by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I grew up at a time when the President of the United States was routinely, and without irony, referred to as “the Leader of the Free World.” So it is disturbing to publish a list of the World’s Greatest Leaders that, for the second year in a row, excludes the current President.
This isn’t a political statement. Fortune, like most of its readers, celebrates practical success, not ideological rigor. My own politics are militantly centrist, and I have a presidential voting record that has ricocheted between parties as their standard bearers have alternately seduced and disillusioned. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 largely because of his call to unite blue states and red states behind a politics of hope. But it hasn’t happened. At home our politics are as divided—and our federal government is as dysfunctional—as they were when he took office. Abroad, the record is worse. Many wise foreign-policy analysts believe the President’s public waffling on Syria not only fed the terrorism of the Islamic State, but also emboldened thugs around the world—notably Vladimir Putin. The President has dismissed their criticism by saying he is “less concerned about style points.” But when it comes to leadership, style matters.
In his book On Becoming a Leader, the late Warren Bennis said the differences between leaders and managers are “the differences between those who master the context and those who surrender to it.” It’s a good distinction. Faced with difficult circumstances, President Obama has surrendered.