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Lessons in leadership: President Obama


'What can decision-makers learn from the leadership style of US president Barack Obama?' asks Paul Bridle.

Let’s take a moment and consider America, in particular where America was before President Obama. It was a nation that seemed to have gone out of its way to be unpopular and alienate the world. Other nations considered what the world would look like where America was no longer a major influence? America was starting to be seen as irrelevant to the future of the planet.

Enter, Barack Husain Obama. An outsider, lacking the established connections, he needed to raise money, create influence and engage with the media and the nation at large. As a candidate he was as green as they get in all the areas that traditionally were deemed to have mattered. Yet this man stormed the nation, raised more money than his adversaries in previously unseen methods, galvanized the people and connected with them in ways that had never been done before. Yes, he was a good orator, but after the Bush years that was not hard – what else was there?

The fundamental is self-confidence. This is not blind self-confidence built on a self-belief and a strong will power. Unlike the many people that have confidence but are foolish with it his is:

  • A self confidence that makes him willing to listen to others points of view
  • The self confidence to change his mind if it is the right thing to do
  • The self confidence to make a decision at the right time
  • The self confidence to pick the best team for the job and then trust them to do it
  • The self confidence to tackle the big issues first

Through the campaign, the mindset was simple: show the people what we stand for and let them decide. His message was always clear in direction and what he stood for. It is never easy to provide detail but where he could, he did. Where he couldn’t, he was clear about his principles and overall aims so that the public knew that he was trustworthy within his values.

In office he has selected his team and sought to find the best people for the job. He has tackled the difficult issues up front and not been scared to challenge everything. Many have said he has tackled too many things at once - fortunately, he has not listened to this criticism.

Obama wants it right and is equally prepared to listen to ideas wherever they come from. Progress is tracked and he considers the implication of everything. The specifics are evident in so many ways. He shook hands with the policeman on guard at Number 10. A small detail but noted with great impact. The Obama brand is carefully considered and makes a big difference especially in choosing the words he uses when speaking.

Finally, he understand the importance of relationships and the customer experience. Obama has built his image on reaching out to the people. In a recent interview with Newsweek he said; "American people not only have a toleration but also a hunger for explanation and complexity, and a willingness to acknowledge hard problems. I think one of the biggest mistakes that is made in Washington is this notion you have to dumb things down for the public."

To those who think the Obama approach would not work in business, take heed of the parallels with other accomplished business men of our modern times. Business leaders would do well to learn from his leadership.

By Paul Bridle is a leadership methodologist, world renowned speaker and managing director of Bridle International.

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