For me, the most remarkable thing about Barack Obama is his groundedness and confidence, along with the apparent healthiness of his family life. Here's the interview I'd like to see with the President.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, June 10, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Psychological Interview with Barack Obama
For me, the most amazing thing about the President is his psychological groundedness, and the apparent mental health of his family. NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams recently interviewed the President. But he didn't ask what I most wanted to know. Here's the interview I'd like to see.
How did you learn to manage? People comment on how many issues you have taken on. You answer, of course, "What choice did I have?" But what most interests me is how you are able to divide your time productively among the many matters demanding your attention. For one thing, I'm not aware that you've had any management experience, where you have many groups of professionals working under you, each addressing a different topic (Iraq, Afghanistan, the auto industry, financial regulation, the budget, European allies, and on and on). How do you give them direction and then receive feedback from and consult with them? Where did you learn this?
Describe your management style. People have noted that you ask everyone in the room for their opinion. Could you give us some insight into how you developed this style and how it works for you? As a management consultant, I'm aware that this is a productive approach to groups. I also know that our greatest presidents used this approach (e.g., Washington and Lincoln). How did you arrive at this style? How do you balance taking in the opinions of others while reserving final judgments for yourself? (You know, some of the executives you work with, for example in the auto industry, might learn something from this style.)
How did you develop your confidence? You have written two books about the challenges you faced as an African-American youth who didn't have a natural "safe haven" - that is, one cultural environment that you could call your own, as well as lacking a father in the home. You described how this led you to some youthful excesses (i.e., your use of drugs). Yet, you seem at this point to be extremely well-adjusted and comfortable in just about any environment, including dealing with world leaders, facing political opposition, working with talented experts in any number of policy areas. To what do you attribute your self-confidence? Was it the attention your mother gave you, or your grandmother?
How do you avoid second-guessing yourself? There were any number of moments during the campaign - and plenty since then - when even your supporters questioned your decisions and judgment. For the most part, you held to the course that you and your advisers had formulated. How do you avoid wasting time second-guessing yourself and your advisers? Have you always had the ability to clear you brain of these distractions? Or did you perfect it during the campaign? And, while you're at it, how do you have the guts to deliver crucial addresses to Muslim, or European, or American audiences (and millions more watching), then not worry about your missteps?
If you weren't President, you could have a second career as a marriage counselor. You have detailed in your memoir conflicts you experienced over divvying up marital chores and the like. In some of her earlier, less well-developed representations of your family, Michelle complained about how "smelly" you were to the kids when they jumped in bed and how sloppy you were. But Michelle's support for you - especially as a Harvard-trained lawyer who had her own highly successful career - is truly remarkable. How did you pull that one off? I would guess that your becoming leader of the free world went a good way toward convincing her that this was a worthwhile role for her.
And those kids - how'd you do that? Everyone remarks on how nice your kids are. They have retained the ability to be children - happy children - amid the remarkable pressures you face. Of course, you and Michelle love them, and Michelle is a largely full-time mother now. But there are plenty of families in that situation who have been, shall we say, less successful than you in creating well-adjusted children. I read that Michelle consulted with other mothers in similar situations, and she remarked on how nice Chelsea Clinton turned out, in particular how she didn't put on airs. Your girls seem to be well on the way to achieving similarly confident, but not privileged, personalities.
Aren't you worried about raising children in a privileged fishbowl? But now that I've complimented you and Michelle for the excellent job you've done, I'm overcome by the magnitude of the task before you. I heard you tell Brian Williams you thought about issues your girls will face later in dating - for example, whether boys would seek them out because they were your daughters, rather than for themselves. That's good to think about. But I wonder how you inoculate them against all the attention they receive - like appearing before the massive crowd in Chicago the night you were elected. How are you and Michelle dealing with that in the near term?
Thank you so much, Mr. President, for taking the time to explain the workings of your and your family's minds. I know many people feel they could learn a lot from you in this area.
Oh, and one more thing - How do you keep from being conceited? I know I asked how you became so confident, but you are trying to revamp our health care system, revitalize the economy, rescue the car industry; break through the Israel-Arab stalemate, build a bridge to the Muslim World. . . .how DO you keep from being full of yourself while believing that you can pull all of this off?