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Leadership Lessons from Barack Obama

Students at Australia's top business school see if the first black President of the United States can teach them some tricks

Here at the Australian Graduate School Of Management (AGSM), 65-odd global citizens and aspiring leaders were busy dissecting the Obama speech to figure out what qualities make a good leader. Obama is without a doubt an excellent orator and packs such a force when he speaks that it's hard not to feel emotional at the end. Following his 15-minute acceptance speech we picked out the following qualities as ones that make for an effective global leader:

  1. The ability to communicate effectively.
  2. The ability to set goals and make decisions.
  3. Being able to stay calm and to be fair.
  4. To be culturally sensitive.
  5. To be charismatic and pragmatic.
  6. To have a positive attitude.
  7. The ability to motivate others and to work under pressure.
  8. To be able to listen and ask good questions. Often asking the right questions is all it takes to solve even the most complicated problems.

This list only covers a few of the qualities we discussed. It's interesting that while Obama doesn't have a lot of political experience he does display some of these qualities effectively, and as a consequence people assume he has all of them.

The big question is whether these skills can be learned and, if so, whether they can be learned at business school.

The answer from my class seems to be an emphatic "Yes". We're being drilled in the art of making sharp business presentations, working in diverse teams and avoiding destructive scenarios like groupthink. So we expect to learn a lot about leadership, not just through core subjects but through the simple act of working with people from different countries and backgrounds.

According to my classmate Jonathan Blackwell, who's from North Carolina in the United States, to be good leaders we'll earn the trust of those around us - colleagues, customers and investors - only by mastering an "insanely long list" of skills.

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