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Alaina Love
Leadership author

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is co-author, with Marc Cugnon, of The Purpose Linked Organization and co-founder of Purpose Linked Consulting.

Struggling with his 'passions'

Q: Even before we know the outcome of the health care vote in the House, how would you rate President Obama's leadership on the issue?

In a previous article, I described President Obama as a leader who possessed three important passions that were the underpinning of his candidacy and influenced his ability to engage voters and build a coalition of support for his nomination. The president demonstrates the passion archetypes of Transformer, Conceiver and Healer. We have recently seen both the strengths and vulnerabilities of those archetypes play out in his bid to successfully shepherd the health-care reform bill into law.

First, as a Conceiver, President Obama is an intellectual acrobat, who displays an uncanny capacity for digesting complex issues and internalizing the critical aspects of the information to which he is exposed. It's clear that he is not merely paraphrasing some well-written brief provide by a staffer when we listen to his perspectives on the health-care bill as he addresses challenges by opponents.

This intellectual horsepower was most evident at the recent health-care summit with Republicans, where Obama demonstrated a profound depth of knowledge about the health-care system in the US and the ways in which his proposed bill addressed deficits in that system and impacted costs to taxpayers.

Whether or not one agrees with President Obama's position on health-care, no one should underestimate the ability of this leader to grasp information and digest and challenge its validity, with the ultimate objective of arriving at elegant, implementable solutions. Conceivers, as an archetype, exhibit supreme knowledge and intellect, along with the ability to strategically vision. Along this dimension of leadership, President Obama has excelled, but has not operated flawlessly.

Among the vulnerabilities of Conceivers is the difficulty they sometimes have with translating complex concepts in a way that can be understood by the average layperson. Despite the information available on the White House website and provided by President Obama as he winds his way through the country promoting his position through town hall meetings and speeches, I have yet to hear a clear, concise summary of the relevant details of this 2,000+ page document.

If we're realistic about how the average voter obtains and utilizes information to make a decision on national policy, there is substantive value in President Obama utilizing his time before crowds to enhance their understanding of the bill, rather than merely refuting the large volume of misinformation floating through the airwaves (remember death squads?). His appearances to promote health-care reform at various venues across the country have garnered wide media attention. These were missed opportunities to more broadly communicate the essence of the bill and how it would impact the average American, so that the sound bites appearing on nightly news shows would be more meaningful.

By contrast, what Obama did well in these public forums was utilize his Healer passion, one that allows him to deeply connect with others' pain. He convincingly connected with voters by highlighting examples of individuals who had been failed by our current healthcare system, sharing stories of his own mother's struggle with getting coverage for a terminal illness and the plight of leukemia patient, Natoma Canfield, who could no longer afford health insurance at a critical moment in her care.

These examples are vibrant and powerful motivators that American's can embrace as voters identify with their relevance to the experiences of neighbors, friends and family. But Americans deserve even more. Each of us should have a deep appreciation for the nuances and complexities of a bill for which we will bear the financial burden for generations to come. Our political system, not just our president, has failed to provide a platform for understanding on which we could all gather.

As a Transformer, President Obama is in his element during times of chaos and change, both of which have been hallmarks of his tenure. As an archetype, Transformers readily embrace change, while actively moving towards a better future, and working diligently to engage others in their vision for a improved way of life. President Obama has done this in recent months (albeit later in the game than I would have preferred) as he spoke about the imperative of fixing our broken health-care system. At long last, he addressed the important 'Why" question rather than focusing only on the 'How" as he called us to come together as a nation to answer, "Why must we successfully repair our health-care system?"

While some politicians have arrogantly stated that the U.S. has the best health-care system in the world, President Obama and others have pointed out its flaws and asked "Is this the health-care system that should represent the richest country on the planet?' They have called upon Americans to embrace the moral imperative of providing quality health-care to everyone.

At the same time, a vulnerability of Transformers is to try to enact change too quickly, before others have embraced and internalized the need for that change. In this regard, President Obama stumbled as he worked to push through health-care reform without spending more time listening to the concerns of Republicans and even opponents in the Democratic Party.

As a Transformer, Obama's vision for health-care reform was so vibrant, that it may have blinded him to the clouded lens through which others were viewing the future. This likely contributed to the earlier derailment of progress for the plan, causing the White House to regroup and move forward with a more inclusive strategy.

What will transpire over the next few days will in large part be determined by the courage of our legislators and how well the president has capitalized on his considerable passions and leveraged their strengths to lead the nation through the complexity of health-care. If the bill gets passed on Sunday, President Obama and his supporters will not have arrived at any destination -- they will have merely reached the point of departure for constructing a health-care system that works for all Americans.

By Alaina Love

 |  March 18, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
Category:  Public policy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I love how this article really connects the dots between leadership passions and their impact. Well done!

Posted by: ValerieS1 | March 18, 2010 2:39 PM
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