The Limits of Imagination
Power of Imagination Profile
President Barack Obama
“Out of (Obama’s) perceptiveness comes a distinct way of seeing the world. Obama emphasizes the connections between people, the networks and the webs of influence. These sorts of links are invisible to some of his rivals, but Obama is a communitarian. He believes you can only make profound political changes if you first change the spirit of the community. In his speeches, he says that if one person stands up, then another will stand up and another and another and you’ll get a nation standing up.”
Fictional Character Examples
Three Factors of Character Type
A Character Type is made up of three key factors:
1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat (often unforeseen). It is a character’s immediate tactical response or actions in dealing with a problem or obstacle in the short-term.
2. Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love. It is a character’s overall personal philosophy and view of self and others.
3. Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul. It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character plans, takes charge or commands others to achieve a larger goal. Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching longer-term objective.
Each of these key factors results in fight, flight or embrace/submit response. Character is action. There are the three possible actions a character can take in any given situation or circumtance. He or she can confront the challenge, opportunity or threat (fight). The character can withdraw from it (flee/flight) perhaps to regroup or do reconnaisence. Or a character can embrace something (submit) and perhaps co-opt, cajole or cooperate with the adversary.
As Power of Imagination character, President Obama consistently acts in the following manner.
Power of Imagination characters embrace an immediate or unexpected opportunity, challenge or threat as something to be communicated to or with others. These characters are compelled to embrace others and ask them to share their perceptions as well. They want all parties to embrace the common good inspired by their vision.
That’s why President Obama constantly sees “teachable moments” in difficult unforeseen situations and circumstances. During his candidacy, he responded to charges of anti-white racism on the part of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, with a long thoughtful speech on racism, exploring the distrust and anger on both sides. When another issue of racism came up during his presidency his response was to invite the white police officer (Sgt. James Crowley) and the black professor (Dr. Henry Gates) involved over to the White House to share a beer.
His automatic response to most unforeseen situations is to try to improve communications. In his own words, regarding the U.S. financial melt-down he said in an interview on CBS’ Sixty Minutes on March 22, 2009:
“One of the things that I have to do is to communicate to Wall Street that, given the current crisis that we’re in, they can’t expect help from taxpayers but they enjoy all the benefits that they enjoyed before the crisis happened. You get a sense that, in some institutions that has not sunk in. That you can’t go back to the old way of doing business, certainly not on the taxpayers’ dime. Now the flip side is that Main Street has to understand, unless we get these banks moving again, then we can’t get this economy to recover. And we don’t want to cut off our nose to spite our face.”
Notice President Obama’s use of “on the one hand and on the other hand” discussion of the financial crisis— trying to see the issue from all sides, harmonize, unify and bring the two sides together for the greater good. He is consistently criticized for this kind of rhetorical balancing act. The conservative Heritage Foundation called attention to and took issue with this Power of Imagination speaking style in President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech on December 10, 2009, saying:
“In many ways, the speech was typical Obama, a masterpiece of one the one hand, on the other hand… On the one hand, President Obama, appropriately defended the use of force in the interest of national security – as in Afghanistan — and correctly referenced the just war concept. On the other hand, he stretched the term security to include prosperity and welfare, not simply freedom from harm.”
“People of the world – look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one. In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone… That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another… The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”
“Consider the president’s leadership style, which has now become clear: deliver a moving speech, move on, and when push comes to shove, leave it to others to decide what to do if there’s a conflict, because if there’s a conflict, he doesn’t want to be anywhere near it..Health care is a paradigm case. When the president went to speak to the Democrats last week on Capitol Hill, he exhorted them to pass the bill. According to reports, though, he didn’t mention the two issues in the way of doing that, the efforts of Senators like Ben Nelson to use this as an opportunity to turn back the clock on abortion by 25 years, and the efforts of conservative and industry-owned Democrats to eliminate any competition for the insurance companies that pay their campaign bills. He simply ignored both controversies and exhorted..Leadership means heading into the eye of the storm and bringing the vessel of state home safely, not going as far inland as you can because it’s uncomfortable on the high seas. This president has a particular aversion to battling back gusting winds from his starboard side (the right, for the nautically challenged) and tends to give in to them. He just can’t tolerate conflict, and the result is that he refuses to lead.”
A Power of Imagination character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for the good of the group. These characters don’t want to impose themselves on others too stridently. They are extremely patient and are willing to work through thorny problems or difficult issues by listening to all sides. These character don’t particular seek individual credit. They much prefer to be subsumed in the team.
Their challenge as leaders is to step forward decisively and make the hard and potentially divisive decision on their own. President Obama doesn’t personally exhibit a lot of passion, a sense of urgency or boldness. He is known as “No Drama Obama” and is famous for his patience calm personal style.
His Power of Imagination Immediate Tactic: Embrace along with his Long Term Orientation: Embrace combined with his Strategic Approach: Withdraw creates a measured approach which is directed at building consensus rather than taking a principled stand that may be divisive or cause conflict. The leap of faith required from this kind of leader is to stand up and do the right thing regardless of what turmoil, disruption or animosity it might cause. Taking that kind of personal stand is President Obama’s biggest challenge as a leader.
Power of Conscience
In contrast to The Power of Imagination, a Power of Conscience leader is fearless about taking a divisive personal stand. In the excellent film, Invictus, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) seeks to over turn a democratically arrived at and popular decision to disband the Afrikaner rugby team the Springboks. In the film, Mandela says: “In this instance the people are wrong… The day I am afraid to tell them that is the day I am no longer fit to lead them.” Power of Conscience leaders are always striding ahead of the crowd to do what is right regardless of the controversy or conflict their decisions may cause. These Character Types have their own challenges and must make their own very different leaps of faith. Read more about Power of Conscience leaders Nelson Mandela (as portrayed in Invictus) and Queen Elizabeth (as portrayed in The Queen) on my blog.
As a final note, no Character Type makes an inherently good or bad leader. Each Character Type leads from his or her own world view and beliefs about what a good leader is or is not. Each kind of leader has strengths, weaknesses and faces specific emotional challenges. Each type of leader is called on to make a leap of faith in order to be truly great.