The image of introverts in politics is still so off base. Take views of Obama for example. He is a known introvert. His lower key temperament, passion for privacy, preference for focused conversation and considered comments all support this personality preference.
Now that candidate Obama is under an enhanced microscope, critics are using the term introvert without a clear understanding of what it means. Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast brought to light an off base comment by political writer John Heileman who said about President Obama
“I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert. I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He’s incredibly intelligent, but he’s not a guy who’s ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He’s not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs.”
Okay – most of the description sounds like it makes sense based on Heileman’s proximity to Obama. But come on. Liking people? There is NO evidence that introverts don’t like people. The introvert tendency to keep feelings to themselves can create misunderstandings and a perception gap. What they intend to show is not what is seen. I think this assumption about President Obama is a clear case of the perception gap at work.
I have been discussing the idea of the Perception Gap for a while now. Introverts often are misunderstood and considered aloof or disengaged when they don’t exude warmth. Newsweek’s writer Jacob Weisberg, had an interesting take on President Obama’s temperament in the piece, Cool Coming Off As Cold and how this perception is becoming an issue for our President.
Weisberg writes, “….so while many people deeply admire him, few come away from any encounter feeling closer to him. He’s not warm, loyal, or deeply involved with others. His most fervent enthusiasts tend to express affection more for the ideas he represents—America transcending its racial history, a fairer society, rational decision making—than for the man himself.
And, he adds….”For a politician, emotional self-sufficiency is both asset and liability. On the positive side, it supports Obama’s rationalism, his level-headedness in crisis, and his dispassionate decision making. On the negative, it can read as cold, aloof, or arrogant. It’s healthy that Obama doesn’t need the roar of the crowd for validation. It’s a problem that the crowd seems to need more from him than he is able to provide.”
Do you think our President needs to make some changes in his style to connect more with the masses? If so, what would you coach him to do differently?
I’ll start: How about getting rid of the teleprompter?
I like collecting the clues about our President’s temperament. So I am relying on reporters like Holly Bailey of Newsweek. Is he or isn’t he(an introvert)?
Bailey writes in the 5/4/09 issue http://www.newsweek.com/id/195086/page/2 of walks the President has taken(that give the Secret Service heart attacks). “He likes solititude, where he can just take a moment, collect his thoughts and breathe”,
says a close Obama friend.” At Camp David, “There’s lots of open space where he can go for a walk and clear his mind,” says Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House aide and longtime friend of the Obamas.”
I imagine that all Presidents relish breaks from the intense demands of that role but if Obama is indeed an introvert, I imagine these breaks are critical. Walks and basketball sound like good re-energizers to me.
President Obama an introvert? Note what he tells Ed Henry of CNN at his recent press conference. ” I like to know what I am talking about before I speak.” Is that a clue? We already know that he is a great listener. On the other hand, some have commented that it was his way of putting off the question from Henry(about waiting to act on AIG bonuses). What do you think? Is our new President an introverted leader?