It’s Called “Leadership”

The more their campaigns go on, the more the clear differences between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton appear. They are not so much policy differences as they are personal differences. And, in a word, I believe those differences can all be chalked up to the “L” word”….”Leadership”.

In exit poll after exit poll, an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters have said they would be “comfortable” with EITHER Mr. Orbama OR Mrs. Clinton as President. So what attributes of Mr. Obama’s character are now fueling his growing popularity, and what attributes are now sinking Mrs. Clinton’s?

I believe the principle answer to that question lies in their fundamentally differing leadership skills and abilities.

Leadership is that mix of sometimes innate, sometimes learned abilities that inspire others to action. Wikipedia defines leadership as simply, “The ability to affect human behavior so as to accomplish a mission designated by the leader.” calls it the, “Art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal”. It’s a mix of wisdom gained from experience, charisma, psychology and an (often innate) ability to clearly articulate what the goals are and then help make people think it was their idea to work together in achieving them.

In many ways, and as at least one definition of it shown above attests, it’s an art form, not a science.

Clearly, Mr. Obama has it (or more of it) than Mrs. Clinton. This is probably why he is regularly packing upwards of 20,000 people into large sports arenas to hear him speak and why she (and Mr. McCain) are speaking to audiences of a simply a few hundred or a thousand or so. For example, while he was in Ohio last week to deliver his “victory speech” after his win in the Wisconsin primaries, Mr. McCain had an audience of maybe a hundred people in the room (the exact number was probably a lot less) who had even bothered to turn up to listen to him. That fact, alone, speaks volumes.

People now accuse Mr. Obama of taking on almost a “rock-star-like” quality. To the contrary, I believe what they are now seeing are simply his many leadership qualities at work…his innate (or learned) ability to inspire an audience to a higher calling with his words and his actions.

That is, while Mrs. Clinton doggedly insists on yammering on and on about the “specifics” of her “10 point plan” for this or that social ill, he is choosing to inspire the country to a higher calling by saying in essence, “Follow me and we’ll take our country in a new direction and the specifics will take care of themselves.”

These, my friends, are ALSO outward signs of Mr. Obama’s keen leadership qualities at work.

What’s more, during last week’s debate in Texas, Senator Obama said, “Senator Clinton of late has said: Let’s get real. The implication is that the people who’ve been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional…” said Obama. “You know, the thinking is that somehow, they’re being duped, and eventually they’re going to see the reality of things. Well, I think they perceive reality of what’s going on in Washington very clearly. What they see is that if we don’t bring the country together, stop the endless bickering, actually focus on solutions and reduce the special interests that have dominated Washington, then we will not get anything done. And the… reason that this campaign has done so well is because people understand that it is not just a matter of putting forward policy positions. Senator Clinton and I share a lot of policy positions. But if we can’t inspire the American people to get involved in their government and if we can’t inspire them to go beyond the racial divisions and the religious divisions and the regional divisions that have plagued our politics for so long, then we will continue to see the kind of gridlock and nonperformance in Washington that is resulting in families suffering in very real ways. I’m running for president to start doing something about that suffering, and so are the people who are behind my campaign.”

Note Mr. Obama’s liberal use of the words “we” and “inspire” in those comments. Once again, it’s a call for people (“we”) to take action and using his inspirational leadership skills and abilities (“follow me”) to do it.

Both Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton like to drone on and on about their “experience” with the Washington insiders. But, George Will, in a recent editorial comment aptly noted that …”The President who came to office with the most glittering array of experiences had served 10 years in the House of Representatives, then became minister to Russia, then served 10 years in the Senate, then four years as secretary of state (during a war that enlarged the nation by 33 percent), then was minister to Britain. Then, in 1856, James Buchanan was elected president and in just one term secured a strong claim to the rank as America’s worst President.”

In his editorial, Mr. Will went on to note that, “this also meant that a gentleman by the name of Abraham Lincoln, himself an “inexperienced” former one-term Congressman, clearly had an easy act to follow.” However, the REAL difference between the Presidential successes of these two men was in their vastly differing leadership skills and abilities. Lincoln had them in spades. So did FDR, Kennedy and Reagan. Buchanan obviously did not.

What’s more, Mr. Will noted that, “Mrs. Clinton is now 60 years old. She left Yale Law School at age 25. Evidently she considers everything she has done since school, from her years at Little Rock’s Rose law firm to her good fortune with cattle futures, as presidentially relevant “experience.””

Mr. Obama, himself, has also pointed out that Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney were well “experienced” in the ways of Washington and the military, and just look where all of THAT experience has now gotten us!

It has often been said that a President’s specific job is NOT so much to “run the country”, as it is to “lead the nation”. What that simply means is that a candidate’s leadership skills and abilities ought to be at the very top of all of our lists of “must haves” when we pick our Presidents.

The bottom line here is that experience alone does not (necessarily) equate to one’s leadership ability. Conversely, leadership attributes do not solely depend on one’s “experience”. And while it is true that so-called “referent leadership”…. the kind that inspires people to follow you because you convey a sense that you “know the ropes”…is important, it is seldom the main element in a leader’s overall success. Other qualities, such as the ability to articulate and inspire your followers while truly listening to them, freely admitting your mistakes (and then quickly learning from them) become far more important than what you may (or may not) already have in your head on “day one”.

By any measure, leadership in the Office of President of the United States has been conspicuous by its absence for at least the last decade. And, because such leadership has been absent from that office for so very long, I firmly believe the American people had all but given up hope of ever seeing it again.

But, clearly, they are now seeing it revived in the candidacy of one Mr. Barack Obama.