Fast Company

Obama's Lessons for Leadership in a Time of Change

President Obama on Air Force One

The President works on his Libya speech with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon during a conference call on Air Force One, via The White House on Flickr

The President's speech last night was primarily billed as his chance to plead his case to the nation for the ongoing military intervention in Libya. But slipped into his remarks was a primer on 21st century leadership in a time of change, a topic Life in Beta is particularly interested in. Here were Mr. Obama's take-home messages for any leader:

1. Change comes at you in two main forms: the easy kind, and the hard kind.

The popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia are exhilarating examples of regime change in the Middle East. Our eight-year struggle in Iraq is quite the opposite. Obama cited both examples as he raised hopes and managed expectations in Libya, making it clear that we're not pledging a long-term military intervention.

2. Circumstances change. Values don't.

Obama made a strong humanitarian case for intervention. "When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsiblity to act," he argued.

3. Agility is to your advantage.

Obama pointed out proudly that in the early '90s, when Milosevic was perpetrating genocide in Bosnia, it took President Bill Clinton nearly a year to muster a military response; in the case of Libya, the President's diplomatic team, headed by Hillary Clinton, formed a coalition and moved to action within 31 days. No doubt social media has helped keep the current Mideast upheaval top of mind for both the public and politicians here at home.

4. Collaboration is the new leadership.

In announcing the turnover of command of the Libyan operation to NATO, Obama articulated a new philosophy of American power: Whenever possible, we don't act alone. We seek to work with allies and use our influence and expertise to help spread our values around the world. "Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well," Obama said, a statement that's as true whether you are running a design firm, a large corporation, a university, or a country.

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4 Comments

  • James Carroll

    I actually think he has done an admirable job considering what he inherited and what he has had to face.

    I also appreciate that he isn't belligerent and is trying to live up to the values that made this country so great.

  • Chris Reich

    While I generally support president Obama, I think he still shows signs of being in his rookie season. I find the most difficulty with #2 on the list. Saying that values don't don't change is really ridiculous.

    The US, including the current administration, has been providing Libya with military support---up to the moment this so-called rebellion broke loose. Then we switched sides. We can be a very confusing and fickle friend to the bullies we support. Saddam Hussein went to the end of his rope, literally, thinking the US was his buddy against the evil Iran.

    While we enrich China, we condemn Cuba. And while providing the Casa Saud with more jets than Jet Blue, we won't lift a finger for the Ivory Coast. Go figger.

    #2 takes no Einstein to spot the relativity.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Greg

    Agree J Staff - the guy is a joke!

    # 4 is especially funny - Really? Collaborate? You can't be serious. How about first explaining to the people you supposedly represent, then collaborate with others outside your 4 walls. Leader gain consensus with their own team before making deals with others.

    This artical stinks and so does BO.