Unflappable: Five leadership lessons from last night’s Obama-Kroft confrontation on 60 Minutes

If you didn’t watch last night’s intense interview of President Obama by Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, you missed a real donnybrook (Note to ice hockey fans: Why are brawls called donnybrooks?)

Kroft hit Obama with questions on everything from the latter’s “failed” ISIS strategy and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s provocative moves in Syria. He also asked the chief executive to share his views on Donald Trump’s chances for the White House (nil) and Hillary’s infamous cell phone messages.

In responding, Obama demonstrated five leadership skills any CEO should follow in equally tough melees with the media:

1.) A command of the facts. Whether they were right or wrong, Obama was able to parry every one of Kroft’s points with his own.

2.) He never let his guard down. In the rare instances when the conversation turned civil, Obama was able to replace his game face with a grinning smile and hale thee well bonhomie. In doing so, however, he never left himself vulnerable to saying something he’d later regret.

3.) He admitted fault and displayed vulnerability. When Kroft had Obama clearly pinned against the wall discussing setbacks or stalemates, Obama agreed with the assessment and, indeed, displayed vulnerability in doing so. That’s a presidential trait we haven’t witnessed in 15 years.

4.) He was bold and confident. When asked if the Constitution allowed him to run for a third term and if so, would he win, Obama didn’t hesitate in his response: “I would.” Leaders need to have the courage of their convictions.

5.) Flexibility. With a little over a year to go in his presidency, Obama was asked if he would be sad to leave. “It’s been bittersweet,” he told Kroft, adding that, while there are many accomplishments he’s proud of, he’s also been disappointed by what he couldn’t do or undo.  No leader is perfect, and CEOs need to be fully transparent when they succeed or fail.

Love him, hate him or ignore him, Barack Obama is easily the most erudite president since JFK, and, last night, demonstrated a text book example of grace under pressure. I suggest every media trainer in the business visit their editing rooms today, and edit snippets for use in future CEO training sessions.


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