Barack Obama and Leadership Mastery


This is not a political blog, nor is it a political post. We won’t touch on policy or ideology. And we know that many business leader have expressed concern that Obama’s tax policies are too left-leaning for comfort. But watching Barack Obama throughout the campaign made it clear that he is a living example of leadership mastery, independent of his policy agenda. He shows the Markers, he’s made the Five Shifts of Mastery, he’s led from his Dynamic Essence, he confounded the merely excellent and won, and he’ll reap the Five Rewards of Mastery. Whether you voted for Obama or McCain, this must be recognized. Time will tell if Obama maintains his mastery, but he clearly demonstrates it at this time. Consider first the Five Shifts of Mastery:

Shift 1. Effort to Energy. Of course, Obama gets fatigued like any other human being, but in his constant public appearances, he always appeared lively, alert, present, focused, and tireless throughout the long slog of the campaign. Few people can manage a schedule like that (and McCain is to be commended for taking on the challenge at age 72), but Obama clearly appeared to be tapping into an endless reserve of energy. He displayed even more as time went on, and his energy became self-sustaining. Effort can’t win against this kind of effortless and sustainable energy.

Shift 2. Proficiency to Expression. Obama’s native intelligence affords him a comprehensive grasp of policy, and he’s a quick study. But more importantly, he is superb at expression, both in his oratory skill and also in his ability to articulate a vision and rally people to it. Obama simply spoke his deeply-held truth; he put it out there. He displayed the inhibition that has the power to drive change.

Shift 3. Expertise to Perspective.  Here’s what we wrote in our e-book and other materials about perspective: “Perspective provides an authoritative interpretation of the here and now, as well as what is to come. It sees deeply into the nature of people and circumstances with honesty, integrity, insight, and fearlessness. It knows the score, the real story. Perspective makes us truly visionary.” Obama did this.

Shift 4. Commitment to Intention. A political campaign is nothing if not a place for incredible commitment. However, in the cacophony of committed voices, on all sides, Obama kept his cool and led from Intention. We write this about Intention: “Intention has the power to make vision real.It is what happens when we get free from distraction and decide to come from our core. Intention says ‘yes,’ with confidence and purity of purpose. True intention is different from will. Will is about ego and power, and it’s prevalent in the Excellence Trap. Not so with Intention. True intention is rare, so it both inspires people and attracts the necessary resources to make vision real.” Intention defines Obama’s approach to leadership. This intention resonated to the rank and file, across the aisle, even to would-be adversaries.Shift 5. Knowledge to Wisdom. It is impossible to know everything necessary to never misspeak in a presidential campaign. And Obama is no exception, particularly given his relative inexperience. But rather than try to overcome knowledge gaps with deep ideology, spin, or distractions, Obama demonstrated Wisdom. He consistently confounded, surprised, challenged, or inspired legions both in the way in which he handled a number of attacks and crises, and in the manner in which he sustained a vision of post-partisanship, new ideas, and new coalitions for a new era. He had a sense of rightness in what he chose to do and say that served him well. Detractors called this rhetoric or flash, but Obama won, and in large part buy “flipping” red states and creating a broader coalition that included former detractors, including white working class males, Hilary loyalists, moderate republicans, and African-American leadership figures (the proof of the latter is evident the tears of joy Jesse Jackson shed in Grant Park).Leadership mastery confounds mere excellence by achieving the extra 5% that defines greatness. McCain’s campaign threw everything they had at Obama, and still he triumphed without apparently breaking a sweat. McCain had smart people who displayed all the virtues of excellence: effort, proficiency, commitment, expertise and knowledge. But it wasn’t enough. Obama won by showing masterful leadership in his campaign, and by suggesting that he would do the same in his presidency. Conversely, McCain appeared increasingly angry, tired, and cut off from his own core beliefs. His strategy was more visible, calling into question the integrity and even the existence of his core beliefs (until he shared them in his concession speech, considered by many to be his finest moment), and causing former supporters from 2000 or 2004 to abandon him.

Obama also displayed the Five  Markers of Mastery: fearlessness (by getting into the race against the odds and taking his vision everywhere he went), gracefulness (by staying cool under great pressure, never taking the bait), generativeness (by championing new ideas and new visions), effortlessness (see above), and intuitiveness (intuiting that America was ready for him, and intuiting the best ways to respond to attacks and crises, from Rev. Wright, to  alleged links to terrorists, to charges of Marxism).

Now Obama will reap the Five Rewards of Mastery: sustainability (by building upon a deep and powerful foundation of aligned mastery), integrity (by entering office with a clear agenda, largely unsullied by dirty campaign tricks and marriages of convenience), attraction (by attracting goodwill and talent, at all levels of society), attunement (aligning a broad cross-section of global supporters and partners), and capacity (the big payoff for everything else). Ultimately, if he delivers on his campaign “promise,” Obama will enjoy unprecendented levels of effectiveness, alignment, and sustainability, and leave a lasting legacy. This is what masters do.

Throughout the campaign, many people on both sides of the political divide spoke about how Obama is not just a set of polices, but is rather a “very special person” and a “once in a lifetime leader.” If you are an Obama supporter, you can rest assured that you have a masterful leader working for you. To the extent that business leaders are fearful of Obama’s more liberal-leaning statements regarding tax policy, you have two choices. You can work with him, trusting upon the perspective, wisdom, and pragmatism that comes with mastery. Or you can seek to undermine him from the outset. But note that if you oppose Obama and look forward to a shift in direction in the next election, you will not defeat him with mere excellence, or with only a bundle of alternative policies. A master can only be met with more mastery, so you’ll need to find a master. A real one.

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