flowing motion

3 reasons why I will use Barack Obama’s speech as a masterpiece of leadership

Posted on: March 17, 2010

It has happened . . .

PULLED UP FROM MY DRAFTS:  Hard to believe that only 18 months ago we waited till morning for a speech to appear on YouTube.  We take for granted now the quality of Obama’s speeches.  And now we are in thick of the adventure, we deal with multiple voices of doubt, fear and plain colly-wobbles.  Come on America.  The world needs you to do what only America can do.  Lead.  Show us the American Dream.

The historic has happened.  On Thursday night, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomimation for the Presidency of the United States of America.

Some people are not sure why .  . .

I have many friends and acquaintances throughout the world who are apalld.  I have never got to the bottom of it.  A few months ago, I polled LinkedIn.  I received many emotional responses from people who were willingly to answer my follow up queries.  But I couldn’t get to the bottom of their objections.  This could be my blindness.  But I perceived panic and a general rejection – “I don’t agree with his policies but I cannot say exactly what they are”.

The hope in my classroom is palpable .  .  .

I teach in London, the capital of the Commonwealth,  and have around 100 students from all over the world.  The response to Barack Obama in that room is quite different.  The mix of hope and fear is palpable.  The students are literally holding their breaths hoping for his success.

We are on the cusp of change in media too  . . .

On Thursday night, I woke intermittently hoping that BBC would stream the acceptance speech.  Sadly, we are still in ‘old media’ here and they kept interrupting ‘to tell us what to think’.  In the morning I was able to patch together some of the speech from user submissions to YouTube.  And I was able to download the transcript. This morning the Obama campaign circulated the link to their submission to YouTube.

Permanent links . . . mavens will keep them

The dance of leadership

I’ve added the links because we are going to be studying this speech for a long time to come.  I had high expectations.  And it exceeded my expectations.  Barack did not improvise in the fashion of the “I have a dream” speech of 45 years ago.  Nor did he ‘riff’ which he often does.  He does ‘dance’ with the crowd, though.  We love his speeches because he co-creates the experience with us.

Getting down to the deed

The key idea in management theory is that leaders must command an unbroken chain from our strategic goals to the details of our action.  We can often recognize the micro-manager.  They harp on the details.  It can be harder to show how strategy must be reflected consistently in day-to-day actions.

In this speech, Barack Obama was also much more concrete than he usually is, e.g. we are the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy.  Don’t tell me that Democrats wont’t defend this country.  Change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.

It was this feature that particularly caught my ear as I listened to snippets through the night.  I will be looking at the speech more for that quality.

Resolutely positive

It can be difficult to phrase change positively.  By definition, today is not enough.  Barack Obama comes back to what is ‘true and good, better and possible’.   The USA has still not fulfilled the vision of its founding fathers.

Moreover, he defines clearly the ground rules of free speech.  First, we must accept that both we and our opponents belong.  We must accept they have a right to be here and will be here in perpetuity.  We must accept this principle before we can truly accept that our opponent has a right to speak and to hold an opinion.  It is difficult to understand the notion that I can compete with you and at the same protect your right to hold your opinion unless I begin with a  deep and uncertain belief that you are entitled to membership of our group and that is unquestioned.  Belonging is a very important foundation of democracy and the good life.

Case study

I intend to to distribute his speech to my students as a career exercise and ask them to rewrite their vision of what they will contribute to the world in the next 8 years.

This weekend I will put together some exercises for them.  Will you be using the speech in your work?

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