ORLANDO—This weekend, America witnessed its forty-fourth peaceful transfer of presidential power. Over the last few weeks, the media has looked ahead at America’s future with Donald Trump as president, and they’ve looked back at Barack Obama’s legacy.
Since I am not a prophet, I will refrain from making any predictions about President Trump’s upcoming term in office. Instead, I will look back on President Obama’s time as America’s forty-fourth president.
While I disagreed with many of his policies, and while the Obama administration has championed certain “progressive” political and cultural developments that I find morally regressive and theologically problematic, I have also learned a great deal about leadership from President Obama.
Here are three leadership qualities modeled by President Obama that I wish all leaders would practice:
1. His ability to remain civil in the midst of bitter political battles. It is no secret that President Obama faced bitter opposition throughout his presidency. While every president will be criticized for their policies and decisions, many of President Obama’s critics went well-beyond the bounds of professional critique and engaged in ugly partisanship and even racist rhetoric. Despite the deafening criticism (some justified, some unjustified) he received as president, he almost always managed to remain civil and gracious toward those with whom he disagreed. He chose not to lash out at his many critics, but instead, he modeled brilliantly (at the highest stage of power!) how leaders should respond to criticism and opposition—with a soft heart and with thick skin.
2. His decision to prioritize family in the midst of the busiest job in the world. Despite the fact that he has the most demanding schedule on the planet, and despite the fact that he himself grew up without a father, President Obama prioritizes time with his children. Not only is he a devoted father, but he is also a faithful husband to his wife of twenty-five years. In an American political scene filled with scandal and extramarital affairs, it is refreshing to see a president who walks in integrity and resists the temptations that have ensnared so many men and women in elected office.
3. His efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition to a political rival. Besides Hillary Clinton, no one in the world must be more disappointed by the recent election than Barack Obama. Not only did Donald Trump viciously criticize President Obama throughout his campaign, but he promised to reverse many of Obama’s landmark political achievements. And yet, over the last two months, Obama has made great efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition. In a time when people in Barack Obama’s party are calling Trump’s presidency “illegitimate,” President Obama is doing to the unpopular thing and setting up his political enemy for success. This is not an easy thing to do. I’ve seen pastors undermine their successors (even ones they picked!) out of insecurity and incompetence. Passing the baton is always difficult; but passing the baton to a political rival is incredibly difficult. Established leaders would do well to watch and learn from President Obama’s example.
For these reasons I am thankful for President Obama’s leadership example, despite our political differences. I have been praying for him for the last eight years, and I will probably continue to pray for him as he transitions into new places of influence.
But now I have also begun praying for America’s newest president—that he will lead with integrity and wisdom, and that he (like the rest of us) will learn from President Obama’s example of civility, integrity, and gracious leadership.