I did not watch Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address this week. I have only recently figured out what SOTU means. No doubt I would fail a US Civics exam.

But I have followed some of the reaction to the US President’s January 25 address to the American people delivered before the US Congress. Predictably reactions span an enormous gamut of opinion.

One of the most interesting responses to Obama’s speech I saw related, not so much to the content of the speech, as to the leadership qualities of the speaker. Susan Adams in “Forbes Magazine” wrote on January 26,

The President demonstrated that he’s mastered two of the most essential elements of powerful leadership…

How would you fill in the blank? What are “two of the most essential elements of powerful leadership.”

I imagine many people might fill in the blank with decisiveness and courage. Others might say that “two of the most essential elements of powerful leadership” are that the leader has a proven ability to be firm and a willingness to take control. Others might say the leader needs to be energetic and charismatic, or clear and uncompromising.

We tend to identify powerful leadership with the person who can get the job done and bring about a certain outcome regardless of the obstacles. We see the powerful leader as one who never bends, never gives up, and has an inflexible commitment to a clearly laid out set of goals. When necessary the powerful leader knows how to cut people off and where it is necessary to kick butt. The powerful leader is not afraid to throw a little weight around.

I am not sure how many people share Susan Adam’s vision of “powerful leadership.” For Adams powerful leadership requires

listening and compromise.

It is a radical idea that powerful leadership might reside in the qualities of “listening and compromise.”

Compromise is commonly viewed as weakness and most people get fed up pretty quickly with too much listening and go off in search of someone who can make things happen. But our tendency to take shortcuts around “listening and compromise,” may condemn us to aggressive, but shallow leadership.

The necessary tools for good listening and legitimate compromise are rare and not all that attractive in our culture.

To be a good listener I will have to be suitably impressed with the full extent of my own ignorance. It is necessary to be willing to acknowledge that I do not have all the answers. I will only be a good listener when I genuinely believe that, even those with whom I disagree, may have worthwhile insights to contribute to the decision-making process.

A good listener will let go of rigid agendas, demands, or expectations. As long as I am clinging to my predetermined goals, it will be difficult for me to hear your suggestion that perhaps we should be going in a different direction. When I approach you with a long list of “shoulds”, “oughts”, and “musts”, I am unlikely to pay careful attention to your ideas and insights.

If I am to listen deeply I need to be willing to enter into your world, to see life from your perspective and to acknowledge that your experience of the world is valid and worthy of respect just as much as mine.

In order for listening and compromise to be present the leader will need to be operating from a deep well-spring of inner security. It is not possible to exercise the flexibility that is an essential part of healthy compromise unless giving in does not threaten my sense of identity or crush my fragile ego. Powerful leaders are able to lose a few without becoming rattled by the loss.

A powerful leader does not need things to turn out according to some predetermined scheme or plan. A powerful leader holds an open heart, willing to receive insight from whatever source it may come. Since the outcome does not have to be a certain way, there is always room for creative twists that could never have been expected at the outset of the journey.

The problem in our culture of quick fixes and instant gratification is that good leadership takes time. It operates on a timetable that will test the patience of people who are looking for instant results. Aggressive, take control leadership may looks successful in the short term; but the results will be ephemeral. Domineering leadership will always leave victims in its wake. Truly powerful leadership goes deep and trusts the process of peoples’ lives.

It may be that the most essential ingredient to achieve Susan Adams goals of “listening and compromise,” will be patience. By practicing patience the leader provides open space for involvement, connection, and innovation. Patience makes it possible for everyone to feel respected and heard.

I am not sure Susan Adams vision of “powerful leadership” is ever going to be all that popular.