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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

The Principled Pragmatist

When Chris Wallace asked him what he had learned about himself during the campaign, Obama pointed to his temperament-- not getting overconfident when winning or upset when losing. That is the kind of cool and steady hand we'll need to guide the ship of state through some very rough seas.

Obama ran a brilliant campaign and an impressive transition process in which he demonstrated these strategic skills:

1. Partnering with people who complement his abilities.

David Axelrod and David Plouffe were indispensable to a brilliant campaign that combined discipline, focusing on the message and the empowerment of volunteers. Like Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan, Obama knows the importance of having the smartest and most competent people on his team. He will hear different views, yet has the confidence in his own ability to weigh them and make a fully informed decision.

2. A clear philosophy of principled pragmatism guides his decisions.

In his keynote speech in the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama presented a vision of bringing the country together, building on areas of agreement, listening to those with a different point of view and not labeling them as enemies. Since then, he has also been pragmatic about following his principles. For example, while he preached transparency, credibility, and limiting the role of money in elections, Obama refused to honor his pledge to limit his campaign funding to the federal contribution. Winning the election was priority, and to do so would have put him at a disadvantage. Good values can collide, and an effective leader must prioritize.

3. He not only inspires; he motivates.

Obama is a great communicator, but in his speeches he does more than just communicate. As in the moving speech on race he gave in Philadelphia, Obama persuades others because he has worked at persuading himself of his own views. He campaigned for change to come from bottom up responsibility, service and activism as well as top down policy. I learned why he gained support from many of the most highly educated young professionals when I spoke at Google headquarters in December, 2007. Obama was the only candidate who focused on the country's need to compete in global markets, to improve technical literacy, give all Americans internet access and support research for alternative energy. As Lincoln foresaw the industrial age and promoted federal support for railroads and technical colleges, Obama recognizes the government's role in preparing the country for an increasingly globalized world.

But this is just what we've seen from Obama's campaign and transition process. What are his weaknesses? How will he respond when those around him, including members of his own party, cannot be persuaded? Will he get puffed up by power?

Anyone who is greeted by "Hail to the Chief" is likely to confront some ego issues. Obama has said he uses prayer to keep things in perspective. He wouldn't be the first president to pray for humility.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  January 12, 2009; 12:39 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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From a campaign that promises that the economy, the war in Iraq, Gitmo cleaned out and every other problem would be fixed within a year by electing the Obamessiah, we're being told now that it might take many, many years…………………………
Something tells me, we were sold a bill of goods by a Chicago politician and we deserve everything we get. All lies! Every single one. However, if you ever dare to call him on it, by God, you are prejudiced and a bigot. So stupid, it is believable.

Posted by: GordonShumway | January 13, 2009 11:14 AM
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