President Obama’s Leadership Report Card


We asked ten of the world’s most respected and admired professors of leadership to assess President Obama on three tenants of leadership: vision, execution, and results. His biggest fan: Warren Bennis at USC who gives the President straight As. His tougher critic? Harvard Business School’s Bill George who gives Obama a pair of Cs and a B-. Below are the grades and comments from all of the ten professors. We also asked these leadership gurus what advice they would give the President if he was a student in their classrooms (“If Obama Was In My Leadership Class…”)

Professor School Vision Execution Results Comment
Deborah Ancona MIT C+ B B One would have given him A+s on Vision, execution and results for the election. He was the epitome of the vision of distributed leadership: yes WE can…we will make this happen. [Then] after energizing and inspiring this huge mass of people, he left everyone behind.
Susan Ashford Michigan A- B B He lacks Washington street smarts. A little bit is the people around him. A little bit is his inability to control the media.
Warren Bennis USC A- A A When he assumed office, he was facing probably the most difficult, complex, and long-range problems than any president in US history has ever faced. I’m amazed at what he’s accomplished.
Angel Cabrera Thunderbird Incomplete* C+ B+ He may have avoided a US depression and passed a health care bill, but he needs a broader coalition of support.
Bill George Harvard C- C B- I assumed, perhaps naively, that he’d give us a vision of where the country was going to go, and would set that out as a long-term plan. He chose not to do that, nor has he done so since.
Manfred Kets De Vries INSEAD B- C A He should be more combative, authoritative in dealing with his critics.
Jeff Pfeffer Stanford A C C Obama is too nice. Contrary to much conventional wisdom, compromise often doesn’t work–in the end, no one is happy.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld Yale B+ B B+ There are no underlying economic signs that we’re approaching a cliff. Only fear is holding us back. He needs to bring confidence back to CEOs, risk-averse boards, and to employees.
Noel Tichy Michigan B+ B+ B At the end of the day, the wealth-producing engine of society is business. He needs them on board.
Mike Useem Wharton A A- Incomplete* In his first 18 months, he faced war, financial restoration and health care. On all three areas, he’s not been shy about making really big decisions. He’s been decisive.
Total Grades B+ B- B Final grades are the sum of all the grades given by the ten leadership experts.
  • I have been teaching and studying leadership for decades. Warren Bennis is an idol. But I sure do not understand these high grades
    Using Bennis’ 3 critical characteristics of leaders…1)knows others. He is isolated, surrounded by a few idealogues. Never meets , even with his own cabinet. When he does meet he does not listen nor even pretend to understand. 2) Contextual knowledge. Way to many examples that he just does not understand(economy,international,domestic unrest, health care,(does anyone believe he knows what is in the 2700 page Obamacare bill?)4rbt etc.),3, Knows self. How can one person be so aloof,insensitive to others(personal extravagence and spending, vacations, travel, wifes activities, relations with congress etc.), continual positioning for photo ops and sound bites that put him…not his mission out front.