Following the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, a grieving Former President Barack Obama said, “we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations” (Gould & Harrington). It was statements like these that truly captured Obama’s intrinsic dedication to his role as America’s commander in chief. Obama was a powerful leader and role model. Even people who did not support his politics could see that self-confidence, intelligence, and sociability were built into his personality and inspiring leadership style.
Barack Obama was self-confident, which played out in his dynamic personality. Obama’s cool and collected demeanor attracted notice when he entered the national political arena as an unfamiliar face in 2008. He paused to think before speaking, paced around, and had a thoughtful, respectful way of discussing his liberal politics to make them more palatable even to the politically conservative. There is no doubt that making history by potentially becoming the first black President of the United States was an emotionally-charged position for Mr. Obama to be in, yet he did not show his emotional vulnerability because he was so acutely in control of his behavior. No matter how his final republican opponent, Senator John McCain, would provoke him- he was so confident and centered that he allowed neither tense situations nor inflammatory comments to undermine his calm. His presidency and his 2012 re-election campaign were marked by the same confidence and coolness. Regardless to his personal feelings toward current U.S. president Donald Trump, Mr. Obama was confident and kind as he handed over power in January 2017, which is a testament to his character as an admirable leader.
Barack Obama was intelligent, which manifested in his ability to understand people and concepts. From day one, Obama had a vision for the United States, which he articulated eloquently any time he was asked about it. Articulate extemporaneous speech was a known trait of Mr. Obama’s, gaining him a reputation for intelligence. Of course, his intelligence and desire to learn allowed him to understand difficult concepts, but with he had another gift- the ability to effectively discuss these concepts with everyone from the farmers in middle America to the most highly-esteemed and thoroughly educated international leaders. He engaged politically with people by trying to understand who they were and what they wanted from the world.
This human understanding played into Obama’s strategic long game, wherein he sought to move toward a United States that was a responsible leader in the global community. When he did not have extensive knowledge on issues, he gladly opened his eyes and ears to those who did. He never spoke with condescension toward those in an inferior position to himself.
Obama took the presidency while the United States was in a financial crisis and engaged in two simultaneous wars in the Middle East. At an address to an anti-war rally in Chicago, six years before he was elected, Obama said “I am opposed to a dumb war. A war based not on reason, but on passion” (The Independent UK). Mr. Obama did not say this just to please his audience. His leadership of the military resonated with this value of reservation and intelligent decision making that considered the second and third order effects of U.S. action. Aspiring politicians often run for office on such empathetic platforms, which they neglect or abandon once they achieve their goal of election. This was clearly not the case for Obama, who proved time and again that he was in it for the right reasons. After one year in office, Obama stated that he would rather be “a really good one-term president” than a “mediocre president who served two terms” showing that he put his pride and career goals second to the good of the American people (Fallows).
Barack Obama was sociable, which was clear as he consistently made smart social moves for the good of the American people. He inspired youth to engage politically by standing for issues that mattered to them. Although he was part of an older generation, he reached young people on their turf- social media. His administration operated Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts to make political information more accessible to American youth. Obama admitted that he personally was not much of a social media guy, but he understood that it was his constituents – not himself – who needed to be accommodated. This good social judgment reverberated through and beyond his presidency.
President Obama did not just explain what he cares about, he demonstrated his caring through action. He made personal visits to victims of tragic events, he frequented the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to work with wounded veterans, he made time for those who could benefit from his attention, and he always made people feel empowered and important (Bahou). He exhibited his kind social conscientiousness even at his own expense. Despite his rather well-documented love of being good at everything, he humbly sang “Amazing Grace” at former South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in his average singing voice to demonstrate his sincere sorrow for her passing (C-Span).
Mr. Obama was the leader of the most powerful country in the world, but also someone who the world looked up to as a model for intelligent, kind, and thoughtful action. Some might say that he was a born leader because he displayed so many of the traits and skills that contribute to leadership. Whether or not that is true, it would be difficult to argue that Mr. Obama was not a fundamentally good leader and a deeply respectable human being.
- Bahou, Olivia. (2016). “13 Times President Barack Obama Killed Us with Kindness”. InStyle. Retrieved from https://www.instyle.com/celebrity/president-obama-kindest-moments?
- C-Span. (26 Jun 2015). “President Obama Sings Amazing Grace”. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN05jVNBs64
- Fallows, James. (Mar 2012). “Obama, Explained”. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/obama-explained/308874/?single_page=true
- Gould, Skye & Harrington, Rebecca. (14 Jan 2017). “17 of President Obama’s most inspirational quotes”. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/obama-quotes-inspirational-best-speeches-2017-1
- The Independent UK. (8 Nov 2008). “My Vision for America: Speeches by Barack Obama”. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/my-vision-for-america-speeches-by-barack-obama-1001275.html