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President Obama’s Style of Leadership


Obama’s decision to help the community college fostered the belief that African American administrators can succeed, despite discrimination and hardships, and that they could attain higher promotions. Community colleges have helped many African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups in the United States that have commonly been rejected from traditional four-year undergraduate colleges and universities.

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Some researches in 2003 found that approximately 45% of the African Americans enrolled in undergraduate programs came from community colleges (Bailey et al. as cited in Higgs, 2014). However, only about 18 percent of the leadership of community colleges is African American. The substantial small percentage of African Americans in leadership positions on community college campuses compared with the percentage of African American students in these colleges creates an identity dilemma for the aspiring African American student. This means the ordinary student does not have a role model to identify with and it contributes to the archetype of a white male as an authority figure.

There is a need for understanding the unique issues and concerns of racial minorities from personal experience. Barack Obama connects to the community colleges because he is an alumnus of one of these colleges. He started from the grassroots as a community organizer (Greenstein, 2009).

President Obama focused efforts to strengthen the education and progress of African Americans and Americans as a whole. He made community colleges a priority within weeks of his presidency by submitting a bill for $12 billion to the community colleges of America and to a job development program based on a community college education (Baime as cited in Higgs, 2014). Obama’s administrative policies have influenced the economic stability of higher education and have an indirect impact on the educational system as a whole.

The president has stated that millions of people will not be able to work toward their dreams of success without the community college and that 12 million people each year utilize the community college campus to further their education. He sees the community college campus as the bridge between poverty and social services to educational and workplace success. In his campaign for the presidency, Obama appeared at over 29 community college campuses. He then supported the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which heavily invested in education both as a way to provide jobs now and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity (Fording & Smith, 2012).

Obama recognized the plight of community colleges and the African Americans working for these colleges. He helped uplift the dignity of African American administrators. The Obama belief sprung from the concept that African Americans can overcome anything despite hardships by having an African American president in the White House.

Supporting community colleges is one of his strategies to end poverty in the U.S., especially among minority ethnic groups. Fighting poverty was a common slogan for Democratic candidates during the 2008 elections and this was also Obama’s strategy to help community colleges where most of the poor African Americans are studying; in fact, it was a double strategy because most of the electorate had the desire to end poverty and they were looking for the right candidate to do it for them – Obama was a perfect choice. It was an innovative strategy that would take him to the White House.

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Factors that need change

Early American history shows that the education of African Americans has been below acceptable standards. First established schools in the colonies served only a select population, mostly males of European descent. Children of African heritage were considered slaves and were excluded from educational opportunities (Boers as cited in Higgs, 2014). From the beginning of the community college existence, college administrators implemented the bureaucratic style of leadership (Alfred as cited in Higgs, 2014). Their organizational charts were vertical with a flow of communication downward.

The formalized authority did not allow for transformational responses. The top-down decision making has characterized most organizations, including community colleges. Obama inspired administrators to emphasize horizontal management, with a focus on peer-to-peer interaction among faculty members with the use of the internet. This improved the community colleges’ administrative system (Higgs, 2014).

President Obama has inspired the highest proportion of students in the world graduating from college by the year 2020. He has increased higher education access by restructuring financial aid. This includes investing in community colleges, thereby equipping a greater proportion of young adults with current required skills and education for growing industries (Fischer & Parry as cited in Higgs, 2014).

Obama’s inspiring book, “The Audacity of Hope”, expressed insights on the responsibility of African Americans to change the social and cultural factors that negatively affect African American people (Higgs, 2014). The collapse of the two-parent system has affected the family, which is the basic foundation of society; but education can do something to inspire families to succeed despite the odds. He also states in the book that the average African American household spends too much time for television, but little time for educational achievement (Higgs, 2014).

The innovative ways of Obama

Obama’s administration launched the program to make education affordable, the “Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All American,” one of the innovative ways to help community colleges and all educational institutions. This was triggered by studies of the National Center for Educational Statistics (as cited in Okimoto, 2012) which found that nearly 75 percent planned to attend college after high school, but nearly half of the students who enter two- and four-year colleges leave without earning a degree caused primarily by lack of adequate academic preparation.

Students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are at the greatest risk for dropping out or stopping out of college regardless of whether they begin at a community college or four-year institution (Tinto as cited in Okimoto, 2012). Obama’s legislative agenda was more focused on grassroots actions, i.e. to help the poor through community colleges. Obama’s leadership was also considered inclusive; inclusive in the sense that it emphasized helping the disadvantaged African Americans and the minorities in the U.S.

Style of decision making

In analyzing Barack Obama’s decision-making style we have to discover the sources of his ideological beliefs or principles. His decisions implemented a change in the government and some public organizations. Horowitz (2010) traces Obama’s sources to his background and legalist mind which has dominated most of his term as president of the United States. Legalism is based on options and dimensions and an emphasis on law and justice; this describes Obama’s decision making in the White House. But most of his decisions can be traced to his background; he was raised by his mother and later by his grandparents. He studied in a community college and pursued to become a lawyer. When he became president he helped community colleges by providing funds.

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First of these decisions which defined his legalist mind is Obama’s defense of a California court case brought by gay rights activists. During the presidential campaign in 2008, Obama’s campaign promise was a proposal to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, but a year after his election he argued that he was only defending “traditional legal practice” (Horowitz, 2010, p. 161).

Theory of decision making

Rational decision making emphasizes how decisions are reached. Here, the decision-maker analyzes the situation and makes a logical conclusion. This is how Obama makes decisions, guided by his background and legalist mind. A considerable amount of decision-making process took place in Obama’s decision to try five September 11 suspects in a civilian court. Many criticized Obama’s action but it was part of the president’s ideological impulse and legalist mind that criminals should be convicted by civilian courts and that America is not different than any other country in the world.

Obama’s decision stood out and ignored the exceptionalism principle – that America has a unique mission apart from all the rest. Furthermore, Obama respects human rights but the request of former President William Clinton to release political prisoners of Cuban Communism and recognize and respect human rights of dissidents and journalists was guided by the provisions of the Libertad Act of 1996 (Horowitz, 2010). All this means Obama’s decision was based on rational actions and the legalist principles.

Key events in life that influenced policies

Barack Obama is a product of interracial marriage but religion is not a part of his upbringing (Hammack, 2010). His parents separated when he was two years old. His mother was agnostic and he was later raised by his grandparents. As he grew up, his thoughts focused on the importance of family. He was an advocate for change; change in the White House and corrupt practices of Congress. However, change for Obama will not come from the top but from a “mobilized grassroots” which catapulted him to the White House. He excelled at Harvard and became an attorney helping people of color (Greenstein, 2009).

Obama had a firm commitment to laws and civilian authority with less military intervention, which was the policy he pursued in his decisions regarding Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and other sensitive foreign policy issues (Horowitz, 2010). The Obama administration’s legalistic tendencies have committed for wide-open dialogue and those in the administration expressed different opinions. According to Horowitz (2010), there has been a mix of opinions in several policies that are sometimes ambiguous. It is characteristic of Obama to have a view of different opinions and to respect others’ views, whether from the left, right, or center (Horowitz, 2010).

The complex bunch of policies comes from “a legalist cast of mind” that proposes political causes. Obama was honed in civil law, mingled, and served with people of different social classes including social elites. His decision to submit suspects of the September 11 attack to a civilian court in New York and not a military court to dispense justice sprung from his respect for civil law. At the close of his administration, he has continued to disappoint political stalwarts of both sides. His one-way view of domestic policies may be seen as critical in his administration but that is how he was trained and how he sees it to bring his vision of the country to where it should stand.


Fording, R., & Smith, J. (2012). Barack Obama’s “fight” to end poverty: Rhetoric and reality. Social Science Quarterly, 93(5), 1161-1183. Web.

Greensten, F. (2009). The presidential difference: Leadership style from FDR to Barack Obama. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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Hammack, P. (2010). The political psychology of personal narrative: The case of Barack Obama. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 10(1), 182-206. Web.

Higgs, S. (2014). The Obama effect: A study of African American leadership in the community college (Doctoral thesis, Capella University). Web.

Horowitz, I. (2010). Legalism as an executive ideology: Foundations of Barack Obama’s leadership style. Perspectives on Political Science, 39(3), 160-165. Web.

Okimoto, H. (2012). Community college developmental math redesign and its effect on student outcomes (Doctoral thesis, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa). Web.

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