As President Obama’s approval sinks and the foreign policy debacles pile up, he might want to consider emulating NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who was widely hailed for his decisive action against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. In some ways he is the anti-Obama, and it was hard to miss the contrast with a president flailing away, battered by the media and a burden to his own team.
Here are eight tips the president should take to heart.
- Answer all questions succinctly. The media and public can tell when you are evading or filibustering. Obama often comes across either like a condescending professor or a guy with something to hide. Silver’s short, clipped sentences were a sharp contrast to presidential bloviating.
- Act quickly. Silver recognized there was a threat to his organization and got out front. President Obama reacts so belatedly to a political firestorm (e.g. “you can keep your insurance plan”) and to foreign threats (e.g. Russia, Syria) that he lets criticism build and the situation worsen. Something is wrong with your organization or your decision-making skills if decisions take weeks or months.
- Confer with others. Obama doesn’t talk much to Congress, even Democrats. The result is resentment and miscommunication. Silver, by contrast, seemed to have talked to owners, lawyers, players and the Clippers’ coach — all of whom had a stake in the outcome. That told him he had to deliver a hammer blow and made certain he wouldn’t be blindsided after the announcement.
- Don’t blame your predecessor. Silver did not accuse David Stern of ducking or missing the Sterling problem; he dealt with the hand dealt him and didn’t whine about inheriting a problem. Obama, in his fifth year in office, still resorts to blaming Bush for everything from Russian aggression to the economy.
- Do it yourself. Silver got out there, took the questions and asserted control over the situation. Obama’s reliance on inept spokespeople and Cabinet officials makes their obfuscation and falsehoods his. The contrast was particulars stark in a week in which newsmen like Jake Tapper called the president’s press secretary’s routine “dissembling, obfuscating, and often insulting.”
- Don’t blame the victims. There was no “I am sorry if you were offended” from Silver. Obama famously said he regretted that people had relied on his promise that they could keep their insurance plan. Suckers! That is just doubling the insult. If you are going to apologize, don’t do it grudgingly.
- Don’t become the victim. Silver didn’t complain that this crisis was foisted on him before his name plate was on the door. He didn’t use the “no one is more offended than I” (others really are!) to make it seem as if he’s just a harmed bystander.
- Don’t overpromise. Silver couldn’t say when the owners would meet to vote on stripping Sterling’s ownership, so he didn’t try. Obama too often raises expectations, issues empty threats and flat out misrepresents. It is almost as if a man so reliant on words doesn’t understand the import of what he says.
The president was at his best in the 2008 campaign, when he sailed above the fray, faced little press scrutiny and made grand promises. But real leadership isn’t seen when you are on top or in scripted speeches. It’s tested when a crisis strikes, your organization is under fire and you have to act. Call it leading from the front.