Revisited: Leadership in a Time of Advocacy

This post originally appeared on another personal blog

One of my least favorite books of recent years is “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. The primary, underlying theme of this book is common to many you will find recommended for business, career, and personal development nowadays, arguing that networking and relationship-building are most important to the potential for future success.

Ferrazzi uses several personal examples from a career that included some time working for Hillary Clinton. He discusses glowingly about how the former Senator and current Secretary of State would spend almost every waking hour surrounded by others, seeking people out to talk to. Naturally, he contends that her personal “social network” and her commitment to never being isolated established her presence as a respected, formidable politician and leader.

I see similar traits in our current President, Barack Obama. One consistent theme throughout his term so far (politics aside) has been his constant presence in some form of social environment. Instead of secluding within the vastness of the White House, President Obama is seen almost exclusively with large groups of people, whether they be staffers, family, friends, or the public.

This is not necessarily a bad trait. In fact, almost anyone in a position of leadership has to have effective personal rapport with others. They have to be genuine, and in our modern era of 24/7 media coverage and celebrity culture, a permanent wallflower does not stand a chance.

Obama’s personality is similar to that of many of his 20th Century predecessors. President Teddy Roosevelt started a decisive trend toward “public” figures dominating the Oval Office.

Their personalities blended elements of populism, celebrity, and strength in communication. For many of them, their support and integration of Progressivism into the agenda’s and political rhetoric only strengthened their visible appeal.

In short, Obama is only the latest in a long line of Advocates to serve as President. He joins both Roosevelts, Wilson, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon (yep, even him), Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush in this regard, as they all appeared to lead more from the position of the public podium than behind the isolated desk.

Obama not only represents the most recent Advocate President, but also one of its strongest Advocates. His campaign ushered in the effective utilization of social networking as a political weapon.

His ability to control almost all traditional media outlets with respect to their coverage of him, while highly disturbing, is a feat only possible with one who clearly understands how to shape the means of his message to fulfill the ends on issues.  We know little about his internal philosophy, and everything about his external personality.

Of course, to say that Presidents are advocates would be a gross misrepresentation of the duties of the office. In fact, it was not until Teddy Roosevelt and his “bully pulpit” that Presidents even spoke or acted from a position of advocating actions taken by others.

Washington, Adams, Polk, and Lincoln really didn’t take the sentiments of their citizens into account when they made decisions. The historic speeches and letters that reaffirmed their arguments and justifications of their actions were usually well after the fact.

Their time was one where Leadership lacked, and could not afford, many distractions. Even in respecting the limited powers they understood granted by the Constitution, these men had little opinion or analysis to go on when making critical decisions that ensured our country’s survival and facilitated its growth as a land of liberty, freedom, and prosperity.


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