The State of the Union address is an opportunity for the President of the United States to inform the Congress, and the American people, his assessment of the state of the union – good, bad, or ugly. It is an opportunity to acknowledge accomplishments, recognize people for their service and sacrifices, and, where appropriate, make apologies and amend broken agreements. In short, the State of the Union is a closure conversation.
The purpose of a Closure Conversation is to bring parts of the past to a conclusion, thus making room to start something new or to restart something that has bogged down. Closure Conversations acknowledge the facts, determine what will complete something that is unfinished, and allow people to move ahead. Closure Conversations, can restore credibility and confidence, reduce resentment, build accomplishment and accountability, add velocity, and increase the engagement of participants and potential participants.
Complete Closure Conversations acknowledge the facts, appreciate the people, apologize for mistakes and misunderstandings, and amend broken agreements. If you listened to the President’s address, you heard some of each of these “A’s”. I think, however, he could have gone further, particularly in the area of appreciation, apology, and amending broken agreements.
It takes a big person to appreciate the contribution of those who oppose what he seeks to accomplish. Leaders and managers rarely sing the praises of those who resist change, even when that resistance actually improves the quality and result of the change. Lisa Haneberg points to the value of inviting naysayers and critics to engage with your work in her Invite a Challenge and Zoom Forward posting. It would have been completely disarming for Obama to recognize the Republicans in a positive way.
One of the criticisms of Obama is that he that he has not accepted enough responsibility for how things are currently working (or not) in Washington. Although he said that his administration has made mistakes, he didn’t really say what they were or specifically apologize for them. It is one thing to say mistakes were made, it’s another to own up and apologize for them. Had he been more specific about these, it would have provided more closure.
Finally, there are the promises Obama has made but has not kept even though he appears to have had an opportunity to do so. Breaking promises is THE key contributor to a loss of credibility and trust unless something is done to repair trust. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the promises not kept, apologize for not keeping them, and then say what will be done about them in the future. Although he did recommit to keeping some of the promises not kept, he could have been more explicit and it would have generated more closure.
As far as closure conversations go, Obama’s State of the Union address was very good. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he gone further.