Learning Leadership from Leaders
No matter which side of the political fence you live on, President Obama has exemplified many leadership attributes to emulate. The litmus test of a successful leader is getting things done, and the President has shown his ability to move his agenda forward. Obama's healthcare reform is still unfolding, and numerous kinks are being worked out, but nonetheless it is law. Gay marriage is legal in every state. The United States is less dependent on foreign oil than it was when he became president. Healthcare, oil prices, marriage? These are some of the most controversial subjects in the American conversation. As a leader, how does Obama confront so much controversy without sacrificing results?
1. Personal risks. Obama's reputation as a master orator pales in comparison to what he is willing to do as an average singer. He spoke at Tucson after the shooting and at the Sandy Hook Elementary School after the killings. He spoke at the funeral of Senator Daniel Inouye. He spoke at Nelson Mandela's eulogy. You may not remember what he said at any of these events. But when he sang "Amazing Grace" in front of the world, you remember it. He showed us he's able to be himself, just as he is. In showing his average singing voice, he took a personal risk in order to create a memorable message. Taking personal, public risks shows how much you care about your message as a leader.
2. Repeat after “we.” Whether he's talking about the death of Osama bin Laden or more recently, eulogizing the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Obama's change language is framed using “us” and “we.” This isn't just politics. Using the plural first person, instead of I, invites you to identify with him. Think of your own leadership. Sometimes it can be hard for your staff to identify with you too, right? By framing your position in terms of “us” and “we,” you invoke the power of a possible shared social identity with your team.
3. Believe. Obama's campaign used the slogan “change we can believe in.” Belief in change is a fundamental, foundational quality of his leadership. No matter which controversial topic Obama is taking a stand on today, chances are he comes across as believable to many of the people he’s asking to support the stance. When people are asked if they think Obama is a good leader, they consistently report, yes. When asked why, they state, “because you can see he really believes it and he's really fed up.” This quality of believing passionately in the change you are seeking – politically, socially, or in business – has power even when many are against you.
4. Out communicate your competition. In 2008, Obama was awarded Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age. His policies were online and as they evolved, they were updated by email and text. He had an online call tool that helped supporters make millions of calls from personal computers. Today, Obama keeps talking on multiple channels including video, network news, talk shows, personal appearances, web cams – you name it. An incredible commitment to communicating in the media his audience uses, even over-communicating, is an Obama trademark. Do you just send emails, or only communicate during staff meetings, or perhaps have your office manager communicate for you? Knowing your own preference in communication style is important. Knowing your audiences’ styles may even be more so.
5. Make endings into beginnings. When you're a leader with many aspirations, how do you keep momentum? Obama, when referencing the Affordable Healthcare Act, was quoted to say “This was a good day for America; let's get back to work.” He repeats that phrase “let's get back to work” hundreds of times. Classic Obama leadership celebrates ends with a beginning. Rather than rest on the laurels of any particular victory or mope about moments that didn't go his way, Obama uses circumstances to set up the next phase of his agenda. In business terms, you blew it out of the park this quarter? Awesome! But be sure to use this quarter's success to set up next quarter's quota. Even more so, Obama's leadership style in using the moment as a springboard for his message forwards his longer term agenda – meaning as he leaves office at the end of his term, he's accomplished a lot of the items in his leadership bucket list.
Be sure to know and outline the bucket list for your practice, for yourself as a leader, and for your people. Find ways to develop and enhance your leadership effectiveness so you can happily cross those things off your list.
Dr. Gale provides coaching and training to enhance leadership skills, interpersonal communications and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgForward this article to a friend
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