By Alfonso Montuori, Professor and Chair of the Transformative Inquiry Department
In a recent Newsweek article, Howard Fineman points to the “establishment’s” emerging doubts about Barack Obama’s leadership style.
The argument is that Obama—who is, after all, a surfer—seems too mellow and judicious.
According to Fineman: “A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any.” Obama, Fineman continues, doesn’t have what the establishment considers to be “a central trait of the president's character: he's not really an in-your-face guy.”
No wonder the establishment is having its doubts about Obama—clearly he’s not one of them. A moment’s thought tells us that the establishment is the source of our present predicament. It is bankrupt both morally and practically, and given its dismal record it is certainly not in a position to tell us what qualities a leader should have. Remember, George W. Bush was an in-your-face-guy.
In times of trouble, we know the establishment will call for what they believe worked in previous times. It’s to be expected, then, that pundits within the crumbling establishment think the president should follow a well-worn tough-guy style of leadership.
But the present situation calls for an entirely different kind of leadership. Obama was elected in large part because he pledged to change the political tone in Washington. Any expectation of Obama using the brand of black-and-white, my-way-or-the-highway style of leadership that got us into this trouble in the first place is misplaced.
The reality is that what’s troubling the establishment is not so much what Obama is actually doing or not doing. It’s that he doesn’t look like the traditional savior-leader. He is too intellectual.
Fineman writes that Obama is “a busy, industrious overachiever,” and that, “he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can't wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.”
What Fineman and the establishment want is this: “a blunt-spoken coach.” Rather than being so damn smart, perhaps Obama should just yell “bring ‘em on,” and make sure to have a “Mission Accomplished” banner waiting backstage.
Obama’s task is a complex and precarious one. It is not one that will benefit from macho posturing. The fact that he “likes to appeal to every constituency” is part of a larger effort to 1) bring all the voices that should be heard to the table and 2) ensure substantive contributions from all sectors of society.
Unlike his predecessor, Obama’s administration does not want to function as a closed system mired in groupthink and a go-it-alone attitude, a convict of the alleged courage of its own convictions. This means more reflection, dialogue, exploration, inquiry, and no snap judgments about “evil-doers.”
Obama’s form of leadership is counterintuitive for the establishment, who are looking for Coach John Wayne to knock this country into shape. It recognizes the difficulty of our predicament. It knows the days of cowboy swagger are over. We are now in an age of complexity and transformation—we need a president who, instead of relying on simplistic solutions, acknowledges this reality.