Today, Barack Obama ushered in a new era in American politics with a powerful 20 minute Inaugural address that struck a pragmatic yet undeniably inspiring tone. I’m not sure there was a memorable ”phrase for the ages” like “Ask not what your country can do…” that should be carved in stone; however, the delivery was exceptionally powerful, the tone remarkably hopeful, the words truly eloquent, and the themes crystal clear: hope, responsibility, unity and resolve.

I would urge every leader to analyze this speech and consider what worked and why. How did the themes of Mr. Obama’s address resonate for you? How might these themes move your organization forward? Reflect not just as a citizen of this country (or the world) but also as an executive who must motivate and inspire others.

Let’s look back on the President’s words with an eye toward finding themes that resonate for our own organizations. If you wish, you may read the full test of the speech by clicking on

The President told the nation we must choose “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord” to overcome the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He delivered a simple but powerful message - that it is up to us.
 In many ways, this is precisely the message we need to deliver to our businesses, too. Each of us must take personal responsibility. Every employee must act with courage. Have you said this to your organization? If not, when and how can you deliver this powerful message, in a way that people take it to heart?

This theme of personal responsibility resonates for all of us. The President said, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Building on that theme in your business today, you can also urge people, beginning with the leaders at the top, to seize responsibility not grudgingly but gladly. Acknowledge the challenges but urge people to own what they can own. As I learned while writing Motivate Like a CEO, people long for a purpose; they want to contribute — to be a part of something greater than themselves. When you ask them, they will commit to working hard and overcoming obstacles -because they know what they do really matters.

One of the most powerful ways to drive home the message of personal responsibility is to celebrate difficult achievements in your own organization. Look around. Have your people accomplished something great lately? Tell the story to everyone. Emphasize the important aspects of taking personal responsibility, and how that created real, measurable results. Talk about how the hard road can lead to reward, not just financially but also personally.

A third theme that should resonate for your organization is one of unity. In American politics today, Obama reminds us we must come together and put an end to “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

In many companies today, there is little unity. Have fiefdoms formed? Have a few, powerful groups been allowed to rule? Are petty grievances keeping people from working together? How can you speak about the spirit of genuine collaboration, and move your organization forward?

 Perhaps one of the most memorable lines from President Obama’s address was when he urged courage and resolve in the face of our enemies. While promising the Muslim world that “good relations would be based on mutual interest and mutual respect, he warned, “to those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” In challenging times, great leaders never flinch when describing things as they are; they do not shrink from tough messages. They simply state things are they are, and as they will be. You can do this, too.

Perhaps the time is right for you to start talking about the character that made your company great, and will make it great again. Think of this as a “State of the Union” address. Get beyond the numbers and the challenges, and communicate in an inspiring way.

Charting a course for the future depends upon our ability to rally our employees and inspire them to do what is best, and right, and often difficult. As this country begins anew, it seems like a good time for us to renew our own organizations, with a powerful message of hope

P.S. I’m going to send the first 5 people who post here a response with a specific theme from the President’s Inaugural Address and share how it relates to their business today- a signed copy of my new book, Motivate Like a CEO, Communicate Your Strategic Vision and Inspire People to Act! (McGraw Hill 2009). Post your response here, and then, email: Please be sure to include your mailing address so that we can mail your book promptly. We cannot send a book to a PO Box so be sure it is a valid mailing address. Thank you.
You can read about the new book in the press section of our website, or on

Add a Comment: