Obama's Priorities: Quick Wins and Momentum
Michael Watkins is a leadership transitions expert, HarvardBusiness.org blogger, and author of The First 90 Days.
Not since President Roosevelt arrived in the Oval office in the depths of the Great Depression has so much ridden on the success or failure of a Presidential transition. Like Roosevelt, President-elect Obama takes power at a time of extraordinary economic distress. Writing of the dark times when Roosevelt took power, historian Arthur Schlesinger captured the mood in a famous passage: "It was now a matter of seeing whether a representative democracy could conquer economic collapse. It was a matter of staving off violence even (at least some so thought) revolution." It doesn't take much imagination today to conjure scenarios that are equally dire.
Like Roosevelt, it's therefore essential that Obama get off to a great start and rapidly build momentum during the first 90 days of his administration (given the speed of the times, Obama gets 10 fewer days). In the decade I've spend studying and writing about executive transitions, all my research has confirmed this essential point - that what happens at the outset matters a great deal. If the new Administration is successful in creating momentum during the transition, then early wins likely will propel it forward through the new President's first term. But if there are too many early reverses, if key initiatives stall in Congress for example, then critical momentum will be irretrievably lost.
Based on my initial observations, the nascent Obama Administration is off to a good start in this transition. It has moved rapidly to fill the most senior positions with experienced, pragmatic leaders; let's hope the many appointments to come are of similar quality. It has sent up a rigorous process to assess current policy and to transfer knowledge in order to avoid dangerous discontinuities. In this, it has been aided by the dedicated work of the Bush Administration and the Civil Service to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
But all this hard work is but a prelude to what comes next. In its first 90 days, the Obama administration must be able to (1) craft a legislative agenda that strikes the right balance between good policy and good politics and (2) mobilize the potential of the Federal bureaucracy to flesh out and implement key initiatives. If it does these things, then our chances of recovery are reasonably good. If not, then years of stagnation and hardship probably await us. And our nation's standing in the world likely will suffer irreparable harm.
Each week for the next three months, leadership transitions expert Michael Watkins will weigh in on the Obama administration's transition. These posts--and dozens of additional resources--can be found on our special feature, Obama's First 90 Days.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
The comments to this entry are closed.