Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From President Barack Obama

obama entrepreneur
While watching President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address, I was once again struck by the similarities between presidents and entrepreneurs. I watched the speech as a student and practitioner of entrepreneurship, not as a democrat, republican or independent. The lessons gleaned from what I saw are too many to list in a single post, so the following is a short list of what stood out the most.

1. Delegating

This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges, especially for beginning entrepreneurs. There is this crazy belief with many entrepreneurs that they can do it all on their own. A specialist who starts his or her own business suddenly thinks they are capable of doing their own accounting, although they can barely balance a check book. True, there is more to being an entrepreneur than being really good at your particular craft, but certain things should always be offloaded on subject matter experts. Issues around budgeting and finances are big ones.

As Obama entered the chamber last night, he congratulated Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on a Navy Seal Rescue in Somalia that the rest of us only learned about this morning. Can you imagine Obama trying to do Panetta's job or that of Hillary Clinton? You probably laughed at the notion, but how is this different than an engineer trying to become an expert in QuickBooks? How about developing marketing materials with Microsoft Publisher. Learn from the President - build your team, delegate tasks and allow them to do their jobs.

2. Relentless Vision

Think of Kennedy's declaration of making it to the moon; Reagan famously demanding Gorbachev to "tear down this wall"; Obama vowing to kill Bin Laden during a presidential debate. How many people truly believed these statements at the time the presidents uttered them? Very few I suppose, but their is no doubt in my mind that the presidents themselves believed every word.

Obama displayed this same relentless vision during his address last night. As I watched the morning political commentary, the typical questions and comments came up. "How will he do that?" "Why would he want to do that." "Sounds like the same rhetoric as previous speeches." This is where the morning commentators missed the mark and where most others miss the same mark with entrepreneurs. What distinguishes presidents and entrepreneurs is an uncanny ability to see the what before fully understanding the how.

Everyday entrepreneurs must always remember to hold on to their vision, despite those around them not always understanding. Openly declare the vision, move in that direction and the hows will show up. Regardless of what you think of Obama's health care reform law, he saw it through and got it passed - something many before him tried but failed miserably.

3. Infectious Optimism

No one likes a sour puss. Even when things are tough, we all want to believe they will get better. No matter the issue or difficulty, Obama is the eternal optimist. The same can be said of Presidents Clinton and Reagan. It is easy to motivate those who support you, but infectious optimism is the type that even inspires your opposition. When the President spoke of immigration reform last night, I could see that John McCain liked what he heard. This is a presidential election year and McCain has thrown his support behind Mitt Romney, so I did not expect him to stand up and cheer. But McCain wears his heart on his sleeve and his feelings were all over his face. The President struck a cord.

Regardless of the current state of affairs, everyday entrepreneurs should keep up their optimism. This optimism must be on display in public and in private. Optimism makes a person more pleasant to be around, his ideas more interesting and support more possible.

I could go on for several posts because I am both a political junky and passionate about entrepreneurship. The similarities between presidents and entrepreneurs are so striking that I spend the entire introduction of my book "Presidents, Pilots and Entrepreneurs" discussing the topic.

So the next time you see President Obama or any other president on television, put aside your political opinions and pay close attention. You may very well pick up some nuggets of information that will help you become a better entrepreneur.

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