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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

THE QUESTION

How much of leadership is symbolic?

President Obama this week holds his first state dinner, an occasion devoid of substance but full of symbolic choices concerning everything from the guest list and menu to the entertainment and the first lady's dress. How much is leadership really about this sort of symbolic signaling? How important is it in accomplishing substantive goals?

Posted by Steve Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti on November 23, 2009 1:34 PM
FROM THE PANEL
Warren Bennis

Loaded with substance

Symbolic choices are certainly not "devoid of substance." Had President Bush shown up at Katrina the day it hit rather than "a few days later," would his sudden drop in approval ratings -- perhaps a turning point in his presidency -- have occurred?

Posted by Warren Bennis, on November 30, 2009 6:13 AM
Coro Fellows

The Optimus Prime way

When I was a kid, the Transformer Optimus Prime inspired and moved me. Leadership is the power to inspire others through symbols.

Posted by Coro Fellows, on November 24, 2009 2:05 PM

Sealing grand alliances

A White House state dinner conveys enormous symbolism and skilled presidents like FDR have used them to seal important alliances.

Posted by Yash Gupta, on November 24, 2009 11:26 AM

Breaking bread at Jeanne's Cafe

Leadership is all about relationships, so even if we can't all host or attend state dinners, we should create our own.

Posted by Ed O'Malley, on November 24, 2009 5:09 AM

Political greasing

The president should fill sought-after state-dinner seats with folks who aren't on his payroll - above all, members of Congress, governors, pundits and journalists, and lots and lots of big-time campaign financiers.

Posted by Ken Adelman, on November 23, 2009 3:23 PM

A real opportunity

The state dinner is a real opportunity for the president to strengthen a vitally important relationship with India.

Posted by Slade Gorton, on November 23, 2009 3:15 PM
Beth A. Brooke

Public gestures, private committments?

Certainly the symbolic gestures of leadership are important, but if a leader's public signals and private actions conflict -- game over.

Posted by Beth A. Brooke, on November 23, 2009 3:07 PM
Howard Gardner

Time for substance

If anything, the Obama presidency has been so focused on symbolic conduct that sometimes symbols have become, or seemed to become, a substitute for policy.

Posted by Howard Gardner, on November 23, 2009 2:03 PM
David Walker

Real work in private

State dinners can help to bring people together but they tend to be more social occasions and are more about show than substance.

Posted by David Walker, on November 23, 2009 2:00 PM

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