Friday, January 23, 2009

Follow Joe and Phil more than Abraham

Yesterday, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton introduced two more superstars to the administrative lineup, former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Holbrooke, of Dayton Accords fame, will be the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Mitchell, of Steroid Commission and Northern Ireland Peace fame, will be the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East.

Many have said that all this high-power talent, this modern day "team of rivals", making comparisons to President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, could all blow up in President Obama's face. While the comparison is valid, Lincoln's management style should not be the primary model for our current president to keep this team together and focused. Instead, he should look toward two individuals in the world of sports.

Joe Torre and Phil Jackson, both, ironically, are currently coaching professional sports teams in Los Angeles, but their claim to management fame came before they set foot in LA. Torre was the manager of the New York Yankees and had to corral 25 egos into a unit that won consecutive World Series and was a constant entry in the playoffs. In this era of hype and mega-million dollar salaries, Torre effectively used his calm demeanor to keep tensions in the clubhouse down and victories high. He got players to buy into the concept that being a Yankee was the ultimate distinction, not your annual salary or how many All-Star appearances you made. Those players had one goal: to win a championship.

The same can be said about Phil Jackson. He took a franchise, the Chicago Bulls, that had never played in a NBA Championship and led them to six titles. He had to manage 15 egos daily and all the media scrutiny that surrounded his players. His philosophy, grounded in Buddhist principles, offered a calming presence in the locker room, and guided them to a ferocity on the court. He later took that same strategy to LA and duplicated his feat, securing three championships there.

Both men had the privilege of coaching Hall of Fame caliber players, legends in their respective sports, but those athletes will tell you that it was those coaches that made them the champions they are today. Despite the greatness and prestige those players individually had, it was leadership that guided them to great heights.

Lincoln had a cabinet that led America through a civil war, despite the fact that many in the administration were Lincoln's political opponents. The times dictated that those political differences be set aside for the sake of the union. One could make that same argument about our current situation, but I beg to differ.

I believe the leadership needed will not be aided by a financial crisis, it must be a winning mentality. In his Inaugural Address, President Obama said America will lead again. His style then must emulate winners in sports to keep the team together, and focused, to achieve that victory.