The Dedicated Student
Much has been written about Barack Obama's ability to articulate an inspiring vision, his astuteness in selecting an experienced and expert top team, his reassuring calmness during a time of economic uncertainty, his capacity to recruit a diverse coalition of supporters, his audacity to hope, and his persistence in pursuit of his goal. All of this and more may be true, but it seems to me that above all else, the most impressive thing about Mr. Obama is that he is a continuous learner. And the best learners make the best leaders.
Throughout the campaign and the transition it has become quite apparent that Mr. Obama loves learning. Whether it's consulting with scholars, reading Doris Kearn's book on how Lincoln assembled a team of rivals, or studying how F.D.R. responded to the Great Depression, Mr. Obama appears to be approaching his new job with the energy of a dedicated student. He wants to know more than he does. He wants to be better than he is. He wants to try new ways of doing things. He wants to experiment with new ideas.
This eagerness to learn should serve him, and the country, extremely well. In a series of research studies, my colleague, Barry Posner, and I found that those executives who engage more in learning are more effective than those who engage less in learning. This shouldn't surprise anyone. It just makes sense that those people who push themselves to learn will do better than those who only dabble in it. There's very solid evidence that the best leaders are highly attuned to what is going on inside themselves and what is going on with others. They are very self-aware and very socially aware.
Some have expressed great concern that Mr. Obama has little direct experience in executive leadership roles. But that shouldn't be the worry. He's already demonstrated a desire, and the self-confidence, to build a team of seasoned veterans and experts who will be accountable for the daily functioning of the government. What should worry us is if he should ever think that he has graduated from leadership school and believes that he's learned all he needs to know.
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