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Obama: The First Woman President|Leadership Traits

August 5, 2010

When a woman puts down either women as a group or female characteristics I get both annoyed and confused. Doesn’t she realize that she’s putting herself down? Does she think she’s the exception that makes the rule? In this case, the “she” is Kathleen Parker, a writer for the Washington Post.

In Parker’s column entitled: “Obama: Our First Female President” she attempts to make the case that President Obama displays the tropes of femaleness and then writes: “I say this in the nicest possible way. I don’t think that doing things a woman’s way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.” Sounds great right? Unfortunately, the rest of the article talks about what Parker sees as Obama’s failures of leadership,  particularly with the BP oil spill. So her hypothesis is: If a male president fails in his decisions as a leader and does not take “immediate, commanding action” then he is a female president. Oh, Kathie, sweetie, that is so not true. Just like it’s not true that I am a male blogger because I want to put my fist in your face. But as a good female person I won’t punch you, instead I’ll communicate with you via a letter.

Dear Kathie (I want to call you by your shortened first name as I am friendly and relational as is a smart woman’s communication style),

In your June 30th column entitled Obama: Our First Female President you asked me, the reader, to hear you out before responding by pulling “our hatchets out of our holsters”. Just as an aside, women would not have holsters, much less hatchets, and even if we did we would never use them on you!  That would not be coalition building, which you said women tend to do. But you were right when you said Obama tended toward coalition building and not toward measuring his ____ against other males. Thank goodness. Coalition building is, without a doubt, a leadership practice necessary for success in today’s global economy. For me, it’s a thrill that women AND men leaders would be into building alliances to work for a common good. Actually my male friends took umbrage with the fact that you’d see a leader that was coalition building as female. They wanted to know “Isn’t it just a good leadership skill, period?”

Anyway, I did read every single one of your 732 words, as Salon counted in their response to you, just like you asked. Frankly, I would have read it all anyway. I’ve learned as a female leader the importance of both actively listening and understanding context before making decisions. The debacle with the Shirley Sherrod tape put an entire row of exclamation points after the need for leaders to understand context and have the whole picture before acting. But I digress.

As part of making your case that Obama was our first woman president you said:

  • “He is a chatterbox.” You really needed William Safire on that one Kathie because the definition of a chatterbox is “one who engages in much idle talk”. I don’t know Obama personally but I can’t imagine him engaging in much idle talk. (Which by the premise you set up earlier, as a female you must be engaging in much idle talk. Does that mean you won the Pulitzer Prize winner for “idle” commentary?). But I want to be fair – spell check wouldn’t pick out a word usage error like that, and you probably meant to say that Obama dialogues, meaning he wants an exchange of ideas and opinions. I certainly know that’s a trait women have, and exchanging ideas and opinions is a valuable leadership trait, unless of course you’re a totalitarian leader.
  • “He did not intervene immediately in the BP oil crisis.” True he did not. There was an explosion, people died, oil began to gush and he did not respond to the public straightaway. In fact, Kathie, you counted the days before he addressed the nation and it was 56 days. Now if we’re going to make generalizations about women’s leadership let’s go all the way – what woman could have kept her mouth shut about a huge problem for 56 days? Frankly, that point alone blows your theory of him being the first woman president right out of the oily water.
    • But seriously, people disagree about timing constantly and the number of days you would have thought was good, someone else would have thought was bad. That’s the nature of the public opinion beast.
    • Also, although there is the expression “He’s a man of action” it is not the basis for a syllogistic argument that you seem to be making that men=action and women=inaction. Leaders need to balance action with reflection. If that means Obama incorporates so-called male traits and female traits in his leadership style then he’s modeling a leadership style we all should emulate.
  • You also said “passivity in a leader is not a reassuring posture.” Help me out here my friend, (I think we’re at the point when I can call you that) and explain to me how you can be saying that it’s OK for Obama to be a female president because women aren’t deficient, yet the characteristics you’re saying that make him a “female” are the same ones that make him a poor leader. It’s a contradiction Kath’ and not flattering to women. All we have to do is look to Hillary Clinton, Elena Kagan, Carly Fiorina, Mother Theresa, you and me to know that passivity does not equate with female leadership either.

One last thing before I sign off because I want to get this off to you before the day’s end. You wrote that “…the Oval Office poses special challenges, further exacerbated by a crisis that demands decisive action. It would appear that Obama tests [Karlyn Kohrs] Campbell‘s argument that ‘nothing prevents’ men from appropriating women’s style without negative consequences.” I’m sorry to tell you this but those lines are testing our friendship. The thing that keeps me going, is believing that you must have been having an off-day when you wrote your column (perhaps you had PMS as Glenn Beck would say).  There’s no way that you meant to say that a woman’s leadership style would be to not take decisive action in a crisis. Think Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and every mother who had an injured child. Women have shown that they are very capable at taking decisive action in a crisis. So even if I agree that Obama did not take decisive action on the BP oil crisis, I do not agree that a lack of decisiveness is a female leadership trait. Anyway, either/or thinking regarding people leading as a female or male is so “last year”.

Thank goodness you don’t see Obama as a “mean girl” – because if you did and he was, he’d probably be saying “Good thing she had sons and not daughters.” Or “A lot can be told about a woman by the company she keeps and she’s going to be appearing nightly with Eliot Spitzer.” Just know Kathie that if Obama says those things about you I will start holstering a hatchet. Got your back sister, Cherry

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2010 8:09 pm

    This is an amazing piece. I envy your ability to craft this fabulous “dialogues,” to fillet with precision every contradiction, to apply your extraordinary “borderless thinking” in ways that addresses the madness and hopefully helps to stop it! Wow!

  2. August 6, 2010 7:44 am

    Brilliant piece Cherry! Here’s to dismantling stereotypes, cliché by cliché. Thank you! Sharon

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