Nicole Gelinas, the original and always thought-provoking author of After the Fall, offers a first look at the presidential race in this month’s cover story. You should read the article to understand what she argues is the critical issue suppressing consumer confidence, possible solutions and the shortcomings of the candidates. But I want to raise a different, more basic challenge that President Obama and the Republican candidates face and that is the issue of leadership.
Ron Heifetz and Marty Linksy, professors at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, have written about the difference between technical leadership and adaptive leadership. In most instances, technical solutions will suffice. That means that where there is a problem, the leader merely needs to find the solution. So a president, for example, can go to his advisors or technical experts to fix a problem.
More challenging times and situations, however, call for what Heifetz and Linksy refer to as adaptive leadership. Faced with the vast scale of our current economic problems, it is not enough to unleash the technical experts at the Office of Management and Budget. Closing some loopholes in the tax code may be desirable, and may even increase revenue. But when we are on a course that is generally acknowledged to be unsustainable, it is we who are the problem.
And the key leadership challenge at such a time is to help people understand why they must change and how they can do so.