How Very Human
Great leaders are moderately authentic--sharing some but not all of their innermost thoughts and feelings. Impulse control, the ability to withhold action on one's desire, in this case speaking out with indignation, is a critical and learnable trait. President Obama made a leadership mistake by saying that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly." His error highlights the importance of a leader getting the facts before reacting emotionally. In any case, wading into this issue in the first place was a distraction from his primary focus--solving the health care crisis.
But then Obama did something brilliant. He recognized his error and essentially admitted it. In discussing leadership education strategies in a faculty meeting today, a client said wisely, "One of the biggest obstacles to learning is the inability to admit you are wrong."
We tire of politicians, or leaders of any type, who are forever righteous. If a leader is never himself, he appears overly political--always triangulating amongst polls and never appearing truly human. Lack of authenticity can be spotted from a mile a way by the man on the street, leading to general distrust.
Obama's recovery was good, but in some ways perhaps too measured, in contrast to his initially spontaneous reaction. The careful non-apology, the distant photos, and even his deliberate choice of America's most popular beer, Bud Light, gave the aura of careful political positioning.
Though the trappings were highly politicized, Obama's authentic personal desire to patch things up came through in his statement calling for improved leadership skills like listening and reflection:
"This is... hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other... you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect. And hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that other people have different points of view. And that's all it is."
How very human.
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