Those tricky first 100 days

The idea that you had to make an impact in your first 100 days comes from President Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961. He said; “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

And no doubt the UK coalition government is feeling exactly the same.

So it seems a bit harsh for organisations to expect new managers to make a big impact in their first 100 days (and some experts say you only get 30 days now) if even the President of the USA had doubts. Notwithstanding that the practice has continued  in politics and spilled over into expectations about leaders in the business world. But what about President Obama and his approach to leadership?

In a post elsewhere last June, I was slightly cynical about President Obama’s visionary style (I referred to it as enigmatic) as I thought he was probably too reliant on his rhetoric. Without actually saying “I told you so” I offer a couple of examples of how things have changed for him.

First,  back in January, the author of this piece described Obama as; ” a cool and competent manager, a charismatic persuader, and a remarkable orator” then went on to describe elements of his leadership style which HR managers, among others, would do well to emulate. Obama’s 10 Leadership principles

There were also a number of articles referring to the use of “Smart Power” – a concept first mooted by Joseph Nye Jnr – which brings together hard and soft power. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of using smart power as a diplomatic philosophy (shades of Roosevelt’s “walking quietly but with a big stick” idea): and as the way to restore America’s leadership: 

In The Independent it was described as “a marriage of principles and pragmatism, based on facts not emotions” and 

Then 6 months later, it appeared that there were people who were expressing doubts about his slow progress on key issues such as economic stimulus and health care. His visionary, grand strategy approach was not being seen as based in reality by some observers and it seemed his love affair with the press corps was coming to an end.

And now 18 months on, despite or because of the health care plans, the President’s ratings have dropped to the point where there are more people who dislike him than like him. He has been accused of being aloof and not having passion. There was also the problem with his aunt, the illegal immigrant, which didn’t seem to harm him at the time but was potentially embarrassing. And now the debate about the proposed mosque at ground zero. In American politics religion is important and it seems that up to a quarter of Americans think that he is a muslim and only a third think he is a christian.

Whether a politician or a manager, the lesson is still that you have to make the most of your first 100 days and build up a balance in your credibility and relationships bank to sustain you for the likely lean times ahead.

Updated 3 January 2011: Ed Milliband’s first 100 days are up tomorrow. So what has he achieved? Political commentators seem singularly unimpressed. OK he’s got under David Cameron’s skin a couple of time at PM question time but that’s not of great concern to the country at large. His own party don’t appear to have allowed him a “honeymoon”period and taking paternity leave didn’t exactly help although it was probably difficult for the politically correct shadow cabinet to complain in public.

He seems to have shrugged off the “Red Ed” label and appears surrounded by young eager eyed female activists but to me that just emphasises his youthfulness. He comes across like a probationary teacher doing his best to impress his betters. And the coalition government has proved to be more radical than the last labour government ever was even tackling sacred cows like the NHS. It makes it difficult for the opposition to counter-attack especially when the coalition is blaming Gordon Brown for the ills of the country (even though he claimed to save the world).

Apparently he’s campaigning in Oldham at the moment (which will probably be a culture shock for him as well as freezing cold) and I think we will have to wait for the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election result to see if he has managed to get the Labour party into a position where they have something to celebrate. If not you can’t help feeling it’s going to be a long hard wait in opposition and those power-brokers in the unions may live to regret usurping brother David.

The Observer comment (2/1/11) was quite clear: Milliband needs to show some leadership and set out some guiding principles so the country can understand what the post-New Labour opposition actually stands for.


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