Leading with Heart #ObamaAndKids

Pictures of President Obama with different children are trending on Twitter on the hashtag #ObamaAndKids in celebration of Black History Month. Micheal Skolnik, film producer and civil rights activist started this hashtag when he asked his followers to post their favourite pictures of the president with children. Going through these pictures, it struck me how regular President Barack Obama, first of his name and 44th President of the United States of America makes leadership seem.

Despite universal fame as one of the world’s most powerful men today, Obama is not afraid to be seen as an everyday guy. From sharing a kiss with his wife Michelle for the “kiss cam” at a basketball game to reciting a hilarious poem for her on Ellen DeGeneres Show for Valentine’s Day. He is happy to be seen as a doting father to his two daughters Malia and Natasha, playing an active role in their lives despite his demanding schedule as President, and making time to be there for the little things in their lives like seeing them off for their first day of school and even openly admitted to freaking out as Malia left for college and looking away, not to be a “crybaby”.

The face of leadership is often depicted by leaders as being impersonal, with a detached aura, in a bid to communicate the superiority and dominance of this position, and to justify their place at the top of the hierarchical ladder, even when they are out of office.

However, Obama’s image is different. He is the president who accidentally crashes a wedding, then hugs and takes pictures with the couple, one who is happy to fold his sleeves and grab a pint, surprise people at a diner and enjoy chilli dogs, or just play with babies on the Oval Office floor.

I have to wonder if my President, Muhammadu Buhari (or any other Nigerian Head of State, past or future) would do any of these. How often does the ordinary Nigerian get a chance to relate with a leader in society or just the office boss? It’s only during electoral campaigns we find them visiting the markets or eating boli. Even local celebrities find it’s too much to smile back at fans.

President Obama constantly communicates that he is a person, not his position. To be successful in a station, emotions and leadership don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Displaying affection doesn’t compromise have to strength. It means you are human and that’s okay.

In summary, I’m of the opinion that good leadership is not so much about increasing hierarchical distance like the African culture encourages, but by consistently communicating a shared aspiration with people. I think a lot of Nigerians, especially those men who won’t even smile for a picture for fear of looking weak, need to appreciate and emulate this.

P:S In response to Micheal Skolnik’s request, there’s my favourite picture. #ObamaWithKids

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