According to Rao (2010) president Barrack Obama has exhibited different theorised leadership skills since he was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. Such include Charismatic leadership and cross-cultural leadership.
He has also captured different leadership theories which include the leader-member exchange theory, contingency theory as well as team leadership theory. Of all this however, it his charismatic/transformational characteristics that seem to define his style of leadership more aptly.
Of all American presidents, John F Kennedy is remembered as the most charismatic leader that the country has ever had. During his presidential campaigns, Obama was likened to JF Kennedy owing to “something rare and special” that the president possessed (Bennis & Zelleke, 2008, p. 1). Opinion analysts were quick to point out that there was a specific kind of personal magnetism that attracted people to the president.
As charismatic/transformational leaders speak, they are able to woo strangers and make them believe in some kind of a shared meaning. Through proper articulation, they are able to create a vision that is shared by most people in an audience. Kellerman (2009) states that Max Weber was the first sociologist who attempted to give meaning to the word ‘charisma’.
Accordingly, Weber used the word to describe a form of leadership where a leader had extraordinary skills that ensured that he always had followers in his thrall. More to this, the charismatic form of leadership given meaning by Weber was powerful, symbiotic and had leaders and their followers engaged and dependent.
Kellerman (2009) draws a similarity in president Obama’s form of leadership and what Weber defined as Charismatic leadership. For starters, the author observes the loyal following that Obama commands (especially right after his election) is evidence enough that he has captured their imagination through his spoken word and his articulation of a vision they all share in.
Another example of how he managed to capture people attention was the campaign fundraising where the ordinary Americans contributed small amounts individually until his campaign coffers were almost overflowing.
Rao (2010) states, “Charisma is a sparkle in people that money cannot buy. It is an invisible energy with visible effects” (p.1). In Obama’s Case, the sparkle and invisible energy as defined by Rao pushed him to the presidency and continues allowing him some loyal following albeit the fact that some are being disappointed by the slow progress of reforms in his government.
One of the outstanding characteristics of charismatic/transformational leaders as pointed out by Rao (2010) is that they are visionaries who believe in change. This means that they are anti-status quo. True to this characteristic, Obama assumed power on the promise of change.
In fact, his campaign theme was “change we can believe in” and one of the president’s administration pet projects was change in the health care system in America. According to the White House (2010), the health care reform would ensure that all Americans can afford healthcare.
The second characteristic of charismatic/transformational leaders as identified by Rao (2010) is their magnetic personalities, which appeals to the masses due to the enthusiasm and energy that such leaders reflect.
Among the president’s other reform agendas is financial reform. Having taken office when the economy was facing a financial crisis, the president’s propositions to reform this sector are just as welcome among the economist as it is among the ordinary citizens. Watson (2010) for example observes that Obama’s advocacy for a regulatory bill which seeks to “build a new foundation for economic growth in the 21st century” was well received by the American people who have suffered under the economic recession (p.1).
It is no secret that the president is a good communicator and also exhibits a great wealth of emotional intelligence. According to Serat (2009), emotional intelligence is “the ability, capacity, skill or self-perceived ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of one self, other people’s emotions, and group emotions”(p. 2).
According to Posten (2009), Psychologists observing president Obama during his campaigns for presidency contend that he has a wealth of emotional intelligence. Accordingly, the president is able to interact and get along with other people more easily than other presidential candidates in America’s history have ever been.
Other presidents who had high emotional intelligence as identified by Posten (2009) include Eisenhower, Truman, Carter, Theodore Roosevelt, JF Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Among the qualities that are considered when rating one’s emotional intelligence are; empathy, self-control and self-awareness, all which Posten states that the president has in abundance.
An example of when the president’s empathy was evident to all and sundry was when he saved the chief justice’s face after the CJ flubbed on the oath of office during Obama’s swearing in ceremony. Later, Obama commented that the CJ “had helped him on a few stanzas”. His self-control was evident during the campaigns since he managed to remain calm despite the mudslinging and the negative connotations that were sometimes given to his camp (Serrat 2009).
Rao (2010) further points out that “charismatic leader’s network with people and build bridges” (p.1). Looking at President Obama’s political rise, one cannot help agree that this is indeed true about him.
Recording Obama’s journey in politics, Brown (2008) states that in addition to his oratory skills that convinces many Americans that he is a capable leader, the air of self-assuredness that the president wears is also an added bonus. “The president has a seemingly imperturbable belief in his own rhetorical and intellectual gifts” (p.1).
Accordingly, even the party where he sought his presidential nomination believed him and thus showed their willingness to invest in an inspirational president rather than one who showed great potential in administration. “Like a superstar, he knows that his success or failure very much depends on how the ordinary people as well as those in high government positions respond to him” (p.1).
Respect for others
Another characteristic of charismatic leaders which is evident in Obama is the ability to respect others and appreciate them regardless of how insignificant their contributions to the leader’s position or welfare may be. Brown (2008) notes that people who knew the president on a personal level attested to his ability to appreciate people even those he had only just met.
His ability to appreciate people and make personal contact with them, either by simple handshakes or simply enquiring about their welfare made a lasting impression among many people who appreciated his sense of humility.
It is Cass Sunstein’s (quoted by Brown, 2008) analysis of Obama however that explains the president’s ability to relate with people aptly. “I thought he liked people, and people liked him. I thought early on, this was someone who could unify the country across political lines. There was something about his lack of dogmatism, and his problem-solving ability and the ability to connect with him” (p.3).
Rao (2010) also points out that some charismatic leaders are self-promoters especially because they have a firm believe in themselves and the potential they possess. As Brown (2008) points out, the president’s journey can be considered by some as confident, while some can define it as cocky.
Brown for example notes that while visiting Western Jerusalem before he assumed the presidency, Obama had pressed a note that read “help me guard against pride” on Jerusalem’s Western Wall. On other occasions, the president has been quoted stating that his wife had served to remind him, that just like other people, he had his own imperfections despite his successes.
During his campaigns, Obama was a crowd puller. Americans who trusted him regardless of his relative inexperience in politics are a testimony to his abilities to woo people towards his vision. As Kellerman (2009) put it, no other person in most Americans lifetime has succeeded as Obama did in giving an impression of being authentically charismatic.
As a result, the president was able to forge a bond with his followers that transcended reservations that may have had about his inexperience in politics and even his race, which admittedly had always played a role in American politics.
A year and some months in the presidency, the bond that the president had created among the electorate may have waned in some areas, but his ability to inspire Americans still surfaces whenever he takes the public podium. His success with the healthcare bill is just one example of what his leadership style has succeeded in helping him meet some of the campaign pledges.
Bennis, W. & Zelleke, A. (2008) Barack Obama and the case for Charisma. The Christian Science Monitor. [Online]. Available from: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2008/0228/p09s01-coop.html/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
Brown, C. (2008). Obama: The Journey of a confident Man. Politico. [Online]. Available from: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0808/12930_Page3.html/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
Kellerman, B. (2009). The nature of Obama’s Charismatic Leadership. Harvard Business Review. [Online]. Available from: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2009/01/the_nature_of_obamas_charismat.html/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
Posten, B. (2009) The Power of EG: Emotional intelligence can make big difference in president’s success. [Online]. Available from: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=125717/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
Rao, M (2010). Are you a charismatic leader? Academic leadership online Journal. [Online]. Available from: http://www.academicleadership.org/leader_action_tips/Are_You_A_Charismatic_Leader.shtml/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
Serrat, O. (2009). Understanding and developing emotional intelligence. Knowledge solutions, 49(1), 1-9.
Watson, B. (2010) Obama Wall Street Speech draws more enthusiasm than protest, [Online]. Daily Finance. Available from: http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/media/obama-wall-street-speech-draws-more-enthusiasm-than-protest/19450624/ [accessed 29th May 2010].
White House (2010) Heath Reform for American Families. [Online]. Available from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/files/documents/health_reform_for_american_families.pdf/ [accessed 29th May 2010].