Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama-Leadership Lincoln-style

The November 4th Election has come and gone. America has a new President, the 44th man in the oval office. Previously, I have commented why Obama won. Today, I was awed by this news article on Obama's decision to choose cabinet members, even dissenting ones. The writer, Calvin Woodward did an impressive comparison of similarities between Obama and Lincoln, which is summarized in the list form below.
  • Lincoln (and Obama) did not merely want a cabinet of 'yes-men.'
  • Lincoln is a great orator (so is Obama)
  • In Lincoln's day, the losing party nominee William Henry Seward was made Secretary of State, despite Seward being a bitter rival during the race (Obama is considering making Hilary Clinton one)
  • Lincoln reasons that a nation needs the best people, even if they are found in rival camps. (Obama is seriously planning a cabinet of best people regardless of party affiliation)

Two things impress me about Obama's attitude to dissent, the second being most profound. First is his promise: "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree." This is appealing as a new generation wants to be heard more than anything. That is why Obama was able to win convincingly. He knows that is the only way ahead to unite a nation. What better way than to include opposing views inside the influential circle so that like iron sharpens iron, any policies made will have addressed a sizable amount of perspectives that resonates with a larger part of society. Secondly, the ability to include non-homogenous people even in the closest circle highlights a very secure inner being. Jesus does not shirk away from people who opposes him. He tackles the Pharisees' and Sadducees' religious views even teaching and rebuking them without fear. He eyeballs the weak political judges like Pontius Pilate at that time. He engages the military, the Roman centurion guards without giving in to their taunting.

Finally, Lincoln won the civil war. What kind of war will Obama win? In this inter-connected, information-flushed, interactive, inter-networked world, I think there are many small wars to be fought in more sophisticated ways. If information can flow so easily across the world, what better way than to cultivate a rich pool of ideas INSIDE the cabinet without relying too much on OUTSIDE feedback. Having a first scan of ideas from various perspectives gives one an exceptional strategic advantage. In E-Leader, Robert Hargrove shows us that the new generation of leadership in the e-world must incorporate an element of embracing (not rejecting) the 'creative qualities and attitudes' of the Internet culture. Not surprisingly, the majority of the young voters supported Obama, who is seen as most sympathetic to embracing such a culture. With Obama being such a keen student of Lincoln, if we want to see how the leadership style of Obama will be like, study Lincoln. An example of Lincoln's leadership traits are helpfully summarized by Dr Philip Ernest Schoenberg.
  1. Share A Vision
  2. Be a Great Communicator
  3. Be a Lifelong Learner
  4. Demand Excellence for Yourself
  5. Learn From Failure
  6. Be a Role Model
  7. Believe in Yourself When No One Else Does by Having the Courage of Your Convictions
  8. If I am Not For Myself, Who Will be?
  9. Be a Decision maker
  10. Be a Team Leader
  11. Doing the Little Things Lead to the Big Things
  12. Show Compassion
Most importantly, Obama is leading the way to show us that history has much to teach us in the area of leadership. Unfortunately, the current popularity of Obama I fear is becoming more hype. CBS's 60 Minutes had its highest ratings ever. Perhaps this is because Obama is a popular person. Maybe people are expecting economic solutions from him, in a time where the whole economy is crumbling. He is seen more as a saviour. I hope that Obama will continue to lead not by doing big things but to do small things with a big heart. Indeed, when the financial world looks for a giant bailout, the auto industry looking for a similar action for them and many troubled industries doing the same, a leader will need to be wise not to throw good money after bad, not to be distracted by short-term problems and ignore long-term solutions. I hope Obama will make good decisions, no matter how tough it may be. At the same time, I pray that the people will also reciprocate to 'listen to Obama' especially when we disagree with him. the ability to tolerate dissent and work toward a common goal is increasingly more crucial in a multi-cultural world. Lincoln addressed Congress in 1862 with the reminder to adopt an attitude of servitude before trying to engage the issues of the present.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

I think Obama is shaping up to be a new Lincoln, FDR, and JFK all packaged into one, with the additional credential of being of mixed race himself and thus having the ability to earn the trust of those all over the racial spectrum. (Incidentally, did you hear about the new Obama Blend coffee that is being sold by a New Jersey coffee shop: it's a mix of the best award winning beans from Hawaii, Indonesia, and Kenya).

I am following with interest the unfolding of his selection of top advisors. He has said all along that he didn't want a cabinet made up of people who would merely echo his own viewpoints, and he appears to be keeping his word on that.

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