Inaugural Edition: Is Obama an Innovative Leader?

I just finished watching Obama’s second inaugural address. My first reaction was: How do you get to be the poet who reads at the inauguration? (Go Richard Blanco!) My second reaction was, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce really  nailed it.

As a creativity and innovation researcher, I ask myself, is Barack Obama the kind of leader who fosters innovation in the executive branch? In Sunday’s New York Times,  David Rothkopf spoke to this question in “Managing the Oval Office”. (Rothkopf is the  publisher of Foreign Policy magazine.) I completely agree with what he says about how to lead:

Selecting a diverse team, creating a system in which ideas surface, listening to those ideas and then empowering others to put them into action are the cornerstones of good management–and of effective leadership.

No president can succeed unless he views his job as collaborative, as requiring the motivation and empowerment of a vast United States executive branch bureaucracy, as being in partnership with Congress, as benefiting from a broad and diverse group of advisers, as being the kind of undertaking that promotes creativity even if it means embracing unpopular or even unsuccessful ideas.

Rothkopf’s main point is that Obama is not this kind of president. He is blunt about both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush:

Mr. Obama is a lousy manager. As chief executive he gets a “C”–and then only if graded on a curve [that takes into account how bad George W. Bush was].

I don’t have an opinion on the executive capabilities of either Obama or Bush; I don’t have the data to judge. But I wonder: Is it politically possible for any president to promote creativity by “embracing unpopular or even unsuccessful ideas”? Is the government doomed to forever be un-innovative?

5 thoughts on “Inaugural Edition: Is Obama an Innovative Leader?

  1. Personally, I feel his speech was excellent! If this country is to grasp that we are all equal…if we are ever going to grow to be one nation under God….then we the people…yes, he said it many times, but so true…we the people need to work together!

  2. To my mind, it isn’t a fair to assess a President on their abilities as a CEO or as a manager (or as an innovator). If creativity is a distributed quality, then the creativity of any individual will be moderated by the ability of those around him/her to support a vision. A President, moreso than even the most successful CEO, is a symbol. I would argue that President Obama has increased the available solution set for those imagining what a President can be and is an innovator in defining the necessary qualities for public office.

  3. I agree with you that it is not about the President him or herself, but about the distributed system (of government) that the President is a part of. For example, in many of my older posts about Apple, I am always saying “it’s not about Steve Jobs”… I thought it was interesting that Rothkopf, unlike other commentators, put aside issues of the House and the Senate, and focused only on the executive branch, of which Obama is officially the “CEO”.
    I wonder about Rothkopf’s motivation in writing the article, and I also wonder what sort of direct information he has about Obama’s leadership style and practices.

  4. Thanks for posting this…it brings to mind for me the un-innovative ways politicians and the media have of understanding who independent voters are and what they want. They don’t like or want political parties. You and readers might want to check out the rising independent movement for culture change in American politics at

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