“I screwed up” -A leadership lesson with Barack Obama

Yesterday, we learned a lot about our new president. For starters,  he is human. He makes mistakes just as every ordinary person. What makes him different is the fact he is willing to admit his faults. Obama understands the importance of taking responsability of your actions. That is a significant leadership lesson.

So what’s the background story? In an interview with Brian Williams, Obama admitted he “screwed up ” in two cabinet nominations he had made. Who are these two people that voluntarily withdrew?

1) Former senator Tom Daschle pulled out as Mr Obama’s pick as Health and Human Services secretary. Why?  His failure to fully pay taxes from 2005 through 2007.

2) Nancy Killefer pulled out her candidacy to be the first chief performance officer for the federal government. Why? She also failed to submit payroll taxes.

Obama recognized that he was “angry and disappointed” to lose Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer before he candidly admitted:  “I think I screwed up, and I take responsibility for it, and we’re going to make sure we fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”

The President said he wanted to assure the US that under his leadership there would not be “two sets of standards, one for powerful people, and one for ordinary folks who are working everyday and paying their tax.” Regarding Daschle and Killefer, Obama did make a point, “I appointed these folks. I think they are outstanding people.”

So, what are some leadership points we can take away from this?

  1. Leaders of any kind often face dilemmas and make mistakes.
  2. Admitting mistakes does not make a leader weak, but makes him real; also increasing his/her credibility.
  3. Followers respect and support leaders who are not afraid to recognize and learn from their mistakes.
  4. Only the leader that knows wrong can point himself and others in the right direction.
  5. People did not vote for a perfect president, but for one who is transparent, demonstrates humility and practices self-reflection.
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