Barack Obama's Challenges and Why Leadership Really Matters

Turbulent times demand strong guidance and fortitude.

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That didn't take long. He is just completing his first year in office, and Barack Obama's presidency is verging on crisis mode. Not a full-blown crisis, to be sure, but an array of bedeviling issues on so many fronts that he might soon set some kind of historical record for facing the most bad-choice/worse-choice decisions. He is officially a war president, having upped the troop level in Afghanistan and weighing even bigger questions about where we go from here. Then there is the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, the stalled Mideast peace process, the fragile financial system, and the prospect of a jobless economic recovery. There's a global warming coalition in disarray, an incipient trade war with China—and of course the slog over healthcare reform, which Obama intended to be his first triumph.

In each case, the questions being asked around the world are: How will the American president lead? What direction will he give? What tone will he set? Is he up to the job?

Microscope. We are publishing a special series of articles this month on leadership, and we start by looking at the president and what has to be the toughest leadership role in the world, even on a good day. Our chief White House correspondent, Ken Walsh, sat down with President Obama to discuss leadership at a crucial moment. It's clear Obama has his own views, in some ways vastly different from those of many of his predecessors, about how to steer the nation through these issues. It's also clear that his words and actions are under a microscope more acute than any we've seen. How some of these problems play out in the next few months may well determine the success or failure of his presidency.

But not every leader has the fate of the world on his daily schedule. We also examine leaders and their accomplishments from a variety of perspectives, including our fifth annual assessment of "America's Best Leaders." As in the past, we collaborated with our longtime colleague David Gergen and the folks at Harvard University's Center for Public Leadership. With management guru Warren Bennis, David assembled a team of judges who have developed a remarkably rigorous set of standards to evaluate what is an admittedly elusive set of skills.

There are some expected, high-profile choices on the list, for reasons you may not have considered. There are also some intriguing people you may never have heard of but who have made a substantial difference in their fields. In addition to people from public service and business, the judges look for the advocates and activists who are deploying innovative ideas to solve society's problems. Leadership doesn't always have to be on a large scale to matter. The results are there for you to contemplate. And even argue.

As always, everything we do at U.S. News is fair game for your dissection. What do you think of President Obama's leadership style so far? Is it suited to the challenges we face? And what about the other leaders in this issue? Are they the best? Are there better choices?Feel free to post your comments below or send me your thoughts at

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