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Why experience matters

July 11, 2012

I just finished the book ‘The Amateur’ by Edward Klein.  The book is his writeup of a series of interviews with people who have been or are now close to Obama.  It is definitely ‘lean-right’ biased, but then so am I.  I don’t normally like to read biographies about people in positions of power, especially around election time, because of the enormous bias in the writing.  With this new internet thing, it’s hard to know who, if anyone, to believe any more.  Everyone has an agenda.  This book certainly has plenty of the author’s views in it, and I found those less interesting for the above reasons.  What was interesting were the opinions and perspectives of people that really know Obama.  These I paid attention to.

There are a couple of overriding and repetitive views of Obama that come out in the book.  First, he is very anti-social.  Obama doesn’t really like people, or being around people other than in crowds he can speak at.  Second, he is very thin-skinned, meaning he isn’t able to absorb or internalize criticism.  Third, he has a view of this country, based on how he was raised and grew up, that is very scary.  Fourth, Obama lacks passion for the job  Lastly, he has very very little actual experience in much of anything.  

It’s this last point that I think about a lot.  Why does this matter?  Kennedy had very little real experience when he took office.  We have had other Presidents that lacked any practical experience.  Why does this one bother me so much?

The primary difference is that the other Presidents learned very quickly, had enormous passion for the country and the job and molded themselves into the role.  They understood their lack of experience and surrounded themselves with people who helped them grow into the role.  Kennedy was actually becoming a great president when he was gunned down in Dallas.

Obama, because of his other personal quirks, has surrounded himself with two key people: Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod.  These are not nurturing people helping Obama grow and learn leadership, they both also lack any real experience, particularly Jarrett, and are both political animals seeking to retain power at any cost.  OK, I get that, but the problem is that Obama only hears what they want him to hear and they hide reality from him.  He doesn’t mind, Obama doesn’t like reality.  Or people.  Or the job. He likes the attention though.

Obama has not, in the three years he has been in the office, reached out to anyone on either side of congress on a regular basis for anything.  According to interviews with Senators and Congressmen from both sides, nobody gets face time with Obama.  Ever. He does not seek out opinions from those in Congress with deep governmental experience.  He does not seek out help from people in the private sector that could help him understand that which he has never experienced. He doesn’t seem that interested in learning anything.

This is where experience matters.  This is where, in a normal world, Romney would be the overwhelming favorite, given the Obama alternative.  Romney has run things.  Large things.  Successfully.  He has had jobs, created jobs, hired and fired people, made hard decisions and made money.  While running a country is pretty different than running a company at many levels, it is the same at a key one: knowing how to manage and lead people and get things done.

Obama lacks this capability because he has never done it and nobody is showing him how to do it and he isn’t asking.  Leadership skills are not easy to learn.  I have been a startup CEO for 30 years and it’s only been in the last few that I actually am comfortable in what I do.  There is a reason that corporate CEO’s make zillions of dollars (startup CEOs not so much…), supply and demand.  There simply aren’t very many people that can run a car company, an oil company, a mega bank.  There are a LOT of people that can bolt bumpers onto cars.  Supply and demand, and corporations are willing to pay zillions of dollars for a CEO because they know they need good ones, and they know it matters..

The USA is no different.  We need a serious leader with serious skills learned from serious experience over a large amount of time.  Right now we have a President that has never had a job in the private sector, has never managed or lead anything and who’s political experience consists of 9 months as a 3rd-tier Senator.  

Romney may not be anyone’s ideal candidate, but given our political process these days I think we are lucky to have anyone with any smarts willing to subject themselves to running for office.  Personally I am amazed that someone with his experience and background is willing to run, willing to subject themselves to the degree of madness that is now our election process.  Really surprised.

We will never have an ideal candidate run for office.  The process is so very destructive, and the good ones have no need to put themselves through it.  We have managed to create an environment where the very people that could solve our current messes are totally unwilling to take it on.  Congratulations.

So, Romney vs. Obama is really, in my mind anyways, leadership/management experience vs. no management/leadership experience.  The last three years has shown that leadership experience matters.

Read the book.  It’s an eye opener.


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