When he [Obama] insisted that we also should have some fun, it did not ring hollow. We’d strap on the armor, battle our way across the countryside, and see what we could accomplish without getting weighed down by overseriousness. This also led to the “no asshole” rule, so popularized in our campaign by [Chief Strategist David] Axelrod. We stated from the outset we would try to build a collegial team, where everyone was in it for something bigger than him- or herself. We would not staff positions with merely the best talent available. Of course our people had to know what they were doing – but how they went about doing it was equally important. Presidential campaigns are brutal affairs in the best of circumstances; when the internal dynamic is corrosive and not filled with trust, it can be unbearable. We were determined to avoid that from the beginning.
Campaigns are no different than any other organization – they are collections of human beings. The clarity of the mission and the culture of the group may not outweigh strategy and resources in determining eventual success, but they’re awfully close. We would strive to build a campaign where people did not scream at each other, where performance was measured objectively, where crises were dealt with calmly, and where the team was there to serve the cause, not personal ambition.
A healthy culture was hard to quantify in terms of its eventual impact on the election. But we thought it would be a big factor. The Clinton inner circle was notorious for infighting, backstabbing, and jockeying for position. Our approach could offer an important competitive advantage.
- 2008 Obama for America Campaign Manager David Plouffe, in his book The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory (p. 23; New York: Viking Penguin, 2009)
The entire book is worth a read, but I’ve often come back to this particular passage when I’ve struggled with organizational leadership or culture. I’ve tried to evoke it to set the tone of groups in the past because the distinction Plouffe draws here seems so simple, yet is important, powerful, and easy to lose sight of.
I wasn’t involved with the Obama campaign in 2008 - I was a big supporter of Hillary Clinton, though I couldn’t vote in that election. But being a part of this cause I believe in, and in support of a president I am proud to call my own, has fueled my involvement this time around. You should do the same, or better yet, apply to be a Fall Organizing Fellow for the campaign. At the very least, register to vote and show up at the polls on November 6th.