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Bite-size Case Study

Aesthetics of leadership: the example of Barack Obama

Published on April 30, 2017   6 min
0:04
Let's consider the aesthetic style of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America. The way in which he comports himself has been noted by media throughout the world, his relaxed style, the way that he across as the king of cool, but let's use some of the ideas that have already been presented here to unpick his aesthetic style in a bit more detail and also consider what their implications might be or others wanting to think more carefully about how aesthetics might be applied to leadership in terms of how they might use these ideas to illuminate or to inform their own way of taking up the leadership role.
0:46
Let's start by considering more generally the question of how a particular aesthetic is created. We'll look at three different aspects here. The first is the way in which a leader uses language. In particular, we'll focus on how a leader frames the situation as being very important, the kinds of word pictures that they used to describe the situation that the leader is in, and finally, the way they use story and connect the particular specific situation with a larger, more mythological landscape. Secondly, we'll look at the way a leader uses their body both in terms of body language and gestures but also in aspects called micro-affirmations. Micro-affirmations is a term that was coined by a social scientist Dorothy Rowe, working in the United States in the 1960s who was looking at why it was that certain followers never felt actually engaged with the leaders that they meant to be following. And what she found was that leaders perform, what she called them was, micro-affirmations on a daily basis which actually gave people an idea about whether or not they were being included or not. This included just small things like the length of time a leader might hold a follower's eye or it might include the way that they brought them in on conversations, certain gestures that they made, or just giving them a small sort of tap on the hand or on the shoulder just giving them those small indications that the leader liked and esteemed them. The second aspect of use of the body is comportment, by comportment I mean, not just body language, but it's the way the person holds themselves, the way the person is. The way a person comports themselves is an expression of something that might be authentic about them. It's their general way of being in the world, and in particular, their kind of mode of engagement with other people. And finally, I would like to consider the importance of context and how the way in which the leader matches something in what they do to the particular context which is so critical in creating a certain aesthetic. This goes back to ideas of authenticity but also speaks to the way the leader connects the specific with more general aspects of the situation at hand.
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Aesthetics of leadership: the example of Barack Obama

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