During the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama was invited to address the audience as John Kerry prepared to receive the Democratic presidential nomination. The crowd was described as generally restless, yet during the course of his speech, Obama was able to command the attention of the multitude and even move them to tears (Frontline, 2008). Many audience members were heard remarking how they considered themselves observing history. Richard Norton Smith, speechwriter and historian, commented: “…forget uniters and dividers, tonight we heard from a transcender…” (Frontline). The coverage of Obama’s speech helped to introduce the Illinois senator to national media and the public at large. Four years later, Obama returned to the stage of the Democratic National Convention—this time to receive the nomination himself of the party’s vote for presidential candidacy.
An obvious personal strength of Obama is his ability to captivate and emotionally move his audience through rhetoric and especially through his delivery of speeches. This potency has also been a source for attacks to his campaign (ABC News, 2008). Nevertheless, the charisma and power of his public speaking abilities aid in the conveyance of his strategic political vision and help him to communicate his goals and agenda as a leader. The capstone message of his platform involves his policies on internal reform and the need to bring change to the dormant status quo Washingtonian mentality and modus operandi. Obama frequently references his family and upbringing, and incorporates a personal element into his messages of change and reform. The result is an example of using inspirational appeal (and arguably, personal appeals) as a proactive influencing tactic. Inspirational appeals are a frequent and often successful influencing for transformational leaders (Yukl, 2007), and Obama’s leadership approach supersedes charismatic leadership to the point where he can be considered a transformational leader.
An aspect of individual character that has been played out by both parties during this election is the nonconformist approach to policy implementation. Both presidential candidates have emphasized that fact that they are not afraid to cast votes against the majority voice within their respective political parties, with Obama specifically voting against the Democratic Party 46 times during the current congress (The Washington Post, 2008). The Obama campaign strategy adopted such slogans as “Plan for Change” and “Obama for Change”, while the McCain campaign in response has branded their two white house candidates as “mavericks”.
The message that these campaign tactics send out is that the future incumbent of the oval office possesses a great degree of expert power that gives him insight as to how to most effectively manage the affairs that encumber the office of the president. Obama has been successful in conveying expert power as he demonstrates at a grass-roots level his social base for making decisions, and his awareness of both how political decisions impact people, and which policies would be most beneficial to the general public. By gaining the trust of followers, Obama’s exertion of expert power has resulted high follower commitment, and his escalation up the political ladder has also led to an incrementally greater amount of legitimate power as well.
By tracking the political career and vocational history and aspirations of Obama, it is possible to evaluate his ideology and core political values as a presidential candidate. After a short career as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama decided to pursue higher education from Harvard (Frontline). During his student life in grad school, Obama ran for and was elected to the presidency of the Harvard Law Review as the first black president. Obama did not use his political stature to nurture clique relationships or promote agenda-driven coalitions, but instead sought after the most competent individuals to fill vacancies within the organization (Frontline). His biggest priority was maintaining the highest quality publication with the resources and talent available. This was done by recognizing true talent as it manifested itself, and as it would contribute to the enhancement of his goals and vision for the Harvard Law Review.
After successfully completing a doctorate degree in law from Harvard, Obama remained focused on returning to the realm of community organizing, despite plentiful opportunities for prestigious, promising, and lucrative clerkships. Indeed, Obama was known among prominent federal judge circuits as “the one who got away” (Mauro, 2007), as he ultimately eschewed the common route for Harvard law graduates in the realm of jurisdiction, and instead began his political career. So dedicated was Obama to the calling as a community organizer, that his first date with his future wife, Michele Obama, was at a community training event in the basement of a Chicago church (Obama, 2008a).
Barack Obama has demonstrated ethical leadership by abolishing elements of the toxic triangle in order to create a wholesome political environment for himself. The voting public has exhibited high levels of voter maturity, as rallies and pre-voting turnouts have been unprecedentedly high. Obama has had a fundamental push to get his ideology and views known through creative an innovative marketing strategies, including authoring a website, buying primetime television slots for advertising, publishing applications for web-enabled phones and mobile devices, and regularly posting on social networking websites. The result is a well-educated followership and a high maturity level of voters.
Also pertaining to the abolishment of susceptible followership is the eradication of questionable coalitions composed of colluders and ties to the notorious Washingtonian “good old boys” club. Obama claims to not be influenced or bought out by either lobbyists or PACs (Obama, 2008b). Instead he chooses to surround himself with competence and audits his own staff to ensure efficiency and idealistic synchronization of his political vision and goals.
Obama has also been influential in preventing an ambience that allows for unwarranted perceived threat on a national level. Specifically, Obama voiced his disapproval to the war in Iraq long before the war became unpopular and required creative justification. Obama maintained: "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars…" (A&E, 2008). He continued by claiming that "the world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without [Saddam Hussein]. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”
Perceived threat is a fundamental component of conducive environments that promote destructive leadership. Obama has, therefore, contributed to the establishment of a more constructive form of leadership by eschewing those environmental conditions that promote the proliferation of destructive leaders.
A final evaluation of Barack Obama’s character reveals that he has a relatively high amount of emotional intelligence, and would most likely demonstrate high levels of conscientiousness on a Big 5 personality inventory. He has repeatedly been described by followers peers as “sympathetic to all causes” (Frontline), but ultimately maintaining his vision on accomplishing the goals and objectives that will drive the cause of the institution with which he is involved and dedicated. Obama, as a conscientious leader, deftly utilizes power bases and influencing tactics as tools for establishing follower motivation and altruistic utility, as opposed to satisfying narcissistic tendencies and promoting personal agendas. These dominant personality traits, in addition to our current political and social environments, and coupled by his distinct leadership styles and behaviors, have allowed Obama to establish himself during the presidential campaign season as a transformational leader and an extraordinarily influential politician.