Open-access content Thursday 27th November 2008
Barack Obama's journey to the White House is a fascinating story of an ascent to power. His pathway has inspired millions who see him as a role model and a leader for our times.
4 December 2008
Barack Obama's journey to the White House is a fascinating story of an ascent to power. His pathway has inspired millions who see him as a role model and a leader for our times. So, what can we learn from his "improbable journey"? How can we profit from his unique experience and personal choices?
Shaped by a complicated childhood, friends say he showed an early taste for leadership. Disciplined in his studies, he graduated with a degree in political science, specialising in international relations. Not sure what to do with his degree, he eventually found a role as a community organiser in Chicago.
The three years he spent there - pounding the streets, leading meetings and working with residents were a great foundation for political life, teaching him the importance of preparation and good listening. But after a seminal visit to Africa, he decided to go back to college. He won a place at Harvard law school, became president of the Law Review and learned the art of speech making.
Yet after graduation and the chance of some prestigious job offers, he decided to go back to Chicago to another community role. He also responded to a call to write a book, the deeply personal memoir, Dreams from my Father. Developing a portfolio career, he taught at the University of Chicago and involved himself in civil rights advocacy and a not-for-profit economic development group.
During this time, his thoughts moved increasingly towards elected politics and, in 1995, he seized the chance to run for a seat as state senator, building a formidable campaign apparatus and showing steely determination to win. This he did and by the end of 2004, had made it to the Senate itself. Speculation about his presidential candidacy had begun.
Obama's story is remarkable. Those on the campaign trail with him speak of his self awareness, inner confidence and ability to stay calm under extreme pressure. His Harvard tutor says he always saw the bigger picture and this became his great strength. Strategy before tactics and a sense of ironic detachment to go with it.
His story so far gives us a clue to the next chapters. He has shown us all how it can be done. Keep your sight on the main goal but also trust your instinct. Stay focused but don't forget your core values. Find out who you are and make your brand work for you. Never stop listening.
He hasn't made it look easy but he has brought hope back onto the agenda. It's possible to believe that change can happen, even if it's not always in a straight line. That's a cause for celebration.