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Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne Ciulla is Professor and Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, the only undergraduate degree-granting school of leadership studies in the world.

No One Likes a Bully

If there weren't people who actually believe that this is how Obama should behave, I would say it's a silly idea. Leaders who feel the need to show that they are tough are usually the ones who aren't. Exactly what would President Obama achieve by showing the Europeans that he is tough on his first visit? Would Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy walk way from the G20 saying, "We'd better increase our stimulus packages because that Obama is really tough"?

This hyper-masculine model of a leader is rarely effective in the real world, despite its success in the movies. On the international stage, leaders like this usually have to resort to coercion to get things done and/or end up going it alone. (Sound familiar?) After all, no one volunteers to play with a bully. There is a place for saber rattling but it should be Obama's second to the last resort -- not his opening parry on the world stage.

President Obama, like most leaders, faces the mundane task of convincing other leaders to cooperate, change, and to work towards common goals. Smiles are a good start, but nothing beats gaining trust and respect when it comes to developing a productive working relationship, which is what Obama accomplished on this trip.

So yes, leaders should be tough but toughness comes from confidence and resides in deeds. Toughness is about how leaders tackle challenges and uphold their moral principles - not rhetoric and threats.

By Joanne B. Ciulla

 |  April 6, 2009; 6:44 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Paper Tiger Obama? | Next: Rebuilding the American Image


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Mikel, apologizing for 8 years of wrongheadedness is not weak it is wise. Look at the response.

Posted by: amazingoutcomes | April 8, 2009 10:34 AM
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Seems you like toughness too. No one says anything about not cooperating with our allies etc. This discussion also is not about the past election. It is about President Barack Obama. It is about his lack of leadership qualities. It is about how he is projecting himself and by extension the US.

It is well and good he wants to change US foreign policy. That is his right, he won the election. To project an image of weakness by apologizing over and over again as he did in his speeches and making childish statements like wanting a "nuke-free world" he looks naive, and therefore weak and uncertain.

If you look weak and uncertain, you get taken advantage of in the real world and not the make-believe world where everyone has our best interests at heart.

Posted by: MikeL4 | April 8, 2009 8:57 AM
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What is it that those individuals who say, "toughness" is the best way to create a coopertive context to resolve problems? "The world is not a nice place." That is not news, never has been. It is a fact of life. What do you do with that understanding in a world where there are nine billion opinions on anything you care to talk about? How does a world leader, and President Obama is looking to be one of the best if the last 80 days show us anything, work with all thos difference? We have seen what Bush and his cronies have done. Do you folks really believe more of that will bring the kind of agreement needed to tackle the critical issues of our time? Can you really imagine John McCain and Palin handling any single one of these issues effectively, much less the whole lot of them?

Cooperation requires much more toughness than does no hold bared, with us or against us competition. Try it with a problem in your life and see which is most effective and which requires more toughness. Fierceness need not be angry, aggressive, or loud, it need only be fierce. Here is a puzzle for some of you: how can you be tender (kind if that word scares you), fierce and still cooperative, all at the same time?

Posted by: amazingoutcomes | April 7, 2009 7:13 PM
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Sheesh lady, you actually try and teach people? Listen up, put your political philosophy aside and pay attention. The world is not a nice place. President Obama, yes I know, wants to project a different image from President Bush. He however, projected an image of weakness by constantly apologizing for what he saw as America's mistakes.

Think about someone you know who constantly is apologizing. What do you think of them? Yeah, I thought so.

All the man had to say is this is the direction we are going now. Period. That is it. He is a weak leader and an uncertain man. Maybe that will change. For our country's sake I certainly hope it does.

Posted by: MikeL4 | April 7, 2009 9:38 AM
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There are bullys and then there are wimps and then there are the ones who walk softly and carry a big stick. Nobody likes a wimp either. I think the only thing BO knows is rhetoric, but time will tell.

Posted by: lbennatt | April 6, 2009 10:28 PM
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Amen Joanne. I say amen, amen, amen and amen again.

Posted by: castle197 | April 6, 2009 7:17 PM
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