|(President Obama with Aung San Suu Kyi in November, 2012)|
I love this picture and have used it before. It shows Obama modeling an essential quality of the transformational leader - deep listening. Here's what poet David Whyte says about listening:
We speak only with the voices of those
we can hear ourselves
and the body has a voice
only for that portion
of the body of the world
it has learned to perceive.
It becomes a world itself
by listening hard
for the way it belongs.
There it can learn
how it must be
and what it must do.
From The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte in The House of Belonging
My hypothesis is straightforward: to be a transformational leader, you must first undergo your own transformation. Listening is the essential element that begins and undergirds this growth process. Listen to yourself. Listen "hard for the way you belong." You must discover your "place of belonging", so you know "what you must do" and "how you must be". This is poetry and it is true.
Obama has done the inner work of personal transformation (Dreams from my Father). He knows where and how he belongs. He knows how he must be and what he must do. He is a listener, a space maker, and he is being both of these things on the national and international stage.
Remnick doesn't use this language in his wonderful article, but he gives us an unhurried look into the President's way of looking at the world and how he engages with the host of problems he faces. Here are the qualities I see in the President, the ones that, in my opinion, give him the capacity to effect transformational change. And I think one can pick up on most of these in Remnick's article:
How was Obama able to get healthcare reform passed, when so many others had failed? What has Obama done (within the ACA bill) that has helped cause healthcare costs to grow more slowly? How has Obama been able to "end the Budget wars"? In a polarized and oppositional Congress, how has Obama been able to get a solid, bipartisan immigration bill through the Senate? How has he been able to end our Perpetual War? How has he brought us this far in our negotiations with Iran? What more is needed to give us a real deal?
Tomorrow I will look at these qualities of a transformational leader and show how I think they have allowed Obama to effect the transformative changes that I outlined yesterday.