Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Sports’ effect on Obama and other leaders

Posted by butalidnl on 14 April 2009

President Obama is known for his love of basketball, and it should not come as too much of a surprise if we would note that his style of leadership is clearly marked by basketball.  Basketball is a rather fast sport, with the teams aiming to score as many baskets as possible. Obama’s pace of initiatives is breathtaking, and while he does his best to think through these new policies, he does not really strive to make them perfect, in the knowledge that piling up “good but not necessarily excellent” policies would end up well.

This effect of the sport on the leadership style of world leaders is apparent not only in the case of Obama. Russia’s Vladimir Putin does judo, and this is also quite evident in his style. He allows his opponent to attack till he his able to use this to pull them off balance, and use their weight against themselves in defeating them. He has done this domestically with Podorkovski of Yukos, and especially in the recent war with Georgia. In the Georgian case, he succeeded in baiting the Georgians to attack South Ossetia first, even having his army ready and waiting for the Georgians to make the first move. Quite sneaky, but quite successful tactic, which we cannot fail to associate with his judo skills.

China’s former leader Deng Xiao Ping played bridge as his “sport”, and this also showed in the way he managed his country. In bridge, the players initially count their cards – classifying them into sure winners, sure losers, and the unsure cards. They then try to convert these unsure cards, often doing things that would work in cards are in certain places or distribution, in the hope of converting these unsure cards into “winners”.  In politics, this would reflect in the art of turning the politicians in the middle, so that they would take your side. And he would not get too bothered by the “sure losers”, which he had discounted already from the beginning.

Obama, Putin and Deng Xiaoping are all accomplished leaders,  which shows that the different styles could work. Or is it that the successful  style of leadership sort of fits with a given country’s particular conditions at a specific time.

One Response to “Sports’ effect on Obama and other leaders”

  1. edicio said

    Thanks for this Carlo. Interesting and evocative. I tried applying the approach to understanding current Philippine leaders, but I don’t really know their favorite game, other than the power games they play.

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