Leadership and Transparency: Obama’s Reddit Fail on Pot Legalization

One of the most interesting examples of an engaged leader is when President [Barack] Obama decided to go onto Reddit as part of his presidential campaign in 2012. And he held what is called an "ask me anything" session. So they announced he was going to be on there and anybody could ask any question of Obama. What a great opportunity, right? And so he studiously sat there and responded to people and answered their questions. Except he didn’t. The most popular and most frequently asked question of Obama was what do you think of the legalization of marijuana? And it was very clear, so evident that Obama wanted to have nothing to do with that topic. He just studiously kept ignoring that topic and answering all the other questions that were coming up. So it’s interesting that you can ask me anything, but I may not necessarily answer you.

In many ways this was considered a very successful example of an engaged leader. Somebody who was willing to come on to Reddit and be able to answer all the questions that people were going to ask. But in reality that relationship was a bit tarnished for the people who were on that session because they quickly realized he’s not willing to truly engage in the spirit of this. He was going to answer only the questions that he wanted to. If they knew anything about the Reddit, audience they would have known that would have been the very top question that somebody was going to ask.

So as a leader when you’re in those situations, when you’re not ready, a better way to deal with that is to be very honest. I’m not prepared today to answer those questions. And if Obama had just said I hear all of you asking about the legalization of marijuana. I’m not ready to answer that question today and these are the reasons why. Clearly it’s important to some people and we will have a position on that at some point in the future. So as a leader, be clear you set expectations, but what you will engage on. You may have it worked out in your mind; it’s really important to tell the people who are really following you as a leader to tell them what can they expect in that engagement. How far will you go in that engagement to set those expectations early on so that they’re not disappointed.

 

When Barack Obama participated in an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit back in 2012, he was taking an unprecedented presidential step in terms of accessibility and transparency, not to mention digital savvy.


It went OK, overall, but according to leadership and social media expert Charlene Li, Obama’s decision to completely ignore all questions about the legalization of marijuana (and there were many) was a failure of communication and transparency that could have been handled much, much better.

These aspects of leadership are paramount in Li's new book The Engaged Leader.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less