Obama and Leadership


While watching Obama’s victory speech last night to his supporters in Grant Park, I was overwhelmed by the incredible rise and almost unbelievable story of this man’s journey to the presidency. To see an African-American elected to the highest office in the country reassures me that the United States of America is still a land of opportunity and a beacon of hope for the world.

Obama’s emergence as a national and global leader was fueled in part by three factors; (1) technology, (2) globalization and (3) leadership style.


  • Technology


    1. . He was able to build a massive grass-roots support organization through social networking technology. These supporters became his financial backers to the tune of over $600 million. A recent New York Times


    1. points out two interesting facts about the money Obama raised. The first is the total number of donors; 3.1 million as of mid-October. He vastly increased the number of donors participating in a typical presidential election. The second is the average donation per person, which in the month of September was less than $100. That means many Obama donors gave in small increments of $5, $10 and $25 dollars. With the power of social networking this money raising machine became a powerful force that allowed Obama to far outspend his opponent.


    1. Globalization. The demographic trends in the United States are pushing minorities toward 50% of the population. As a culture we are maturing in how we deal with people who are different than ourselves. We are much more accepting and tolerant of others. This is a microcosm of what is happening globally, as corporations assemble global teams to work together to solve problems. Furthermore the trends in technology are feeding globalization, and the trends in globalization are feeding technology in ways we still don’t understand. But it does seem clear that future leaders will need to have the skills to master technology and work together with diverse teams. This is a huge challenge for leadership development.


  1. Leadership Style. Obama was able to articulate a vision for the country and then energize and mobilize support for that vision. One of the things I admire most about Obama is his deep respect for Lincoln, and I do see many similarities between them. Both men are from Illinois, of course, but beyond that, they both pulled themselves up on the national stage from obscurity, starting their professional lives with no money and no connections. And Obama, like Lincoln, can articulate a vision through uplifting oratory, and connect citizens emotionally to a cause greater then themselves. This is a very unique leadership skill — difficult to define let alone teach. However, I believe that the leader of the future who can master this skill will be in high demand.

As we look at leadership development today, the emergence of Obama is a striking example of the qualities and traits we must develop in our future business leaders to ensure our companies have a bright future.

1 comment

  • On the globalization point, in addition to the demographic trends, the very global nature of Obama’s life (Kenyan father, school in Indonesia) is a refreshing counter to the inward-looking character of Bush (who had little international experience) or Palin (who could only see Russia).
    On the leadership style point, global leaders need to excel in 4 dimensions – conscience (values), creativity (vision), courage (valor) and caring (people). Your piece refers to the first two, but the last two are critical for global leaders, and we hope Obama will have the courage to act (unlike Bush who was foolhardy, not courageous) and will be caring — and this he has shown already — in the inclusiveness of his approach and message.

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