Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leadership Lesson- Learn from Obama

Like millions of others I watched Obama getting sworn in - from President Elect to President. I watched his face on a 54 inch HD screen that shows every spot, every crease, every expression magnified several fold. There is lots being written abut the famous flub, but what I found interesting is something different: a lesson in leadership. Because of how he handled a crisis - a completely unscripted moment when we see the man- being himself. Here is what happened: The camera is focused on Obama's listening face as we hear a man (Justice Roberts) off camera reciting words that Obama is supposed to repeat - and even at it starts - something goes wrong - the words aren't in the right order or something. Obama's expression changes to friendly compassion, a slight nod - and it goes on. Obama's unscripted reaction made it clear (to all of us who do not know the oath by heart) that the error was not his. More important-there was no anger, no self-conscious tittering, no tension, no laughter at the other person's mistake, no negative body language at all. But he wasn't stone-faced either - he did have an expression - it was one of trust, confidence, friendship, teamwork. There is a leadership lesson in this for all of us - when things go wrong, and something always goes wrong, our first reaction should not be one of blame or anger or even withdrawal. And it should also not be denial- face adversity with compassion and trust. In addition, don't create a crisis - maybe no harm is intended; and even if it was intended - the best way to deflect it in the moment is to stay calm, cool, unemotional (which does not mean devoid of emotion). Yes - "No Drama Obama" - Here is a leadership lesson - we can all use, especially those of us involved with social issues where things are always grey and emotions run particularly high. I do believe it is possible to train oneself to be calm and show compassion in crisis, so even if it takes a bit of work - just do it - eventually it will become a natural response.

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