Tuesday, 20 January 2009

President Obama: Lowered Expectations

Today, the world will witness the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American president in the history of the country; the first African in fact to serve as head of government of a country beyond the African continent!

That the event today will be one of the most memorable in history is of no doubt. And its significance from the perspective of race and ethnic relations in America and in other parts of the world can never be underestimated. But to expect President Obama to be the financial guru to solve the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, the mastermind of a new international economic architecture, the mediator of all conflicts in the world; in short the man with the solutions to all the problems in America and beyond, such expectations are made in dreams, never in touch with reality.

I never quite understood how George W. Bush got elected (twice!) as the US President. To me, it was very obvious that both Al Gore and John Kerry were the more qualified candidates. Both men were clearly more intelligent, and looked by far the more capable. President Bush on the other hand, was the sheriff-like figure with a plain-speaking style, who bulldozed his way through debates and discussions, stuck to his conviction and ignored what others had to say. In that sense, he was quick and effective, not complicated.

Thus, one thing we can safely expect from President Obama is a change of leadership style. Obama is quite clearly a high-complexity individual. Studies in personality psychology have shown that high-complexity individuals encourage a wide range of information from various sources, are more interested in receiving negative feedback and are more likely to incorporate them in the decision making process.

President Obama has repeatedly stressed that he does not want a group of blind-followers as members of his cabinet. What he wants is a 'Team of Rivals' to ensure that every decision is made after thorough discussions, that the merits and demerits are considered for every situation, that there will be no stones left unturned. More significantly perhaps, Obama has decided to keep his BlackBerry to ensure that he gets direct personal feedback from people outside of his administration.

As a Muslim, I don’t expect President Obama to be able to solve all the problems in the world. Nor do I have the audacity to hope that he will revert to the faith of his father and champion the cause of the religion. But I am at least reassured that he is willing to listen and consider a diverse range of propositions. And for him to select Dr. Ingrid Mattson to say a prayer during the inauguration I think is a wonderful gesture.

No comments: