Built on Experience
Leadership is built on personal experience. Background, beliefs, and aspirations help form the character of a leader. By sharing personal history, leaders such as President Obama and Judge Sotomayor reveal their humanity. They show that their lives consist of stories, and as they relate these stories, they inspire other people to dream and achieve.
When the president spoke in Cairo, he showed that he understood his Muslim audience. He connected to them on a human level by explaining that he has lived in Indonesia (which has the largest Muslim population of any country) and that he has relatives with ties to Islam. By the same token, when Judge Sotomayor refers to her Latin background, she shows that she understands the problems and the opportunities inherent in the minority member's pursuit of the American dream. She's relating the story of her life, and one of its key themes happens to be a key theme of this nation: If you have a vision and you work hard, you will attain your goal.
It would be a shame if people looked at leaders' statements of personal history only in terms of political expediency. We sorely need leaders who will promote the sometimes-neglected notion that the strength of the United States springs in large part from the different qualities and traits of its people. E pluribus unum. President Obama and Judge Sotomayor are just two of the more well-known illustrations of this idea.
The president has a big job to do to repair the U.S. reputation around the world, and I've been heartened by his efforts to reach out to the international community. People in the Muslim world have noted, rightly, that the president's reassuring words must eventually be backed by corresponding actions. But he has done well so far by delivering his message in a way that indicates he shares some of the experiences of his audience and therefore has the credibility to work with them on serious issues that concern us all.
The comments to this entry are closed.