I was once brought into a company as a change agent to fix a dysfunctional department. I was excited about the opportunity. Although the situation was challenging, I was confident I could bring about the necessary changes to restore the department. A year later, I’d accomplished that goal. I was (and am) proud of the work I did there, but there were a couple of things I knew before I accepted the job:
- My boss had zero interest in any complaints about how tough the job was. My job was to deal with the situation as it existed. I assessed the situation, presented a plan, and followed through. As the process evolved, I’d consult with my boss about any needed corrections.
- No one wanted to hear about the mess my predecessor had left me and everyone else. My job was to focus on what needed to be done and could be done. I kept a positive attitude and didn’t dwell on the past. I couldn’t do anything about the past; but I could influence the future.
Enter the 44th President of the United States. Barack Obama spent much of his campaign for the 2008 election promising to change the direction of the country (mission accomplished!). Ownership hired him, and he then immediately started whining about how tough the job was and how the prior Oval Office occupant had left him a big mess that poor little ol’ him had to clean up.
“But I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”
Barack Obama, 7 August 2009
Things went on in this vein until about 2011, when he (or more likely, his advisers) realized that he’d been in office long enough that the statute on Bush-bashing had run. There was another election coming up, and if you want to win, you can’t very well blame yourself for the problems that still beset the country.
In late 2013 the much ballyhooed Obamacare started to roll out, and proved to be disastrous from Day One. Everything the critics (including me) warned about has come to pass, and the Administration’s signature legislation has become political Kryptonite. It is, quite simply, a mess of epic proportions.
On 5 April President Obama gave a speech in the Rose Garden during which he chastised those opposed to Obamacare and urged people to make the Affordable Care Act ‘even better’. The news report describes his tone as ‘annoyed’.
So, five years ago he was ‘annoyed’ that he had to clean up what he described as other people’s mess, and now he’s ‘annoyed’ that other people don’t want to clean up his mess? How does that work? Well, I guess it can work if you’re a narcissistic man-child with daddy issues, but for most people, that ‘thinking’ constitutes a clear paradox.
If you find yourself in a challenging management situation, keep your mouth shut, do your job, and remember the Fourth Rule of Management: You volunteered.