Obama – A Leader With a Capital L

For the first time in many years, I am optimistic on behalf of the United States. When America chose their new President Barack Obama, the world started to believe in America again.

I am a Norwegian Leadership Consultant who came to the United States for the first time more than 30 years ago to study as an exchange student at Harvard University. After just six weeks, the American dream became mine too. Since that time, I have spent most of my career learning what it actually means to attain this dream, not only for me but for others as well.

During these last 20 years, I have felt privileged to guide many leaders, all in varying degrees of their development. Some of these people were shining stars blazing new trails, others were on the rise and there were those that had fallen, each struggling to grasp how they had failed. For each, the invaluable lesson of understanding their strengths was their great awakening.

An authentic leader

Today, Barack Hussein Obama has become the 44th President of the United States of America. It is a joy to see him as a leader for the most powerful nation in the world! I have followed him with special interest since he emerged on the political scene. I understood quickly that this man was not only a great orator as many people suggested, I saw a Leader with a capital L.

I could see he had a clear vision and that he said what he meant. I felt I could trust him. In debates, he showed a presence and a dignity that had not been seen in American elections for many years. The more I heard him speak, the more I recognized that he based his ideas and decisions on clearly defined values and principles.

During the campaign, there was tremendous pressure on both Obama and McCain. Although McCain had a high standing with many people, myself included, I did not perceive him to be a clear leader aligned with what he said, felt and did. As an experienced leadership consultant, I see Barack Obama as a man who is principle-based as well as a flexible thinker. He knows who he is and what he wants. He is completely clear on his strategy and he communicates his goals in a succinct manner. What he says resonates with the listener and deepens over time. He shows himself to be a whole person, aligned in what he says, does and believes: an authentic leader.
The former President of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, once said, “When there is chaos around me, I feel totally at peace because I know who I am and what I want.”

A reason to be passionate

Barack Obama has paid a high price to become the person he is today. As he has shared in both of his books and in his many interviews, he grew up in a household without a father, often separated from his mother for long periods. With little or no contact, it was difficult for him to come to grips with who his father was. Every leader that I have coached has needed, at some level, to make an impression on their father or to compensate for their father’s shortcomings. This produces drive.

He is of mixed race, which is not easy to reconcile in the United States, especially as a teenager, and he often felt despair and humiliation. Obama has said that as a young man, he gained a deeper commitment and motivation to help people when he discovered that his mother’s insurance company did not want to pay for her cancer treatment. Experiences like these can affect a person profoundly as it did him. Today he is passionate about improving the welfare of all Americans. He never makes excuses, choosing instead to use unfortunate circumstances as building blocks and opportunities to soar.

His tenacity to learn, his willingness to grow and his deep desire for public service, whatever the cost, confirms his desire to become a Leader to influence an entire nation. How did he hold strong to his belief that he could become the first black President of the United States? Did he have role models to inspire him? Yes, there were many, Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, and in his own family, his maternal Grandmother who became vice president of a bank, something unheard of for a woman at that time. Obama had seen “the impossible” happen. Through his leadership skills, focus, and commitment, he has defied all odds and become an inspiration to the world.

Obama tells us that we are responsible for our own lives. It is critical that Obama continues to educate us on this important topic, so we can stop complaining and blaming others and begin to take more responsibility for our own lives. Only then can we become part of the solution for this great country.

Emotionally Intelligent

Barack Obama seems to be highly emotionally intelligent. He does not let his feelings run-off with him, but seems to manage them effectively and stay on top of them. That is what we expect of a modern Leader!

In 1990, Dr John Mayer from The University of New Hampshire and Dr Peter Salovey at Yale University became the first scientists in the world to define the term Emotional Intelligence. In part they said, ” Individuals with high emotional intelligence have the ability to perceive, understand and manage emotions, on the one hand and allow emotions to facilitate their thought, on the other hand” This definition initiated a paradigm shift in leadership thinking. Tapping into his emotional intelligence, will enhance Obama’s decision- making abilities. It will also assist him in developing better relationships at all levels and among nations.

Ten years ago, it was taboo to mention emotions. People looked down when emotions were discussed. Yet, like the Intelligence Quotient (IQ), Emotional Intelligence existed, even if not yet defined. (The apple did fall down and not up long before Newton defined the law.) Fortunately, Obama has both types of intelligence and we will require a leader such as him to deal with what lies ahead.

We all have negative emotions that we must channel and integrate into our personalities. Most people can reach emotional maturity if they learn to manage their negative emotions. Obama seems to have chosen the path of not only integrating his feelings but also using the information that his feelings give him to know himself better every day and we can expect this remarkable person to flourish as he continues to develop He is a person who knows how to lead himself. That is a prerequisite to be a leader. Because of his particular journey, Obama radiates the confidence, peace and dignity that we expect from our highest leader.

One leader that I have worked with said it this way, “Before I learned to tap my emotional intelligence and use my emotional skills, I saw life in black white, but now I see everything in color, multi-dimensionally. With far more information, I can make better choices because I can see the whole, intricate picture”. The emotionally intelligent person breaks free from traditional thinking, He is not a linear thinker. He is more sophisticated and can handle far more information on every level, allowing for decisions that are more complex.

Obama embraces his whole person, has a natural relationship to his feelings and he uses them wisely. He is a good listener, takes signals well and treats everyone with respect. Obama seldom, if ever, falls into the trap of “throwing dirt”. Yet, he has also shown that he is not a “doormat” and does not tolerate poor behaviour without an appropriate response.

He understands and connects with young people and quickly wins their trust and support. As a Leader Obama makes them feel important because they are. For these young people, his passion has affected them in a tremendous way, so much so, that Obama has become larger than life to them. Obama recognizes how important young people are and his decision to rally them won him the election.
Presidents before him often forgot to address the young people.

As is expected of a great leader Obama designed a clear vision. He has managed the most important thing of all: to put people into action to follow this vision, and this he can do again and again.

As a leadership consultant, I find Obama’s ability to mobilize constituents in his “Obama for Change” campaign intriguing. Leadership is not an exact science. We define leadership as an ability to create results through yourself and others. From my perspective, great leaders demonstrate four important principles that Obama seems to embody. They are:

* Build on your own strengths and those of others
* Be true to yourself, your own vision, goals and values so that you can be true to others
* Take full responsibility for you own life and empower others to do the same
* Tap into your emotional intelligence in order to make better choice and influence others more effectively.

Huge challenges are ahead and we must ask ourselves, Will he make it? Will he be a great President? Will he be able to handle the challenges that lie ahead? Will Obama manage to build a sustainable foundation with his leadership team that strengthens himself and the country? Will his principles and leadership skills carry us forward?

My answer is a resounding yes. Barack Obama is an authentic Leader who will likely be leading us for a long time. There will be mistakes and criticisms, but when we get disappointed, he will polish our vision for the future. Obama will empower us to lead ourselves more effectively towards our dreams and goals and to take action. A new sense of hope will rekindle our faith in a creative America where some us still remember that anything is possible.

I also believe that his leadership will summon positive forces for which the world is ready.

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