As President Barrack Obama gave his farewell address at Chicago on January 10, 2017, the curtain came down on an extraordinary presidency. It is well likely that history will judge Obama as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. As he attempted to begin his farewell address, the long standing ovation refused to die down, making him jocularly remark that he was lame-duck as the crowd was not listening. In a speech that stretched for more than an hour, he used his trademark hand gestures to effect yet another display of rhetoric and oratory. Without resorting to any dramatic inflexion of the voice, he effortlessly transported the audience back and forth between the history and the future. He held people’s attention when he slowed down his words, lowered the volume or paused for impact. He was in the flow as with quiet compassion he evoked images of the proud heritage and with “jealous anxiety” invoked the youth to steer the future with their own hands. At the end, there were many teary eyes, his included, and nostalgia was almost palpable in the air of the assembly.
Charisma is never easy to define. Obama’s charisma lies not just in his oratory or youthful looks. It actually springs from deep within him, as charisma always does. Charisma is never a garb than can be donned and taken off. It is something more permanent that gets ingrained over the years. It nearly always begins to emanate when larger causes overtake self-interests. It finds its expression in the confidence on that person that is inspired in others as someone who can bring change. To understand where Obama’s charisma springs from and to know the recipe of the secret sauce of his successes, let us look at some of the core principles that he addressed in his farewell:
- Unity and Diversity. Obama frequently invoked the concept of Unity in Diversity in his speech. Nothing can be more motivating for ordinary people to reach extraordinary heights than ‘equality for all’ and ‘equal opportunity for all in pursuit of happiness’. Progress is not a zero-sum game. When progress embraces all, even the luckier ones avoid the risk of upending their good run. Diversity is not just about race, region or religion. It is also about the acceptance that those that don’t fit into our opinions only enrich us.
- Yes, we can. The reality of life is that progress is neither constant nor predictable. It is normal for every step of progress to be challenged by a step backwards. But with the optimism ‘Yes, we can’, the long sweep of time will be defined by forward motion.
- The dynamics of change. Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to drive it.
- Make life better for those who follow. This is the purpose that drives people to brave challenges and break new ground.
- Boundless capacity for risk and reinvention. Only those bold experiments that are untainted by affiliations or particular interest will ensure that the future remains with us.
- We all have more work to do. If we decline to invest in the future, we diminish its prospects.
- Hearts must change. Laws and rules alone won’t be enough. Might cannot replace the willingness to do right. In the battle of ideas, openness to admit new information and creation of common ground and compromise are essential for going forward.
By putting together this blueprint for the future, Barrack Obama showed how charisma is the confidence that creates hope and drives us into action.