Barack the Community Organizer

Posted 11.05.2008

Obama in Chicago

Back in September, some questions were raised about how experience as a community organizer qualifies one to be President of the United States.  Last night, we learned a few things about how that experience actually mattered for Barack Obama, the United States and the world.  Here are three leadership lessons from the President-elect that I believe he first learned as a community organizer:

  1. Inspire:  The core of Obama's message was to share the idea that there is a different way to run a campaign and a government.  He appealed to the logic of the mind that a desire for change has to be backed up by different actions.  He appealed to the heart by tying a vision of a better future to the historical evidence that people working together can do great things.
  2. Engage:  Once he captured the hearts and minds of his followers, Obama engaged them by getting them involved with their hands and feet.  His campaign was organized to make it easy for anyone who wanted to to get involved as a volunteer.  You could download phone numbers from his web site to call people, you could knock on doors, you could give money, you could organize meetings.  Obama understood that the way you organize a community is by engaging its members to act.
  3. Execute:  The Obama campaign will be a case study for years to come as an example of a strategic plan that was extraordinarily well executed.  Over two years of peaks and valleys, Obama and his team had a plan they believed in and stuck with when there was pressure to change course.  They paced the work and did not panic.  For an early analysis of the campaign, take a look at E.J. Dionne's column from earlier this week.

As John McCain said so eloquently in his concession speech last night, all Americans must come together in support of President-elect Obama.  My hope is that the leadership skills of inspiration, engagement and execution will be as effective in the act of governance as they were in the campaign.  No matter one's political persuasion, I believe Obama offers some leadership lessons that are worth paying attention to.

What's your take?