Barack Obama’s Leadership Paradox
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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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Barack Obama’s Leadership Paradox

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.

There Are 3 Responses So Far. »

  1. President-elect Obama has definitely captured the attention and imagination of the media as well as the populous since his entrance onto the world stage. There is no doubt that he has assumed the role of president far before his swearing in. However, the homage you pay to Mr. Obama, at the behest of President Bush, smacks of Gore Vidals’ prescient statement, “It’s not enough that we win; the other guy has to lose.” In this case, we have unofficially recalled President Bush from office. While the clock is still running before his term expires, he has been banished to the dungeon of insignificance. Why such harsh treatment and dishonor? Would we feel different about a Bush Administration if the Iraq War could have been won and wrapped up a few days after September 11, 2001? How about if gas prices hadn’t become stratospheric? And the economy didn’t tank due to the housing and financial debacle? Unfortunately, it took President Bush’s misfortune for Mr. Obama to emerge. In fact, without a George Bush you don’t have a Barack Obama. Did Americans elect Barack Obama because he’s a visionary or because he marketed himself as the Anti-Bush? Such a notion doesn’t deny Mr. Obama of his political skills and seemingly unflappable persona. He is a unique politician to say the least. But to “Green Light” Mr. Obama before he’s been truly tested is going down the same road traveled with President Bush before the bottom fell out. Remember, Americans re-elected President Bush in a landslide after the 2000 Electoral controversy. Americans were fully behind President Bush after 9/11 to get someone’s head after the terror attacks on American soil. Under President Bush’s leadership, he delivered Saddam Hussein in Iraq and beat back the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    I state these reminders not as a Bush or Obama supporter. But, as a cautionary note to tread lightly before we have all the facts. It was our emotions that got us in trouble the first time and will repeat itself if we’re not careful. Mr. Obama is doing a good job of positioning experts in places where he would be naturally weak. Although a seemingly fast learner, Mr. Obama has smartly begun sharing the tasks at hand with experts. Let’s hope 4 years down the road, we aren’t burning him in effigy, because things didn’t work out quite as planned.

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful commentary. You correctly cite the Iraq War, Gas Prices, and the tanking Economy as reasons Bush has fallen from grace. We could position the debate in another perspective, What if Bush had not invaded Iraq? What if Bush had been paying attention to the financial markets – the housing crisis was in the news in 2007? And what about the Oil Companies holding the American Economy hostage while the evidence was mounting of a financial meltdown? Teddy Roosevelt would not have stood for the further crippling of our economy by a corporate conglomerate.

    What if Bush had been able to articulate his reason – rather than the cowboy diplomacy of “Bring em on?”

    This is not really about Bush – the reality is (as noted in the post) when Bush speaks the markets tank, When Obama speaks the market soars. This response is not emotional – the response is based on the options presented by the President Elect, by the team of financial advisers he has assembled, and by his near perfect pitch in grasping, prioritizing, and articulating the issues.

    We finally have an intellectual and moral President.

  3. Pres Obama and 12 Republican senators have what is described as convivial dinner at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington; it raises difficult questions about how effective new administration campaign to woo Republicans will be and whether Obama can bridge gap between two parties that remain deeply divided over fundamental questions of policy and role of government; lawmakers say Obama is not going to change ideologies.-

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