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The Limits of Imagination

Submitted by on January 3, 2010 – 5:16 PMNo Comment
Power of Imagination characters, like U.S. President Barack Obama, believe they have a big message or urgent call to inspire belief in others.  They want others to embrace the unity and common good that they so clearly see. The power of this character’s idea, message or dream gathers others (who would seem to have little in common) in a common quest.
That certainly happened during the 2008 election cycle as then candidate Obama’s campaign workers transcended race, gender, age and economic differences to deliver a decisive victory for someone who seemed the unlikeliest of candidates.
During the campaign David Brooks (a conservative columnist) commented on candidate Obama’s ability to bring people together in his January 8, 2008 Op Ed piece in The New York Times:  “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.”
Power of Imagination characters prevail by riding a wave of rising common feeling and desire for unity.  These characters depend on something (some “Force” or vision) greater than themselves to carry them to victory.  They try to find areas where people (or fictional creatures) who are divided can agree and unite against a larger evil or greater dark force.
Examples of well-known fictional Power of Imagination characters are: Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.  Luke brings together a space pirate, a wookie, a droid and a robot to help save the galaxy.  Frodo helps bring together a wizard, hobbits, elves, men and  dwarves to save Middle Earth.
The Power of Imagination leadership philosophy might be stated as:  “We all must be inspired to work for the salvation of the whole.”  Or, more succinctly:  “All for one.  One for all.”
Leadership, for these characters, is demonstrated by building consensus, seeking reconciliation and facilitating harmony and unity.  They lead by empowering others.  Power of Imagination characters lead from behind, urging the crowd forward.  Their challenge and their leap of faith is to get ahead of the crowd—  To stand in front of others and directly challenge evil themselves.
Frodo does this by acting unilaterally at crucial times in the story, culminating in climbing Mt. Doom and tossing the Ring into the fiery pit.  Luke Skywalker makes his leap of faith by flying his jet fighter on his own (“blind” and without technological backup) to blow up the Death Star.  Luke must trust his personal to the Force to prevail.
Stepping out in front of the crowd, acting unilaterally and staring down evil oneself, is the real challenge for these characters.  They are unlikely heroes who seemingly come from nowhere and appear naive, shy, dreamy or quixotic at first.  In the end they must command and go out on a limb alone to prevail.
Can President Obama make the Power of Imagination leap of faith?  Is an inability to do so a fatal flaw which could bring down his lofty goals?   Read a deeper analysis of the Power of Imagination Character Type and how transcending his type presents a risky challenge to President Obama.

President ObamaPower of Imagination Profile
President Barack Obama

Power of Imagination characters, like U.S. President Barack Obama, believe they have a big message or urgent call to inspire belief in others.  They want others to embrace the unity and common good that they so clearly see. The power of this character’s idea, message or dream gathers others (who would seem to have little in common) in a common quest.
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That certainly happened during the 2008 election cycle as then candidate Obama’s campaign workers transcended race, gender, age and economic differences to deliver a decisive victory for someone who seemed the unlikeliest of candidates.
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During the campaign David Brooks (a conservative columnist) commented on candidate Obama’s ability to bring people together.  In his January 8, 2008 Op Ed piece in The New York Times, Brooks says:
“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.”
Power of Imagination characters prevail by riding a wave of rising common feeling and desire for unity.  These characters depend on something (some “Force” or vision) greater than themselves to carry them to victory.  They try to find areas where people (or fictional creatures) who are divided can agree and unite against a larger evil or greater dark force.
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luke-skywalkerFictional Character Examples

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Examples of well-known fictional Power of Imagination characters are: Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.  Luke brings together a space pirate, a wookie, a droid and a robot to help save the galaxy.  Frodo helps bring together a wizard, hobbits, elves, men and  dwarves to save Middle Earth.
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The Power of Imagination leadership philosophy might be stated as:  “We all must be inspired to work for the salvation and elevation of the whole.”  Or, more succinctly:  “All for one.  One for all.”
.
Leadership, for these characters, is demonstrated by building consensus, seeking reconciliation and facilitating harmony and unity.  They lead by empowering others.  Power of Imagination characters lead from behind, urging the crowd forward as a group.  Their challenge and their leap of faith is to get ahead of the crowd—  To stand in front of others and directly challenge evil themselves.
.
Frodo does this by acting unilaterally at crucial times in the story, culminating in climbing Mt. Doom and tossing the Ring into the fiery pit. Luke Skywalker makes his leap of faith by flying his X-wing jet fighter on his own (“blind” and without technological assistence) to blow up the Death Star.  Luke must trust his own personal connection to the Force to prevail.
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Stepping away from the crowd, acting unilaterally and staring down evil oneself, is the real challenge for these characters.  They are unlikely heroes who seemingly come from nowhere and appear naive, shy, dreamy or quixotic at first.  They are most comfortable behind the scenes as peacemakers, mediators or unifiers.  In the end, they must command and go out on a limb alone to complete their emotional journey.
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Can President Obama make the Power of Imagination leap of faith?  Is an inability to do so a fatal flaw that could bring down his lofty goals and cause his leadership to fail?
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Three Factors of Character Type

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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.

Immediate Tactics

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.”

Long-term Orientation

Power of Imagination characters, like President Obama, sees the world as a vast web of interconnections. They take an inconspicuous background role in order to embrace and validate others and more effectively weave together collaborators who ordinarily might have nothing in common.
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These characters stress that whatever personal differences there may be, a common purpose should unite the group. The Power of Imagination character’s philosophy might be stated: “We must be inspired to work for the common good and the welfare of the whole.” They value unity, cooperation and collaboration above all else.  They abhor disunity, strife, conflict and discord.
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Here is then candidate Obama in his famous speech in Berlin on July 24, 2008:
“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.”
President Obama sees leadership as being an exercise in building relationships and using teamwork. These characters can be inclusive to a fault  and their worldview can make them seem impractical, quixotic, dreamy and disorganized.  Their extreme aversion to conflict and confrontation often prevents them from taking a strong stand on their own.  It can inhibit them from setting appropriate boundaries, standing their ground and making difficult or divisive choices. At their worst, Power of Imagination characters dither, endlessly discuss and continually compromise for fear of offending someone or not including everyone in the decision-making.
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Here is a severe critique of President Obama Power of Imagination leadership style by Drew Westen, a psychologist.  Writing for The Huffington Post on December 20, 2009 Westen says:
“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.
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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.
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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.”

Strategic Approach

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.

freeman_invictus_l

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.

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