Analyzing the Leadership of Obama, Putin, and Assad (Part II)

By Cletus R. Bulach, Special for USDR

In part I, I gave a common sense description of leadership and indicated that a leader has to both introduce change and also manage that change. I wrote that Obama was good at introducing change but did not manage change well. I used Obamacare as an example of that. I indicated that Putin did both leadership functions well, i.e. the change he introduced was the takeover of Crimea. He followed up and managed that change. By no means am I saying that he is a good leader, in fact, I think he is a bully. Nevertheless, he introduced a change, and he managed it well. Assad, on the other hand, has not introduced changes and is trying only to manage/control what is happening in his country. I ended part I by saying that the use of power to control events is one thing all leaders have in common. The last paragraph of part I is the following:

“A key function of leadership is the ability to control or manage the responsibilities of that position. In order to do that the leader must use one or more of the nine forms of power.* Four of these forms of power are called controlling forms of power and five are called freeing forms of power. “
The four controlling forms of power are: connection, position, reward, and coercion power. The five freeing forms of power are: information, expertise, personality, ego, and moral power. When the controlling forms are used, subordinates are controlled and must do what the leader wants. When the freeing forms are used, subordinates are free to do what the leader wants or they can choose not to do what the leaders wants.
*I am often asked if there are other forms of power and my answer is always “No!”
I then have qualify that by saying “Well you could call God and prayer a form of power.” Many people pray when they need something. There is a religious hymn that goes something like this: “There is power, there is wonder working power . . .” So maybe there is a 10th form of power?

All three leaders have position power because of their role as leader of their country. With position power a leader inherits reward and coercion power. Both Putin and Assad use these two forms of power relentlessly to control what happens in their respective countries. Obama and his administration also use these forms of power but in less obvious ways. For example, he uses reward power by giving high paying political appointments to those who were generous contributors to his campaign.
There is some evidence of reward and coercion power that involve Chinese interests and Obama administration politicians. On March 6, 2012, the Wall Street Journal compiled a state-by-state list of the $17 billion in oil and natural gas equity interests CNOOC and Sinopec have acquired in the United States since 2010. Related is a recent Reuter’s report which stated: “[Reid] and his oldest son, Rory, are both involved in an effort by a Chinese energy giant to build a $5 billion solar farm and panel manufacturing plant in the southern Nevada desert. That particular effort involves some Bundy cattle grazing land.

Is this latest fiasco really to save some turtles or is this another example of reward and coercion power by Obama appointees? The current head of the Bureau of Land Management is Neil Kornze, who was hand-picked by Harry Reid. Until 2011, Kornze was on Harry Reid’s Senate staff. In a recent Washington Post article it was written: “All of this raises a fascinating, if circumstantial case that merits investigation. There are many questions that need to be asked. Such as, who ordered the initial raid? Why did Clark County sell land to ENN at far below its fair value? Who ordered the BLM show of force? Why did the BLM impose a no-fly zone over the Bundy Ranch so the media could not get video or photographs of what was going on?

One interesting facet of position power is that it depends on connection power. Without connection power, there is no position power. An example of how this works in a family involving a father, mother, and children would be the following: Suppose the children were misbehaving and the mother said “I am going to tell your father when he gets home!” When the father gets home and mother tells him and the father says “I don’t see what’s wrong with that!” The lack of support from father causes the mother to lose position power with her children She also loses the ability to use reward and coercion power.

On a national level, both Putin and Assad rely on the military for connection power. Without military support, Assad’s rule would be over. Putin has both military support and the support of the Russian Parliament. With this connection power, both leaders have strong position power. Contrast this with Obama who has lost connection power with the House of Representatives and the Senate to some degree. His popularity with citizens is at an all-time low. This lack of connection power with citizens and Congress has decreased his position power considerably both within the US and abroad.
With Obama’s loss of position and connection power, he has to rely heavily on the five freeing forms of power. These are the forms of power he used to get elected as president. The many speeches he gave and continues to give are an example of “information” power. If the information being provided in a speech is believable, the citizenry will do what is asked. His speeches and the information provided helped get him elected.

The manner and delivery of his speeches were very impressive. These speeches not only contained information, but also demonstrated “expertise” as a leader. He also came across as a very likeable person which gave him “personality” power. Because he was well liked by many and because they believed he had expertise he was elected. Here are some examples of how he used these three forms of power in his 2014 State of the Union address:

America’s graduation rate is the highest level in more than three decades.
More than eight million new jobs have been created over the past four years.
Autoworkers have fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world to help America wean itself off foreign oil.
We have the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.
Another freeing form of power is “ego” power. Leaders often stroke egos to get followers to do what they want them to do. All of Obama’s speeches contain comments where he strokes the egos of the citizenry in some way. Here are some examples from his 2014 address of how he combines information and ego power:
The lowest unemployment rate in over five years.  (stroking businessmen)
A rebounding housing market.  (stroking realtors and construction workers)
A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  (stroking manufacturing industry)
More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.  (stroking the oil industry)
Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.
My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do.  On every issue, the world turns to us.

He also uses “moral” power in his speeches to convince the citizenry that they should follow his leadership. Moral power refers to “what is the right thing to do?” When a person is asked to do the “right thing” moral power is being used. The Golden Rule of “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you” is an example of moral power. Here are some examples of the use of “moral” power in his speeches:
Let’s see where else we can make progress together.
Let’s make this a year of action.  That’s what most Americans want
If you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.
Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.
The mark of a true leader is one who “gives control without giving up control.”  This type of leader uses the five freeing forms of power, and if they do not work, the controlling forms are used to force compliance with the leader’s wishes/orders. Putin is the best example of a leader who does this. He gives his representatives and military control, but he remains firmly in control. Assad, to a lesser extent, has control over subordinates and the military. I say “lesser extent” because he has had some key subordinates resign.

Obama, on the other hand, has given control to key leadership positions, but he has essentially given up control of what these appointees are supposed to do. Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is perhaps the best example of an appointee who did not do what she was supposed to do. Obama seemed to be oblivious to what was happening in the agency. Similar situations occurred with the Attorney General, the IRS, NSA, Benghazi, and now the Bundy ranch fiasco.

With his loss of connection power with Congress and the citizens of the US, he has also lost much of his position power. To a large extent, he has lost his ability to control what happens in the US and abroad. He still has the five freeing forms of power, and he is very good at using information, personality, ego, and moral power. You will note that I did not mention expertise power.

In closing, let me repeat that the mark of a true leader is one who gives control (empowers the citizenry) but does not give up control. All three leaders have failed to do that. All three have empowered appointees who control or depower the citizenry. In countries where this type of leadership exists, there will eventually be a revolt. That has happened in Syria with Assad and other Middle Eastern countries. The Tea Party is the beginning of the revolt in the US. Odds are good that there will be a revolt against Putin’s government sometime in the next 10 years. In the end it is all about control and the use of power. Let me finish with the words of Lord Acton (1887) “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That being said, remember that the freeing forms do not corrupt, but exclusive use of the controlling forms is a corruption of leadership. Both Assad and Putin are guilty of that.

Dr. Cletus R. Bulach is a retired Ohio school superintendent and associate professor emeritus at the University of West Georgia.  He is the author of numerous articles in educational journals and is co-author of the book Creating a Culture for A High Performing School: A Comprehensive Approach to School Reform, Dropout Prevention, and Bullying Behavior. His website is

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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