Underplaying his own passions
Just one short year ago, I sat riveted to the television as the historic event of Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States unfolded. My emotions were palpable as I watched tears of hope run down the faces of spectators on the Mall; they determinedly weathered the cold to personally witness the momentous occasion of the election of the nation's first African American president. Obama had cemented a place for himself in history by capitalizing not only on his skills, but also the unique archetypes of passion that are part of his DNA.
Through our research on leaders, we have identified 10 distinct passion archetypes that have often defined the boundary between leadership success and true significance. The archetypes are defined as: Builder, Transformer, Creator, Conceiver, Processor, Discoverer, Teacher, Healer, Altruist, and Connector. Each archetype carries strengths and vulnerabilities, those unique characteristics that either enable success or derail it.
President Obama, who demonstrates the archetypes Conceiver, Transformer and Healer, will need to master the strengths of his passions while at the same time managing the vulnerabilities of each.
As a Conceiver, he is an intellectual acrobat--a big picture thinkers and innovator. Conceivers push the edges of the envelope, seek out new ideas and better solutions, and challenge current solutions in search of better ones.
With a Transformers archetype, Obama thrives in change. The chaos of our current world environment is a playing field that invites Transformers to construct a better future and empower others in working towards it. While it is a milieu in which Obama should feel quite at home, he dealt with change and chaos at a dizzying pace in his first year.
The Healer in Obama is the zone of passion that we saw frequently on the campaign trail. It allowed him to connect deeply with voters --their pain, fear, and lost hopes-- in such a profound way that they saw him as the messiah who could lead the country out of economic decline. That passion was again expressed in his outrage over banks taking advantage of borrowers whose homes later entered foreclosure. Despite this, in the last year right wing extremists, Republican conservatives and other critics have called him every name in the book from Hitler, to the anti-Christ, to a Socialist, to a liar --in stark contrast to the accolades he previously enjoyed.
Shortly after the inauguration, the blinding light of reality began to set in on the Oval Office and the nation, as we came to understand the mammoth task this freshman president had taken on and how unrealistic our expectations may have been that any one man could single-handedly be expected to solve the country's thorniest problems. President Obama has spent a year embroiled in turmoil: the banking crisis, precipitous unemployment, the near death of the American auto industry, domestic terrorism, rebuilding the declining US brand on the world stage, managing two wars, a declining public approval rating, and most recently, a natural disaster in neighboring Haiti.
Based on his past education and experience, one could argue that Obama came to the job well skilled, but untested. He demonstrates extreme intellect, excellent oratory skills, a legendary measured calm under pressure and strong work ethic. While those leadership skills are laudable, critics have turned them against him in recent months. So, in his second year, President Obama should make more of his passions--the very qualities that contributed to securing his election to office.
As a Conceiver, Obama possesses the mental horsepower to examine issues in multiple dimensions and develop an appreciation for underlying factors. This archetype has tremendous capacity for digesting and sorting large volumes of complex information, zeroing in on what is most important--which is a plus in the current complex domestic and international environments. The vulnerability of this passion is over-analysis, a need to labor over each possibility, and a need to challenge every proposed solution. The extended three-month analysis undertaken to address the request for more troops in Afghanistan is indicative of this vulnerability playing out and was exacerbated by the slow machine of politics in Washington. Finding a balance between analysis and prompt action should be a goal for Obama in 2010.
Given the need for large-scale change in this country, Obama's Transformer passion is an advantage. However, he'll need to be cautious about the vulnerability of this passion, which is to change things too quickly, before others are ready to embrace the needed change and support the effort is secured. The propensity of this administration to tackle so many monumental issues in Obama's first year in office (albeit many were urgent and unexpected) may need rethinking in the coming year. As we emerge from the steep incline of the crisis curve, this will allow individuals from both sides of the aisle to lay down their weapons and more deeply internalize and contribute to proposed solutions. Going forward, Obama might benefit from employing his sizable oratory prowess to more frequent communication with the public and with legislators about his position and progress on analysis of national issues. Americans need to hear timely and unfiltered information from their leader, especially when change is imminent and anxiety is high.
Twenty-two months ago, I saw Obama's Healer passion in grand display as he delivered his speech on race in Philadelphia. His desire to connect with the nation's pain from this long unhealed wound showed me that he is someone with a deep desire to alleviate suffering. I saw that same passion again as he addressed voters who have lost jobs and homes. He got it, he understood and it mattered to him. This tangible empathy riveted audiences and generated supporters. It is among his most powerful passions and one that will serve him well if he calls on it as he steps into this second year.
Posted by: ubermind | January 20, 2010 3:31 PM
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