Transformational Leadership in a Postmodern World: The Presidential Election of Barack Obama

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

On November 4, 2008, America celebrated a historical event as Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President. This paper examines a historical event by exploring how Trait, Postmodernism, and Transformational Leadership theories provide insight on the election of President Obama and discusses the specific leadership concepts that influenced the electorate to make such a cultural shift in this postmodern era. Contemporary theorists posit the relevancy of Trait Theory in predicting the characteristics of successful leaders and some of these principles can be applied to successful political candidates. This study is significant because it presents an applied theoretical framework for interpreting the 2008 presidential election and the influence of leadership competencies in the postmodern period.

INTRODUCTION

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other," explained Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. Yet, not even Abraham Lincoln could imagine the remarkable 2008 presidential election as it unfolded. It was unpredictable and historical in many ways. This paper examines this important historical event through the lenses provided by Trait, Postmodernism, and Transformational Leadership theories. These approaches provide insight on how the perception of leadership attributes influence voting behavior. Additionally, insight from this investigation may generate insight on leadership perception in other settings including business and the nonprofit sectors. Siegel (2001) suggested that business executives can learn a great deal about leadership by analyzing the campaign management practices of American presidents. Therefore, both researchers and practitioners can benefit from the results of this analysis.

The election was the longest presidential campaign and the most expensive in history (Deutsche Press Agentur, 2008). Additionally, the event marked the first time that two US senators would run against each other. Furthermore, New York Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton was the first serious female presidential candidate, and Senator Barak Obama was the first African American nominated by a major party for president. For the Republican Party, Arizona Senator John McCain had hoped to become the oldest person elected president to a first term in America. His running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was the first woman vice president candidate for the Republican Party (Green, 2009).

Throughout this historical presidential race, a key question discussed in the media and among experts was whether a multiracial candidate could win. The media continued to remind the public about the significance of race and social class in the presidential election. Some observers argued that Obama may not win because of his racial background (Weisberg, 2008a). Conversely, other observers viewed him as a post-racial candidate (Steele, 2008). Would white citizens vote for a black man in America? Could Obama redraw the electoral map with a new energized segment of the population that included young voters, independents, and minorities? Other opponents mentioned that Obama was too inexperienced, untested, and unready to become the president. Nevertheless, his political savvy, innovative election strategy, and charismatic personality was enough to make him victorious (Green, 2009). On November 4, 2008, Obama became the first African American elected to the US Presidency.

METHOD

This study utilizes the application of leadership theories in analyzing the election of President Obama in 2008. Leadership Theory provides researchers an opportunity to understand the dynamic leader-follower relationships in a cultural framework. Hackman and Johnson framed (2004) the leadership definition in several themes which were (a) the ability to influence others, (b) influence as a group context, and (c) the emphasis on collaboration. Bass and Riggio (2005) argued that leadership is not just about the province of people at the top. …