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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Obama: A Profoundly Catalytic Leader

This post was up a few months ago. I thought I'd re-post it for those of you who haven't seen it.

I think many Americans and the media are struggling with how to most accurately understand Senator Obama's popularity and leadership style. As Obama supporters, we have a responsibility to help expand their understanding and give them new concepts and words to explain why Senator Obama is and will be so profoundly effective.

Senator Obama is a Catalytic Leader, as I will describe shortly below. This is the exact style of leadership our country and our interconnected world requires at this point in history. Without this more accurate framing, the media may continue to parrot McCain's talking points and attribute Senator Obama's message and popularity to celebrity, hero worship, charisma or blind faith.

Catalytic Leadership is a style of leadership whereby a leader inspires diverse constituencies to step forward and work together and where effective solutions to problems are created by such constituencies working together, with everyone buying into the problem solving process. By being involved and invested in the process, stakeholders who may desire different outcomes may yet come to support a solution because they were made a part of the process. They can say "WE DID IT!"

Senator Obama is clearly a charismatic figure. However, to write him off as simply a "charismatic figure" is too simplistic. His true power lies in what appears to be his natural leadership ability and his skill at drawing together a variety of diverse constituencies into his decision-making process. Not everyone will agree with the outcome of every initiative he puts forward but everyone will at least be able to say that they were consulted and had their voices heard. Thus, his message of "Yes WE can!".

The complexity of the problems facing our country and world involve highly divergent points of view and diverse people/communities that must somehow find common ground in order to move toward solutions, and a Catalytic Leadership style is the one that is necessary. This is one of the critically important skills that Senator Barack Obama will bring to the presidency, as is already profoundly evidenced in his ongoing campaign.

A Catalytic Leader is the antidote to our current woes and to the media's inability to grasp the reasons for Obama's popularity and his ability to inspire and involve so many patriotic Americans -- whether Democrat, Independent or Republican.

We cannot suffer through another era where "leadership" is defined as forcing your will upon others, not consulting with opposing voices and falling prey to the supposed collective wisdom of a coterie that has never disagreed with you.

For more on the concept of Catalytic Leadership, check out the seminal work on the topic by my late stepfather: "Catalytic Leadership" by Professor Jeffrey Luke.