Obama's Unteachable Quality

Kehinde Wiley,  Barack Obama  (2018)

Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama (2018)

I do not write political blogs. However, today I am making an exception.

On the day of the New Hampshire debate, my wife and I hosted Senator Obama in his only appearance of the day---a speech in our southern New Hampshire backyard. A gorgeous September afternoon, we had 1200 people attend. By way of context, our town’s population is only 5600.

Afterwards, my wife invited the Senator to join us for lunch. We had catered in his trademark chicken and steamed vegetables, along with sandwiches for his staff. We could also pack it up, so he could eat it on the road. The choice was his.

That night was arguably the biggest moment to date of his political career. Additionally, Senator Obama had a cold. If there was any reason to back out the door gracefully, this was it. But instead he asked his assistant Reggie for his opinion.

“Let’s eat here” Reggie joked. “It will only end up in our laps anyway.”

So it came to pass that my wife and I sat with the Senator quietly talking and eating lunch at a small wooden table. Though we covered the election, his predictions and general party politics, mostly he was interested in our lives. For thirty minutes he asked lots of questions about our dreams and family challenges. He was engaged, curious and present.

For twenty-five years I have written, taught and consulted in the area of leadership and change. I have been fortunate to spend time with a lot of great leaders in all types of situations and I have personally seen almost every one of both party’s candidates. I know when there is a there there. Too many people look through you, seeking the next handshake, the next set of eyes with a bigger payoff. The authenticity of presence in a leader is a rare thing. Because for a leader to be truly present he or she must have awareness, introspection and humility. Leaders who are present can see the uncharted path through complicated issues. They understand how to reach forward into the unknown. They know themselves, their strengths and limitations. Finally, they connect to those they wish to lead.

I am moved by Barack Obama's courage. I am compelled by his vision. But mostly it is his presence, attentiveness and curiosity to my life when he didn’t need to be, that stirred me the most. He is the rarest of leaders; someone I follow because of a simple but unteachable quality. He is present. I listen to Barack Obama because, when there were a host of reasons not to, he to listened to me.