say micromanagement cost Jimmy Carter the presidency way back when. The man was so caught up in the details of a failing economy and the Iranian hostage crisis that he lost sight of the wants and needs of the average American. And that, in turn, enabled erstwhile and ersatz Hollywood actor Ronald Wilson Reagan to sweep into office.

I've worked for micro-managers. They drove me nuts. One, in particular, was so anal that he actually decided in advance who would sit where at client and new business meetings. He'd also insist we 'scope' out a prospect's conference room the night before a pitch so that we knew every angle and nuance of the facility. And, he once famously rejected an order of agency-branded pencils because the office manager had ordered 'number one' instead of 'number two' models. 'We've always been a number two pencil firm. Send these back!' he barked.

I've also worked for totally detached managers. One, in fact, was so out of touch with the day-to-day operations of his New York office that the place resembled a Felini movie, featuring everything from very public and very torrid affairs to brazen rifling of client products ('Ok, who took all the Tumi luggage from the product room last night?').

The office would also shut down early every Friday, with most of us trooping over to PJ Charlton's for an afternoon of Bahama Mamas and god knows what else.

In management, as in life, striking a balance is key. People need to feel empowered to make their own decisions. But, accountability has to be enforced as well. We like to believe we've built a meritocracy that encourages risk taking, rewards success and enables people to fail without serious consequence. That said, fail often enough or in a particularly egregious way and you're gone.

Ed and I have totally different management styles, but we'll both swoop into an account if, and when, our instincts (or our people) suggest we do. As a result, we don't get bogged down in minutia, nor do we allow the inmates to run the asylum (although some would suggest that Ed and I are recovering inmates).

I hope Obama doesn't become so obsessed with details that he loses touch with what really matters. We need him to succeed. And, by 'we,' I mean the entire world. I, for one, will really start to sweat if I read a follow-up Journal piece reporting the President is setting aside time to review White House stationery, logo designs and, god forbid, number two pencils.

8 thoughts on “Striking the right balance

  1. One never knows from whence a story emanates. That said, I do find it interesting that the Times would publish a front-page story that is less-than-favorable to the chosen one.

  2. Do you think that this story was “pitched” due to the recent chatter about him being too involved with the media? He’s being accused of having too many press conferences…and possibly not enough hands-on leadership?

  3. Agree with you Lunch. Obama worries me because he seems to have lost that big picture view that swept him into office. If he stays down in the reeds for too long, he’ll fail.

  4. Actually, there’s plenty of good he has done, along with plenty of bad (as I see it). I just read the article (granted after my post), and the AF1 topic was just discussed here and top-of-mind. Really, really stupid when you think about it…

  5. Thanks Lunch. It’s obviously easy to take pot shots at Obama. But, minutia trumps imbecility in my book. And, I won’t name names.

  6. If he is so hands-on, how the hell did that Air Force One photo blunder ever go down? I can’t believe that smack in the middle of a recession, that the chosen one’s brainiacs on Pennsylvania Ave approved a $300+K photo shoot of plane in the air just above Lady Liberty. Not only that, they failed to notify proper authorities about the planned flight and how low it would be against the NYC skyline. Considering what happened earlier this decade, you’d think that someone, including a minutia-minded President would re-think this. Not only that, after seeing the finished product, I could have photo shopped that image and only cost the US tax payers $100 bucks and free lunch.
    I would also like to know who is managing his checkbook: