Seelert offers Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders

Bob Seelert thinks that it's time for President Barack Obama to revamp his message and convey to the American people a goal for leading "a harmonious and sustainable country that shines as a beacon for good in the world."

And, as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world's leading advertising companies, Seelert is adept at creating and delivering what needs to be said to elicit a desirable response.

A resident of New Canaan, Seelert shared with the Westport Y's Men some ideas about leadership that he gleaned during a career spanning 40 years and included in his book, Start With the Answer: And Other Wisdom for Aspiring Leaders.

Seelert realized that as the book was going to press last year, the business climate had been vastly altered by the recession. He then penned a list of "10 Things to Do When Leading in Tough Times."

Using the turbulent events of the last year as a framework for his discussion to the Y's Men Thursday, Seelert described what happened when President Obama and other national leaders either applied or ignored tenets espoused in his book.

For example, Seelert strongly believes that it's essential to be up-front about the difficult times a company -- or a nation -- is facing, even though he admits, "When times get tough, the truth can sometimes be ugly."

"One of the systematic problems in government is that government has a difficult time getting the truth on the table," Seelert explained.

According to Seelert, Obama's administration made a "crucial error" at the onset of taking office last winter by prematurely forecasting a rapid economic turnaround.

"They made a wrong assumption about the economy turning around in the second half of the year," Seelert said. (Tip No. 2 on the list is to "establish performance standards/expectations for the new economic reality.")

Although the American people had high expectations immediately following the election, several incidents this year have contributed to their feelings of discouragement and frustration by what is happening in Washington.

Seelert said that much of this could be overcome if the president could position himself as someone who is "the president acting for all people," rather than the man who was elected by the Democratic party.

"This would be the first start towards solving the problem of partisanship," Seelert noted. This would also help to bring all people together, which is what Seelert refers to as the need to get "all hands on deck."

During "tough times," Seelert said that it is important for everyone involved to be willing to "walk the extra mile" to achieve a greater good -- whether it's leading to maintaining a company's profitability or passing a bill in Congress.

Saying that he has confidence in the American people to do what needs to be done despite the dismal economic climate, Seelert advised Obama to "stop unduly delegating to others, particularly Congress."

"Great leaders have to stay involved, get dirt under their fingernails, make sure it all gets done through excellence," Seelert said.

This, he feels, is the way to breakthrough partisan politics which continues to put the brakes on any lasting positive changes from occurring. "Leadership begins at the top," Seelert said.

Moreover, Seelert asserts that the Obama team needs to come up with a shortlist of priorities that they could accomplish by November. "Let's face it, they badly need to put some runs up on the board," he noted.

Setting tight priorities is, of course, included on Seelert's list for achieving success.

No one in either political party denies that America and, subsequently Obama, were confronted with a myriad of problems last year. Before taking the oath of the presidential office in January, the country was rapidly moving toward an imminent recession, if not outright depression.

However, Seelert would have liked the newly elected president to focus on the two most important issues at hand -- what he describes as the "two wolves knocking at the door" -- the financial crisis and restarting the economy.

"However, they decided to plow full speed ahead on changing multiple fronts," Seelert said.

During his talk, Seelert spoke a little about the country's faltering social security system. It is his opinion that Obama should candidly address this issue directly with the American people.

"If this were a business problem, I could deal with it in 10 minutes," he said. "However, no one wants to look at the facts and truths and put them up in front of the American people. I think if he came to all of us as citizens, we would do what we had to do."

Seelert spent some time discussing the role he played at the helm of Saatchi & Saatchi and how his team effectively created memorable and profitable advertising campaigns using the leadership ideas presented in his book.

He described changes in the advertising world and noted that the company's goals are now to "connect" with consumers rather than "shout at people."

Also, with the advent of technology -- including but not limited to smart phones, iPods and lap top computers -- the way that information about products and services is disseminated has changed.

"It's now a world of screens," Seelert explained. And, people who use the screens are called "screen-agers," he added.

"It's actually a very exciting time," Seelert said.

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Seelert has been chief executive officer of five companies. He has also served on board of directors of companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

For more information about the book or his work, go to