A Burden, Not a Reward
The problem with giving a Nobel Prize for leadership is that most people do not separate leadership, or how a leader leads, from a leader's policies and accomplishments, which is why some people were either shocked or unhappy about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year. To answer this question, we need to first look at the intent of the prize. Here is how Alfred Nobel described the recipient of the prize in his will:
...the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.
It was a fairly broad statement, saying the winner must do a quantity of things ("the most work") or "the best work." We do not know if the best work is over a lifetime, a few years, or a few months. Not all Nobel Prize winners fit this description; however, the mandate of the award was later expanded to include climate change, poverty, disease and work for peace within one country, not with other nations.
This year the Nobel committee decided that President Obama had done the best work (albeit in a short period of time) to promote fraternity between nations. He won the award because he exhibits the kind of leadership that the Nobel committee wants running the most powerful nation in the world. Intelligent, thoughtful, respectful of other cultures, and willing to work with international institutions, the president aspires to the reduce armies, engage in peace talks, and improve the environment. In short, he represents many of the key values and aspirations that Alfred Nobel wanted to reward. So, if there were a Nobel Prize for leadership, handed out by the Nobel committee, Obama would not be a surprising pick.
But is it possible to give a prestigious prize for the best leadership, not what a leader accomplished, without stirring up controversy? I do not think so. I would not give a Nobel Prize to a sitting leader, because such a prize is a burden, not a reward. Leaders like President Obama are under enough pressure as it is without winning a prize that places the hopes of the world on their shoulders.
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