In his acceptance speech delivered in Chicago’s Grant Park, newly chosen President-elect Barack Hussein Obama threw down the gauntlet and declared, “A new dawn of American leadership is at hand” (DeFrank, 2008). Indeed, the unprecedented election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was met with historically high expectations (Ruggeri, 2009). In his first 100 days in office, Obama attempted to fulfill those expectations. Ghattas (2009) wrote: “The breadth of issues he has tackled in this short time is unprecedented, prompting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to write recently in the Washington Post that ‘the possibility of comprehensive solutions is unprecedented’. There is no guarantee that any of it will lead to success over the next four years, but the new administration is aiming high.” As the new president engaged a large breadth of issues, he had to exercise a broad range of leadership theories and exercises. This paper examines five of leadership models he demonstrated in his first 100 years in office.
Five Leadership Theories Applied in Barack Obama's First 100 Days as President
In his acceptance speech delivered in Chicago’s Grant Park, newly chosen President-elect Barack Hussein Obama threw down the gauntlet and declared, “A new dawn of American leadership is at hand” (DeFrank, 2008). Indeed, with expectations for his incoming administration at a historic high (Ruggeri, 2009), the unprecedented election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was met with heightened euphoria and emphatic hallelujahs (DeFrank). Undoubtedly some wondered, “Can he truly live up to all the hype and handle well the monumental task at hand?” From day one, the ills of the nation and the planet called all his leadership skills into practice; putting his bold promise of “a new kind of American leadership” clearly on the line. For the most part (whether one agrees or disagrees with his policies or accomplishments) President Obama attempted to fulfill his pledge to be that new kind of presidential leader (Conrad & Holder, 2009). From the first day he sat down in the Oval Office, Obama’s works were characterized by an ambitious agenda and decisive action through which he showed evidence that the office of the American presidency requires carefully formulated combinations of leadership approaches (Conrad & Holder). Consequently, in his first 100 days, President Obama demonstrated a number of well-recognized leadership models including the five highlighted below:
1. Charismatic/Transformational Leadership Theory demonstrated in just about everything “from the president's personal equanimity …to his masterful use of the bully pulpit” (Huffington, 2009).
2. Contingency Theory in so far as he showed a knack “of capturing the essence of a moment and delivering exactly what it demands” (Conrad & Holder; Winston, 2009) e.g. seizing the moment to force GM and Chrysler (which received substantial amounts of federal aid to keep operating) to endorse part of his environmental policy by accepting an accelerated time table for new MPG standards (Garrett, 2009).
3. Leader-Member Exchange Theory in that he worked with individual staff members including Vice President Joseph Biden and White House Chief of Staff Emmanuel Rohm.
4. Team Leadership Theory in that he worked with (a) the ordinary teams of the presidency including his White House staff, his appointed Cabinet, the National Security Council and (b) specialized task forces like his team of economic advisors (which actually began working before the president the president took the oath of office) (Sahadi, 2008).
5. Cross-cultural Leadership Theory demonstrated (a) in his inaugural speech through which he spoke directly to enemies of Western values and made promises to “the poor nations of the world”(Obama, 2009; Lawson, 2009), (b) in his first appearance at the G20 summit where he attempted to begin “healing bruised relations with American allies” (Parsons, 2009), and (c) in receiving of heads of state representing various countries and cultures around the world e.g. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (Mitnick, 2009).
This article examines activities of President Obama carried out during his first 100 days of office in order to show how the five leadership theories delineated above were at work in his efforts.
President Barack Obama and Transformational/Charismatic Leadership
First, in his first 100 days in office President Barack Hussein Obama showed evidence of transformational/charismatic leadership. Huffington (2009) wrote: “…any list of the most impressive achievements of Obama's first 100 days should start with the intangible qualities of transformational leadership.” Transformational leadership (as developed by Burns (1978)) can be defined “as the process whereby an individual engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northouse, 2004). Additionally, transformational leadership is often seen as synonymous with charismatic leadership (Northouse). Charismatic leadership is “a special personality characteristic that gives a person…exceptional powers that result in the person being treated as a leader.” House (1976) published a theory of charismatic leadership within which he describes the personal characteristics of this type of leader as “being dominant, having a strong desire to influence others, being self-confident, and having a strong sense of one’s own moral values” (Northouse, 2004). Furthermore, Yukl (2006) summarized the leadership behaviors that explain how a charismatic leader influences the attitudes and behaviors of followers; such behaviors include:
1. Articulating an appealing vision.
2. Using strong, expressive forms of communication when articulating the vision.
3. Taking personal risks and making self-sacrifices to attain the vision.
4. Communicating high expectations.
5. Expressing confidence in followers.
6. Modeling behaviors consistent with the vision.
7. Managing follower impressions of the leader.
8. Building identification with the group or organization.
9. Empowering followers.
In their analysis of his first 100 days, Wooley and Peters (2009) observed that President Obama excelled in how he communicated with the American people, they wrote
Obama has benefitted from skillful oratory, personal charm and charisma…He has mixed old and new media strategies to sustain and build popular support…Obama and his communications team have been clever at devising novel ways to present Obama in a sympathetic light. In confronting the contemporary era of fragmented media of communication, the president has shown a savvy ability to “find the audience,” as opposed to expecting the audience to come to him. Obama has appeared on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. He publically chose his NCAA basketball tournament picks on ESPN. He reached out to the Latino community by appearing on Spanish language television.