Comment: What Obama can learn from the Washington Redskins
Washington is a town that loves politics and sports. For sports fans
and political observers in the nation’s capital, 2008 presented not one
but two transitions. In addition to the current transition of power
from President George W. Bush to President-elect Barack Obama,
Washingtonians also witnessed a transition of power last February when
Jim Zorn was selected to replace Joe Gibbs as head coach of the
During the selection of Obama’s Cabinet, I’ve been
struck by the similarities between the two transitions. In both cases,
some leading candidates were not selected. In the case of the Redskins,
front-runner Gregg Williams — former assistant head coach and defensive
coordinator under Gibbs — found himself a disappointed job seeker. In
the case of Obama, several front-runners for secretary of state were
disappointed at the outcome of the job search for that position.
No. 1 in politics and sports: Don’t count your chickens before they
hatch. You don’t have the job until the offer has officially been made
and you have accepted.
The second similarity between the two
transitions is the importance of putting together an entire management
team. Sports aficionados and keen political observers know that the
head coach (Zorn) or Cabinet secretary (such as Tim Geithner at the
Treasury Department or Hillary Clinton at the State Department)
represents only the tip of the iceberg of the organization. Regardless
of how smart and effective a head coach or Cabinet secretary might be,
he or she alone cannot achieve the outcomes desired by the boss (Dan
Snyder or Obama). The job of the head coach and Cabinet secretary is to
set a vision for the organization and serve as its public spokesperson.
A management team is needed to execute the vision and manage inside the
Lesson No. 2 in politics and sports: Both the
head coach and Cabinet secretary need an effective, highly qualified
management team behind them to succeed.
Although it's been easy
to find lists of potential Cabinet secretaries in the daily papers and
on the Internet, names of candidates for the sub-Cabinet (deputy
secretaries, assistant secretaries and agency heads) are much harder to
find. However, those jobs are ultimately crucial to the success of the
organization. In putting together their teams, the boss (Snyder or
Obama) must find individuals who can work effectively as a team. In the
case of the Redskins, Snyder selected a defensive coordinator (Greg
Blache) and an offensive coordinator (Sherman Smith) who could work
well with Zorn and form a cohesive team. In the last year of Gibbs’
tenure, staff cohesion and effective working relationships became
problems, and Snyder needed to get that right under new coach Zorn.
the case of Obama, he and his Cabinet secretaries need to select deputy
secretaries and the other members of the departments’ senior management
teams who can work together with the Cabinet secretary to jointly
accomplish the president’s agenda. Previous administrations often have
had political factions working on their own agendas in individual
Cabinet departments. There is no room for political factions within a
Cabinet department or football team.
Lesson No. 3 in politics and sports: The management team must work together as a team, without infighting or separate agendas.
the implementation of those three lessons will give Redskins fans and
political junkies much to talk about in the coming months.Abramson
([email protected]) is president of Leadership
Inc. He has served as executive director of the IBM Center for the
Business of Government and president of the Council for Excellence in