How High is President Obama’s EQ?

What made me ask this question was a talk that I attended by Professor Fred Greenstein of Princeton at the University of Sydney titled Barack Obama: The Man And His Early Presidency. Greenstein listed off six key leadership qualities ranging from his gifted communication skills to high EQ. He said the high EQ of Obama is demonstrated by his ability to overcome tumultuous childhood (black father and white mother who divorced when he was two, Indonesian step-father, raised from the age of 10 by grandparents in Hawaii). I remember thinking at the time this does not demonstrate high EQ but very high resilience; so what actually is the level of Obama’s EQ?.
Adopting the principle of going back to the original text, I have just finished reading Dreams From My Father and thought that I would test Obama against the four Goleman criteria of EQ.

Personal EQ: Self-analysis & Self-control
The first thing to say about this book is that it is a beautifully written personal memoir steeped in honesty. It is a long book at 442 pages and traces Obama’s journey from his childhood home near the beaches of Hawaii, to the markets and slums of Jakarta, and then to Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. His self-analysis is quite striking, especially his humility, which is rare in a politician. One passage I particularly liked described his arrival in Kenya. After a few days there he said to himself so this is how white person feels; up till this time he had always been a minority living amongst a white majority. In Kenya the positions were of course reversed and white people were in a distinct minority.
Obama’s composure has been written about by many people and indeed Goleman himself when discussing Obama makes the same point about his self-control. In the book, Obama loses his self-control twice: weeping when he finally reaches the grave of his father, and pouring beer on the floor during his wedding to Michelle (you have to read the book to understand the emotional significance of this incident but it is beautiful literature).

Social EQ: Empathy & Relationship Management
While many reviewers have focused on Obama’s trip to Kenya, he demonstrates his empathy very early in the book when he writes about the loneliness of his mother in Indonesia and the helplessness of his Indonesian step-father as he is overwhelmed by the power struggles going on in Indonesia post-Sukarno. All through the book Obama makes very perceptive comments about the people he meets and their emotions.
He also describes how he is continually learning about how to handle people, by watching other people do the same. He describes a wonderful incident where Mayor Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, comes to visit his offices and so charms everyone, they forget to ask him for favours. There is another time when a relative, who he considers a spendthrift, makes the comment “You have to spend money to make it.” Instead of reacting angrily, Obama replies “So they say…” with just enough of a hint of doubt.
During and since his election, Obama has demonstrated substantial EQ, particularly in the face of, what seems to a foreigner, particularly bigoted and partisan opposition. He is now starting to kick some goals as we say in Australia. Now I have read his first book I can see that his performance is based on a combination of high IQ and EQ. He and Michelle are coming to Australia in June and I look forward to their visit.


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Chris Golis - Author


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