Think tanks, authors, and gurus have written lots of advice for incoming presidential appointees, including the IBM Center. But the best set of pointers come from President Obama himself in a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Michael Shear:
“Obama reacted to questions about the emerging structure of his White House by displaying confidence in his ability to manage people. He has begun assembling a powerful team of White House counselors who will compete with Cabinet secretaries for influence over the majority of domestic and foreign policy issues.
‘The theory behind it is I set the tone,‘ Obama said. ‘If the tone I set is that we bring as much intellectual firepower to a problem, that people act respectfully towards each other, that disagreements are fully aired, and that we make decisions based on facts and evidence as opposed to ideology, that people will adapt to that culture and we’ll be able to move together effectively as a team.’. . . He added, ‘I have a pretty good track record at doing that.'”
The challenge won’t be President Obama’s behavior. The challenge is expecting that same behavior from his 4,000 appointees. His leadership approach should be made a condition of employment by his office of presidential personnel for his appointees, be a part of their appointee orientation, and be enforced by the White House, their peers and the media if President Obama hopes to see real change. No one, not even high visibility cabinet secretaries should be exempt. If he can get his appointees to mirror his leadership style, the government will truly change.