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 Barack Obama Leadership

Barack Obama Leadership


Barack Obama (1961-  )


The first African American president (pictured right).

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

His popularity has fallen since his re-election in 2012, partly due to his controversial health care reforms (helping poorer Americans) .


What is his leadership based on?


1. Vision

In his Inaugural Address he said his vision for America requires “a new era of responsibility” in which everyone must work hard to overcome its problems. Barack Obama Leadership

Deeply affected by the African American struggle for civil rights, his ideals are justice and morality reflected in his favourite things:

  • philosophers (particularly Reinhold Niebuhr, pictured right above, who emphasized the importance of social justice for oppressed workers and blacks).  Barack Obama Leadership 
  • leaders (like Martin Luther King, pictured right, who said, “Power at best is love implementing the demands of justice”, one of Obama’s favourite quotes).



2. Communication

Telegenic, eloquent and charismatic, he communicates his vision and policies brilliantly. His winning slogan for the presidency was simply “Yes we can”.



3. Empowerment and motivation

Obama realizes he can’t do anything without the American people.

So his presidential campaigns gained people’s support via the Internet and an army of volunteers. Barack Obama Leadership

Obama (pictured right in the 2012 presidential election) gets the best from people through:

  • listening to them, accepting their good ideas (however junior they are) and encouraging constructive debate through aggressive questioning (his aim, he says, is “to disagree without being disagreeable”).
  • immediate feedback and praise.
  • sensitivity (he sees himself as a servant leader dedicated to serving people’s needs).
  • high expectations (expecting the best possible performance).



4. Character

Obama is a:

  • man of principle (having always opposed the Iraq War).
  • devout Christian with a strong sense of responsibility.

But he doesn’t let dogma and ideology stop him doing the right thing (see point 5).

Obama: Barack Obama Leadership

  • has great compassion and humility, accepting his limitations and mistakes.
  • is honest and calm in a crisis, earning the nickname ‘No drama Obama’.
  • makes time for his family (wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and Sasha ,pictured right)
  • overcame the psychological scar of his father’s desertion in 1963, when he cried at his grave in Kenya.

Obama has been driven to fulfil his father’s expectations and make up for his mistakes.



5. Pragmatic Barack Obama Leadership

He wants government that is driven not by ideology but by finding practical solutions to problems like the economy, terrorism and climate change.

He said in his First Inaugural Address (pictured with his wife Michelle at the inauguration in 2009):

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small but whether it works”



6. Constant learning

He learnt about people’s problems as a young community worker in the poor South Side of Chicago, where his wife, Michelle, grew up. Barack Obama Leadership

He is also a great listener, learning from others (particularly Michelle, his advisers, other politicians and friends like Oprah Winfrey ,pictured right in 2009).

He has also been deeply affected by his Christian faith and his minister in Chicago, Jeremiah Wright (pictured right below), who coined the phrase “the audacity of hope” that became the title of Obama’s book.

He also learns from: Barack Obama Leadership

a) quiet reflection.

b) constructive debate.

c) mistakes and failures (including his disastrous attempt to become a Congressman in 1999 when he was seen as “elitist”).


  Barack Obama Leadership

7. Unity of purpose 

He is determined to unite America. Like his hero, Abraham Lincoln (pictured right), Obama:

a) called for “a divided house to stand together” 

b) included in his Cabinet his biggest political rival, Hilary Clinton .



8. Competence

He has a brilliant intellect (studying law at Harvard, where Michelle also went).

The sharpness of his mind is helped by at least one hour’s daily exercise in the gym.

He also manages his time really well, prioritizing the big issues, his family and quiet reflection.



9. Strategist Barack Obama Leadership

Obama (pictured right in his Oval Office with Hilary Clinton) has not only attention to detail but also the ability to see the overall strategy.

Once he has worked out a strategy he sticks with it (as with his health care reforms) until circumstances dictate otherwise.

He has learned that his policies may have to be modified to gain maximum support (like his plans to fight climate change).


10. Tough but empathetic

Helped by his enormous self-belief, confidence and willpower, he is tough enough to:

  • make difficult decisions (like increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan)
  • discard people who are no longer useful to him.  Barack Obama Leadership 
  • campaign and work with his political opponents

But he is also sensitive to other people’s needs, guided by his mother’s (pictured right) principle: ‘how would that make you feel?’ 


Key quotes on America

The audacity of hope! In the end that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation.

The true strength of our nation comes...from the power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

There’s not a black America and a white America...there’s the United States of America


Key quote on success

It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential


Key quote on happiness

Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition, it asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled.


Key quote on change

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.


Key quote on influencing people

Greatness is never a given. It must be earned.


Key quote on society

Society has a responsibility to give people the tools they need to succeed.

We have a stake in one another...what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart.


Key quote on climate change

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations (Second Inaugural Address, 2013)

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