Leadership Lessons from Obama for America's COO

Last week I was in Washington, DC for a couple of days, connecting with old political friends -- and one new one. The new one turned out to have some very interesting things to say about leadership, from a unique perspective: playing a key role in assembling Barack Obama's first presidential campaign (this is not to say that the old friends weren't very interesting, too).

While Henry DeSio was serving as the Chief Operating Officer of Obama For America 2008, I was on the ground working on communications teams in battleground states. I never met him back then, but I'm glad I have now. He's working on a book about his experiences, and the lessons that can be drawn from them.

He's been blogging about them too. Says Henry, "The most often-asked question I get about my 2008 experience is, ''What was it like inside the campaign?' People also want to understand our secret to 'running such a tight operation.'"

It started, he says, with learning to manage chaos:

The 11th floor of the downtown Chicago high rise, only days ago empty and silent, was now being overtaken by complete chaos as staff began to move in from temporary office locations. We were still mostly strangers to each other... As soon as folks were up and running they were off and running, scurrying past each other and moving quickly between desks to get answers to pressing questions. There was motion to be sure; progress, on the other hand, was still difficult to discern.

That chaos is typical of any new organization. And what happens amidst the initial chaos can sow the seeds for the future -- for good or for bad. How to avoid the bad? Henry says he learned three key lessons from candidate Obama:

  1. No drama
  2. Respect everyone
  3. Build it from the ground up.

I can vouch for all three. There was unbelievable pressure in 2008, day after very long day, seven days a week. But those fundamentals held true, leading to an organizational culture that only grew stronger as the pressure mounted.

You can learn more about this at henrydesio.com. And here's an excerpt from CSPAN coverage of a 2012 talk Henry gave at Cal State Northridge: