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Nov 25th, 2009

In His Slow Decision-Making, Obama Goes with Head, Not Gut

President Obama meets with members of his administration in the Situation Room. (Pete Souza / The White House via Associated Press)

President Obama meets with members of his administration in the Situation Room. (Photo credit: Pete Souza / The White House via Associated Press)

Analysis by Joel Achenbach
The Washington Post
November 25, 2009


President George W. Bush once boasted, “I’m not a textbook player, I’m a gut player.” The new tenant of the Oval Office takes a strikingly different approach. President Obama is almost defiantly deliberative, methodical and measured, even when critics accuse him of dithering. When describing his executive style, he goes into Spock mode, saying, “You’ve got to make decisions based on information and not emotions.”

Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan conundrum has been a spectacle of deliberation unlike anything seen in the White House in recent memory. The strategic review began in September. Again and again, the war council convened in the Situation Room. The president mulled an array of unappealing options. Next week, finally, he will tell the American public the outcome of all this strategizing.

“He’s establishing his decision-making process as being almost diametrically the opposite of the previous administration,” says Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s chief of staff. Wilkerson, who teaches national security decision-making at George Washington University, says the Bush-Cheney style was “cowboy-like, typical Texas, typical Wyoming, and extremely secretive.”

Stephen Wayne, who teaches about the presidency at Georgetown, said: “He’s not an instinctive decision-maker as Bush was. He doesn’t go with his gut, he thinks with his head, which I think is desirable.” Referring to the Afghanistan decision, Wayne said, “I don’t think he is an indecisive person, I just think this is a tough one.” …

“I think the Obama we’ve seen as president is a very different Obama than we saw during the campaign. He doesn’t seem to be connected, he doesn’t seem to have the passion, he doesn’t seem to be conveying the grand and inspiring vision,” says the progressive historian Allan Lichtman of American University. “If you want to be a transformational president, you’ve got to take the risks.”

Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton, says Obama has suffered from unrealistic expectations among those who put him in office. “They kind of were sold Utopia, and they bought it, and it didn’t happen,” he says. “People were comparing the candidate to Abraham Lincoln before he served a day of his presidency. Nobody can live up to that.” …

The public debate over Afghanistan has focused on whether Obama should authorize more troops. The actual decision is vastly more complicated. Whatever the president chooses to do, he must bring on board as many allies as possible, which means getting a buy-in from Congress, his Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the bean counters who budget military action, NATO, various dyspeptic European leaders, the generals in the theater, the troops on the ground, the sketchy Afghan leadership, the Pakistanis and so on. He must also sell his plan to the American people, convincing the right that he’s tough enough to fight and the left that he knows where the exit is. …

Obama discussed his professorial leadership style in a recent interview with U.S. News & World Report. He said he is not afraid of doubt and is comfortable with uncertainty:

“Because these are tough questions, you are always dealing to some degree with probabilities. You’re never 100 percent certain that the course of action you’re choosing is going to work. What you can have confidence in is that the probability of it working is higher than the other options available to you. But that still leaves some uncertainty, which I think can be stressful, and that’s part of the reason why it’s so important to be willing to constantly reevaluate decisions based on new information.” …

Full story



Barack Obama’s Presidential Leadership Style (Sept. 8, 2012)

Click on image for larger display

A psychological profile of U.S. President Barack Obama, developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics during Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, reveals that the president is a highly confident, moderately accommodating and deliberative, somewhat reserved personality type best described as a confident conciliator. Obama’s personality profile provides a stable framework for anticipating his likely leadership style as president.


A Key to Success for Obama? (March 17, 2009)
Barack Obama / Illustration by Sarah King / Oprah Magazine
Excerpts from Oprah Magazine

Aubrey Immelman, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in Minnesota, says the variable that most distinguishes Obama from the two previous presidents is conscientiousness — one of the “big five” personality factors in standard psychology (everyone has all five, in differing degrees; the others are openness to experience, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism).

People who score high on the conscientiousness scale (as determined by several personality inventories) are dependable, orderly, self-disciplined, achievement oriented, cautious, industrious, and deliberate — the type who could, say, run a masterfully efficient political campaign, exercise daily, even while on the road, and make methodical decisions. (Those who score low tend to be careless, irresponsible, disorganized, and unreliable.) …

Full report


Barack Obama’s Leadership Style (Feb. 21, 2009)

Sarah Moore and Angela Rodgers present their research on “The Personality Profile of President Barack Obama: Leadership Implications” in the State Capitol rotunda, St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 19, 2009. The research, conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, was directed by Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D.

Summary of results:

The profile reveals that Barack Obama is ambitious and confident; modestly dominant and self-asserting; accommodating, cooperative, and agreeable; somewhat outgoing and congenial; and relatively conscientious. The combination of ambitious and accommodating patterns in Obama’s profile suggests a “confident conciliator” personality composite.

Leaders with this personality prototype, though self-assured and ambitious, are characteristically gracious, considerate, and benevolent. They are energetic, charming, and agreeable, with a special talent for settling differences and a preference for mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict. They are driven primarily by a need for achievement, but also have substantial affiliation needs and a modest need for power.

The study offers an empirically based framework for anticipating Obama’s performance as chief executive. The following general predictions regarding Obama’s likely leadership style can be inferred from his personality profile:

  • Ambitious, self-assured, gracious, considerate
  • Preference for mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict
  • High need for achievement; moderate need for affiliation; low need for power
  • More pragmatic than ideological
  • More task- than relationship oriented
  • Likely to act as a strong advocate in his administration, using his powers of persuasion to advance his policy vision
  • Preference for gathering information from a variety of sources rather than relying solely on advisors and administration officials
  • In dealing with members of Congress, may show preference for avoiding unnecessary conflict by trying to remain above the fray in heated, highly divisive debates
  • Preference for articulating and defending his policies in person rather than relying on staff and administration officials to speak for him


Barack Obama: A Question of Toughness (Nov. 2, 2008)

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Sen. Barack Obama: Is He Tough Enough?
By Aubrey Immelman
St. Cloud Times
November 1, 2008

Among the many leaders I have studied — presidential candidates as well as foreign adversaries as a consultant to the U.S. military — Barack Obama is something of a rarity. … Read more



Obama to Speak on Afghanistan Policy

November 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce his plan to bolster the war in Afghanistan in a speech Tuesday night from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his spokesman said, a surge that military officials say could top 30,000 troops.

The president promised this week to “finish the job” begun eight years ago, and press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday the announcement would include an exit strategy. But the surge in troops would be Obama’s second since taking office, and liberal Democrats already are lining up against it, in part because of the also-surging cost — up to $75 billion a year.

Gibbs said Obama’s recent meetings with military advisers have often focused on how to train Afghanistan’s police and army to secure and hold areas taken from the Taliban so that U.S. forces can leave. “We are not going to be there another eight or nine years,” he said. …

Obama will be speaking to a war-weary American public. Polls show support for the war has dropped significantly since Obama took office, with a majority now saying both that they oppose the war and that it is not worth fighting.

The president and his top military and national security advisers have held 10 meetings to discuss America’s future steps in Afghanistan. The top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has asked the president for about 40,000 troops, arguing that a robust but temporary surge was the best way to end the war. …

The Afghan war bill hit $43 billion annually this summer, with the addition of 21,000 forces Obama has already added to the fight this year.

Full story


Related report

Taliban Leader to Muslims: Continue Jihad
Mullah OmarMullah Omar
Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar

November 25, 2009

KABUL — The Taliban’s reclusive leader has ruled out talks with President Hamid Karzai and called on Afghans to break off relations with his “stooge” administration.

In a statement Wednesday, Mullah Omar also insisted foreign troops were losing the war in Afghanistan.

His message, issued ahead of the Muslim Eid holiday, came a week after Karzai reached out to the Taliban during his inauguration speech, saying it was important to include in the government former Taliban who were ready to renounce terrorism. The hard-line militia has long refused to negotiate with the Karzai government or join what it considers a puppet administration. …

Omar led the Taliban regime that was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and has not been seen since. Afghan officials claim he is in hiding in Pakistan.

As the Taliban insurgency gathers strength, President Barack Obama has been considering plans to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. U.S. military officials expect an infusion of approximately 32,000 to 35,000 troops to begin in February or March. It would be the largest expansion since the beginning of the war eight years ago. …

‘Stooge’ government

“I hope you will continue your legitimate jihad (holy war) and struggle in the way of realizing your Islamic aspirations … and break off all relations with the stooge Kabul administration,” Omar said.

Omar said there would be no negotiations that would prolong or legitimize the presence of foreign forces in the country.

“Those who have occupied our country and taken our people as hostage, want to use the stratagem of negotiation like they used the drama of elections for some time in order to achieve their colonialist objectives,” he said. “However, the people of Afghanistan will not agree to negotiation which prolongs and legitimizes the invaders’ military presence.”

The Taliban leader lambasted U.S.-backed efforts to create militias that would fight the militants — a plan that has been compared to the U.S.-fostered Awakening Councils in Iraq, which have often been credited with reducing violence there, and similar to neighboring Pakistan’s tribal armies which also have been touted as a success.

Omar called on Taliban militants to “mete out an exemplary punishment to those who are leading these mischief-making activities.” …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 25, 2008

Ryan Maseth, a 24-year-old Green Beret, died in his shower January 2.
Army Green Beret Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth, 24

Shoddy Contracting Kills U.S. Troops

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that KBR, a contractor providing services to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, had committed serious violations of its contract, mainly by conducting inadequate inspections of electrical wiring and grounding at American bases. The Pentagon findings stemmed from the death of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a highly decorated 24-year-old Green Beret from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was electrocuted on January 2, 2008 while taking a shower at his base in Baghdad.

9 Responses to “Obama’s Decision-Making Style”
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    […] Obama’s Decision-Making Style (Nov. 25, 2009) — Excerpts from Oprah Magazine — Aubrey Immelman, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in Minnesota, says the variable that most distinguishes Obama from the two previous presidents is conscientiousness — one of the “Big Five” personality factors in standard psychology (everyone has all five, in differing degrees; the others are openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). […]

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