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Obama and Armstrong's Signatures Teach Us About Leadership

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The upcoming election has many Americans contemplating those leadership skills which are most essential for the one who leads them. What can we learn from the signature of Barack Obama?

In my last post, I wrote at length about the interpretation of capital letters that are overly-emphasized and embellished. For graphologists, overblown capitals are seen to indicate a writer with an interest in first impressions, given that the capital letter opens the door and introduces a new word or sentence. When those capitals are bloated, graphologists predict the polished, dress-for-success types, those who live by the edict "you never get a second chance to make a good first impression."

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Signature of Barack Obama

Obama's signature is dwarfed by his two prominent and dramatic capital letters. To see how a writer like this works, just review last week's news: a plaque was erected at a Chicago Baskin-Robbins to indicate exactly where Barack first kissed Michelle, allowing him to share his "first impressions" of his wife ("she tasted like chocolate"). Is there any other American President photographed dancing with his wife as frequently as the Obama's, shots featured on news sites come Valentine's Day?

We can think about leadership along a continuum of form versus substance. Obama's signature is artful, showing a primary interest in form. In contrast, we can look at the signature of the late astronaut Neil A. Armstrong.

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Signature of Astronaut Neil Armstrong

Note that embedded in the first name of Armstrong's signature we see the writer's hunger for ascension, the emphasis on the vertical axis in the first letter. Look carefully. We also find within this signature a hidden symbol: a takeoff pad and a rocket. As we saw in the signature of Mark Spitz in an earlier post, this writer dedicated his identity to his calling; instead of using the signature to showcase his name, his signature showcases his mission, thereby designating the personal realm as a platform to be used for the greater cause.

Speaking about Armstrong, James Hansen, author of First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, stated, "His life was about flying. His life was about piloting." As we see in his signature, on some level, Neil Armstrong himself embodied the quest to ascend, a passion that reportedly awoke when he was six years old. Therefore, the attention he accrued for being the first man to walk on the moon would have been strange to him. Armstrong refused to participate in a 25 year anniversary event celebrating that historic flight to the moon. In 2005, when he was interviewed on CBS's 60 Minutes, he said, "I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but for the ledger of our daily work."

Consistent with the psychological profile of this leader, news reports document that Armstrong was a humble and private man. He declined offers to run for office and, after his return, resumed a very private life, stepping out of the spotlight when others might have chosen to ride out fame and benefit from endorsement opportunities.

Paying homage to the deceased astronaut, Obama stated that Armstrong "was among the greatest of American heroes -- not just of his time, but of all time..." Sadly, the same cannot be said of Obama.

A teaching tale is told of a man who asks the rabbi to explain his lot in life, "Rabbi," says the man, " I have spent my whole life fleeing honor. How come it never caught up to me?" His teacher responded, "That's because you were always looking over your shoulder, tracking its progress." The greedy eye, hungry to see reflections of the self, will so often not let go of its hold on the man fully in its grip. And so Obama will continue his photo ops, serving up "Hallmark" moments for international consumption, and letting the requisite traits of leadership consistently evade his grasp.