What’s to admire about Obama and Jobs?
An application to a leadership course asked to name leaders that I admire. Without hesitation I put down Steve Jobs and Barack Obama as my answer. Since submitting the application I’ve thought over my choices. Why did I pick these contemporary mythologized figures?
First, I have to admit that I have not read either one’s biographies. I have not even admired both consciously. But I’m sure the fact that both are frequently in the headlines has helped in keeping them top of mind if not top of my leadership role model rankings. Obama dominates headlines almost daily, while Jobs makes less frequent but more interesting appearances. One the leader of the free world, the other the leader of consumer tastes for all things digital. They are leaders of overlapping domains: freedom and consumerism. Unarguably freedom today is manifested by the ability to connect to the Internet through the array of Apple products, from iPhone, to iPad and MacBook. Obama creates the conditions that enable Jobs to deliver on this flavor of freedom.
However, I don’t admire these Americans because of their prominence in media nor their common interest in shaping the world for consumerism. Definitely not. After all neither of these is a leadership quality. They are outcomes of successful leadership.
So, after sporadic deliberation over the past days here’s why Barack and Steve are outstanding leaders. Both are powerful leaders today because of their powerful visions and outlier backgrounds. From the start neither has fitted the stereotype for their given leadership positions. One is young and a member of the ethnic minority (a stranger). The other a college drop-out with a track-record of failures in the top position. Hence, both have polarizing backgrounds. You either love them because of their strangeness or hate them. I’m sure this has only enhanced the potency of the visions.
For me Barack’s vision is to make seemingly incompatible relationships work toward a common goal. It does not matter to him if this happens with full understanding of each party. It’s important that it happens. Barack’s rise to the presidency was powered by controversial religious leaders, elitist academia, corrupt politicians and opportunistic business men. He clearly represented divergent opportunities to these groups, but somehow these opportunities could co-exist in him. Barack has directed these self-interests toward the betterment of America. The ultimate feat for any politician.
While Barack’s vision has been about uniting, Steve’s rise to visionary leader has been about transforming. His seemingly incompatible relationship has been not with people but computers. He has connected technology and “beauty”. Thanks to Steve’s vision the nature of computing has changed from reptilian to mammalian. From cold and functional to warm and pleasurable. A feat accredited to evolution (random mutations) in the natural domain.
So now its clear why I picked these two as my answer. Both are involuntary rebels who have united incompatible ideas to change the world for better. A common story with universal appeal. Maybe one day I’ll read Barack’s and Steve’s biographies to test my insight.