How Do You Rank Obama As A Leader? Part 1

By Jon KrausharCommunications Consultant

In just over one week, we will witness the next stage in the remarkable evolving role of Barack Obama as he is sworn in as America's 44thpresident. I use the word role purposely because I believe political leaders at any level play one of seven roles that determine their ranking at any given time--past, present or future.

Why my emphasis on roles? The word can be used in the context of play-acting (a pretend role) but that's not appropriate for a president, even if it's been tried.

A president plays a role as a real person, a performer, and depending on how good or bad the performance is, it forms the basis of a judgment about where that person ranks in history--on a scale of accomplishments, style, persuasion and credibility. Presidents slip in and out of roles according to changing circumstances and their own choices (good or bad).

Here is the first of a president's seven roles that he (or in the future she) may play at any point in time.


This is the classic role for those who aspire to leadership, to set themselves up to win a high ranking.

The archetypical reformer president was Theodore Roosevelt, who broke up big business "trusts," pressured Congress to pass laws for drug labeling and meat inspection, increased the size of the navy, and set aside 194 million acres for national parks and preserves. John McCain spoke often of admiring Theodore Roosevelt, but Obama won by portraying himself as a better potential reformer than McCain--selling himself as a unique agent of "change" and "hope."

In his campaign, Obama made several statements like these: "Just as we need to reform our health care system, we also have to reform a tax code that rewards wealth over work... I will reform our tax code so that it's simple, fair, and advances opportunity instead of distorting the market by advancing the agenda of some lobbyist or oil company... we can make our workforce more competitive by reforming our education system... When I'm President, we'll reform our bankruptcy laws so that we give Americans who find themselves in debt a second chance."

The reformer is a potent role because it is designed to suggest activist leadership that brings change for the good of followers and society. It taps into dissatisfactions with current leadership efforts. Obama convincingly cast himself in the reformer role as the best "anti-George W. Bush" candidate and in that role he beat both Hillary Clinton in the primary and John McCain in the general election.

Incumbent leaders also play the role of reformers to demonstrate their independence, boldness and willingness to fight forces that are destructive, corrupt, inadequate, counterproductive or otherwise harmful. For example, George W. Bush succeeded in getting tax reform passed but failed to achieve Social Security reform.

During inauguration week and thereafter Obama and his advisers will continue to cast Obama in the reformer role that helped get him elected. Playing this role also buys Obama time and good will as he attempts the Herculean job of cleaning up the messes he is inheriting, starting with the economic downturn.

Of course, playing the role well requires delivering a happy ending---reform that puts us on the "right track." Barack Obama will define how he sees that "right track" in his inaugural address next week.

With Obama's communication skills, he is a convincing role player. But at some point, the rubber will meet the role and Obama must in fact rather than just in words put America on the "right track" that the public seeks.

It is our responsibility to involve ourselves as critics of the role our country's president plays. We need to use the power of our votes and our voices to vigorously influence our nation's president to stay on the "right track." We are failing in our roleas good citizens if we leave it only to our president or to other elected leaders to determine what that right track is.

What advice would you give Obama for his inaugural address, as he plays his leadership role and defines the "right track" for the country going forward? What are your thoughts about Obama as a reformer? How do you rank him as a leader even now and what is your forecast for how he will play his leadership role in the future?

Click on "Leave A Comment" below. Tomorrow we will provide the next two of the seven roles that Obama (or any U.S. president) can play to achieve a particular leadership ranking.

Editor's Note: Read Jon's analysis "Anticipating Obama's Inaugural Address" by clicking here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2and here to read Part 3.

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at