Special Report: Leadership Lessons from the President

What you can learn from Barack Obamas management style

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Barack Obama was known as “No Drama Obama” during his historic presidential campaign. And according to actor and author Hill Harper, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s and a member of his National Finance Committee, Obama’s overall organizational skills are exemplary—clearly demonstrated in how he won the national election. “He was the CEO of one of the most organized, if not the most organized, campaigns in history,” Harper remarks.

Obama’s management style continues to awe many observers, but to those who know and work with the 47-year-old commander in chief, his administrative talents have been consistent over the years. Obama has maintained basic but important management and leadership principles that served him first as a community organizer, as well as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review and now as president of the United States.

Undoubtedly solid leadership is the foundation for every successful business model. Here are several qualities of Obama’s leadership style that could benefit your management practices.

HE IS UNFLAPPABLE

There were many times throughout the campaign when Obama’s most ardent supporters wished he’d be a little more aggressive in the defense of his political positions, particularly against sometimes false and inaccurate depictions and snipes. He was consistently ridiculed as being too young, too inexperienced, and at times even unpatriotic. Obama, without fail, maintained his composure in every instance.
Republican Bradford Berenson, who worked as an editor under Obama on the Harvard Law Review and as associate White House counsel during George W. Bush’s first term, says Obama’s unflappability, “is a signature characteristic, and I think it’s going to serve him well in the White House.”

Former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., considered Obama’s political mentor, often witnessed Obama’s steadiness and in particular remembers when Obama worked to reform Illinois’ ethics laws. “There was a lot of opposition within his own party,” Jones recalled. “He was under siege and attacked. At times I felt sorry for him. But he was able to talk to the members and convince them that this was the direction we should go in.”

Corporate Lesson: “We as people of color tend to be very emotional,” says Ken Roldan, CEO of the minority search firm Wesley, Brown & Bartle in New York. You cannot be strategic and emotional. Emotion clouds your thinking and forces you to focus on your feelings instead of the task at hand. “You need to be true to yourself,” says Roldan, “but at the same time you have to understand that you are playing a game.”

Opponents and competitors are always trying to pull you off course. Being successful requires a steadiness and a focus that reacts and shifts based on actual circumstances, not insults and barbs.

THERE IS NO ROOM FOR DRAMA

Throughout the presidential campaign Obama was challenged, particularly about his former and present associations with friends, colleagues, even his own mentor and pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright over inflammatory rhetoric in church sermons. Obama was no doubt disturbed by the charges that his

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  • p.s. gary

    This article is extremely helpful and to say that it is outstanding marks my penchant for understatement. Reluctantly, I must confess I find myself thrust into a leadership position and with all due modesty and humility I do not really see myself as any sort of leader.
    Nevertheless, I assume the responsibility and this article helps to empower, encourage and inspire me to do a much better job than I ever did. President Obama’s success is quite evident. Now I want to try to implement his methods where I am now.

  • Alice

    I found this article to be very helpful. I have been in leadership roles for years. This article helped me look at some things I must change in my leadership style. I will immediately begin practicing the leadership styles mentioned in this article to make myself a better leader, but most importantly, to empower those that I work with for the success of the organization and the team.