Barack Obama has assumed the Presidency. Might we say he has transcended the transition? He will not take the oath of office until January 20, 2009 – but Barack Obama is the President in everything but title. Obama has assumed the leadership role in America and around the world. And the paradox of Obama centers around leadership through humility.
America, until this year, only had one President at a time. But we are seeing the power of real leadership. George W. Bush calls a news conference, the cameras are set up, microphones taped together – and no one really cares. The media and the public alike give Bush the respect of his office – but the man commands nothing. We are living through the tragedy of a failed Presidency – and a failed man. We are transitioning to an era of true leadership.
After a Bush news conference the talk is centered around the next move of the Obama transition. Bush speaks and the stock market dives – Obama speaks and the stock market soars. Investors, traders, foreign markets, foreign governments – all respond to Obama, while ignoring President Bush.
President Elect Obama knows what is happening. He understands the power of his words. Obama does not seek power – but rather merely respects power. Obama understands the desperation of the people of the world. Barack Obama understands stature – the stature of being present. This is the power of the man who does not relish power. We are witnessing the paradox of true leadership. We are seeing the result of modesty and humility – thrust into the role of leader.
With commanding intellect, maturity, charisma, courage, and humility, Barack Obama is commanding the global community. How does this work? Barack Obama has two central elements of power. The first is called the power of expertise.
We see this in many professional fields – The young but expert lawyer commands the respect of his seniors. The young but proficient physician commands respect by the mere presence of his talent. The expert computer technician, without rank, commands the ear of his colleagues. We are talking about people who have such talent in their field of endeavor that, without organizational rank, command respect. These are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, firemen, policemen, teachers, athletes, and even politicians. We recognize talent and expertise when we see it – and we defer to the expertise.
Barack Obama certainly conveys a sense of knowledge and confidence. When Obama calls a news conference – the media shows up, the cameras are set up, the microphones taped together – and the media crowd surges, listening closely to every word. Barack Obama surrounds himself with expertise – and he speaks for his team – he somehow morphs into the expert his team represents. There is no slight of hand, no magic mirrors.
Barack Obama speaks with the authority of the expert – and everyone listens. Everyone grants Obama the power of the expert. And we grant Obama this power because he speaks fluently about the intricacies of economics – reminding us that he has learned by listening.
Here is the paradox. Obama commands respect because he gives respect. Obama dos not put himself above his advisers – he respects their expertise. Obama respects the listener – that is you and me – he speaks to us as if he respects our intellect, as if he believes we can understand complex issues. The persona of George W. Bush shouts – listen to me because I am the President. The personal of Obama speaks with the firm confidence of humility, saying – I have listened to the experts and here is how I understand what they are saying. And we believe him.
We believe him because he is not putting on a show – he is merely trying to speak honestly about his understanding of complex issues. Is there a show? There certainly is. But it is a show of Shakespearean proportions. Which characters, we ask, are being personified by Obama?
Obama will not be corrupted by power because it is not in his nature to seek power. Obama seeks to make life better for others – and he recognized the power of rank to achieve his goals. His goal has never been about rank, about position, about the power of the Presidency. His goal has always centered on his understanding of humanity and his desire to contribute to a better life for all.
The paradox – the man who makes the best King is the man who does not desire to be King. We are in one of those unique historical moments where we have the opportunity to watch this dynamic at play.