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How Obama Misses the Mark On Leadership

The past few months have seen a rash of world crises and, as usual, the United States is looked to for its leadership. President Obama’s communications on matters ranging from the Middle East to Russia to Ferguson have been disturbingly vague and even weak.

There are his defenders, who say he’s a thoughtful president, not a man to rush into anything unlike his predecessor. His critics, of course are at the opposite end of the spectrum, accusing him of causing these problems. They’re both wrong.

Being a strong communicator and being thoughtful are not mutually exclusive. One does not cancel out the other. A president or leader of any kind must be thoughtful, careful, and strategic, particularly when it comes to putting Americans in danger. A leader must also understand that trust has been placed in him to be decisive, to make the tough calls, and, critically, to give voice to the people’s fears and worries, reassuring them – us – that he’s got it under control and will get the job done.

This stems from his “no drama Obama” personality and it doesn’t always serve him or the country well. I’ve been critical of his style before, whether it was his poor selling of the ACA or his silly attempt to reconcile the relationship between Henry Louis Gates and the police officer who arrested him during the “beer summit.”

He seems unable to get outside his insular world and put himself in the shoes of the people, whose instinct going back to prehistoric times is to need a leader and more importantly, to support that leader whether they agree with him or not if that leader shows strength, assuring them he means business and has their back. Obama seems to think showing some emotion is a sign of weakness, whereas it is actually a sign of strength and makes him more relatable.

When he has stepped up, as in his race speech or after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the support has been enormous. Even from his harshest detractors. Sadly, both seem ages ago.

Communication is a complex endeavor and leadership communication, even more so. One cannot take it on faith that the people will just get that he’s thinking all the right thoughts. He has to show them. Furthermore, he cannot deliver remarks that aren’t carefully calibrated to accomplish something. Those are for private conversations.

He conveys the feeling he’d rather not be bothered, it isn’t important for him to be out in front on these crises, that it’s fluff. It’s as if he’s already checked out, tired of all the beltway shenanigans and scrutiny, that it’s just unfair.

Running for president twice was his choice. He accepted the job and there is another year and a half to go. A lot can happen in that time. I hope he makes the most of it… for the country’s and the world’s sake. And if he’s pondering delivering one of his speeches, I’d advise him to make a concerted effort to put himself in the shoes of the people.

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