I was in the process of setting up Dora the Explorer for my four-year-old so that I could make breakfast. But when Yahoo popped up on the screen, I paused. Then I said, “Look. There’s President Obama. He won a big award.”

My son said, “For what?” Then he pointed to an advertisement for Target — a boxing glove that punches images of the flu. He said, “Did Obama win for killing that stuff?”

I saw a teaching moment. I tried to think of something good. I said, “He won for being nice to people and reminding us all to be nice every day.”

The Nobel Prize Committee said something interesting about Obama’s award: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

And this, I think, is what good leaders do. They help us a see a future that we like, that we’re a part of, and that we can help create. In the case of Obama, his combination of strong values and intellect and charisma are mesmorizing to watch. And to me, his lack of BS in politics is almost as revolutionary as his skin color in politics. I love the whole package, and he makes me proud to be a US citizen.

I feel a similar way, on a smaller scale, with the new CEO of Brazen Careerist, Ed Barrientos. I spent almost a year convincing him to love the company and then to be CEO of the company. There were other people who had offered to take the job. But I wanted this guy because he inspires each of us at the company to be our best selves. That’s what leaders should do.

Sure, it’s early for Obama to win the prize, but it’s an acknowledgement that people are already stepping up and acting differently because Obama has set the stage for people to be their best selves.

Very few of us feel that we can pick our country, but we can each pick our company. Companies with leaders who put people, the planet and profits on equal footing are companies that are most likely to give you that same feeling of pride that we feel today. When you choose your job, you choose your leaders. Today’s Nobel Peace Prize award is a reminder to us that good leadership inspires everyone to be good. Find that in your career.

Hat tip: Melissa Mansfield

84 replies
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  1. econobiker
    econobiker says:

    If Obama really lacked BS he would have participated in open debates with alternative political party presidential candidates. As it was, he was the most marketable fit for the political machine, which drives both the Democratic and Republican parties, that really doesn’t change anything other than the faces in power and on the Federal payroll who qualifies for the Federal pension system while regular people see their earning power shipped offshore.

    If he was actually solving problems, ~everyone~ would be mad at him.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    I have to say, Obama has just as much BS in his politics as any other politician that makes it to president. He’s just a really, really good public speaker… which makes us FEEL less BSed. And there is value in that, don’t get me wrong. But the BS is definitely still there. (BTW, I am not a Repub OR a Dem.)

  3. JR
    JR says:

    Your son and I had the same reaction to the news: “For what?” He won the Nobel peace prize for the same reason he was elected president – not for anything he’s done, but for what people think he represents.

    (“mesmerizing”, not “mezmorizing”) Even your comment spell checker catches that.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s how mesmerized I am. Hahaha.
      Okay. I’m fixing it. Thanks.

      And I see there is no way to write about politics and think we are going to have a discussion about the workplace. I should have learned this when I wrote about Sarah Palin.

      If I die and go to hell (not that Jews believe in hell) but if I die and go to hell, I will be a politics blogger.


      • Courtney
        Courtney says:

        Wow. Most of the comments have nothing to do with the point of your blog… This seems to be a trend on your site, actually.

        I believe I get the point, however: We need to strive to choose leaders that encourage us to reach our professional and personal best in the workplace. I absolutely agree. I have been happiest in my career while working under an inspirational leader and inversely the most miserable when I have worked for a dream crushing boss. Inspiration and motivation are the factors that differentiate a leader from a boss, in my opinion.

  4. econobiker
    econobiker says:

    Work places are typically not places to discuss politics or sex.

    Discussing the first one could get a person eventually fired and discussing the second one could get a person a call from the Human Resource department or from a lawyer…

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      Even if you don’t discuss politics and sex at work, it doesn’t mean that politics and sex don’t affect work. So there’s value in talking about politics and sex in the context of work outside of work. Like on this blog, for example!

      • Claire
        Claire says:

        Working for the huge telephone company. I have to say that nobody appreciates the political and social discussions. I juat want to do my job to the best of my ability. I don’t care what anyone else feels about politics or anything else. If you have medical issues, take care of them. My family and friends are outside of work. Get your love at home.

  5. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    “Very few of us feel that we can pick our country, but we can each pick our company. Companies with leaders who put people, the planet and profits on equal footing are companies that are most likely to give you that same feeling of pride that we feel today. When you choose your job, you choose your leaders. Today’s Nobel Peace Prize award is a reminder to us that good leadership inspires everyone to be good. Find that in your career.”

    Very nice. That’s the best thing you’ve written lately.

  6. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    “good leadership inspires everyone to be good”

    This is such an important point, and one that I wish everyone–everyone!–at my first workplace had learned at some point. But instead it was a place where we were told (as a group, and this is a direct quote): “Your morale is your problem.”

    I try to do my best work no matter where I am, but on more than one occasion I have been struck by how much better my best can be when I have a good and inspiring manager/boss/professor.

  7. Linwood's Girl
    Linwood's Girl says:

    You are a fool if you think politics and sex are not discussed at work, even if they shouldn’t be.

    I liked the post–it was thought provoking.

    I like Obama but recognize that anyone in his position will piss a lot of people off.

    Obama said…”I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership,”. I think “representing” something is worthy of recognition, there is no “representing” without doing. He is DOING (even if it is not where your readers want to see action)……

    “The Nobel committee recognized Obama’s efforts to solve complex global problems including working toward a world free of nuclear weapons.”

  8. Marian Schembari
    Marian Schembari says:

    Ahhhh P, you make me happy every time you post. I completely agree. Obama’s strength lies in his ability to lead and – yes – inspire hope. Come on people! OF COURSE every politician spews BS, that’s not the point. When was the last time we had anyone illicite such an amazing reaction from: The. Entire. World?

    P is spot on… again.

  9. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    As Loren Feldman pointed out, when the nominations closed this year, Mr Obama had been in the office for just 11 days. That makes the Nobel Committee very prescient indeed! Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate herself, was just on TV/ News 24-BBC saying how he deserves the prize not least because he is the first black President of the United States. As tenuous arguments go, this takes the cake. Even for those who are idealists, this sort of expediency trivialises not just the award but the recipient too.

    Considering learned scientists typically wait 3-4 decades before their work is recognised, Mr Obama’s is just “anticipatory No-bel”.

    • Matt Secor
      Matt Secor says:

      I personally like Obama and think he’s doing a decent job, but couldn’t agree more with what you said. The standards for awarding the Peace Prize are falling short of the rest of the Nobel prizes. Also, not having known when the nominations closed, I’m glad you mentioned that point.

  10. Andy
    Andy says:

    “his lack of BS in politics is almost as revolutionary as his skin color in politics.”

    I was speachless when I read that he won the NPP. The above quote has helped me find my voice again.

    He is a GREAT CANDIDATE! He’s a fantastic orator. He is full of BS. Please tell me a single thing where he’s drawn a line in the sand & said “this is going to get done, & this is what its going to look like.” He waffles on EVERYTHING. We need to be out of Iraq. Nope. We need to focus on Afghanistan – well, maybe not. We’ll close Gitmo – um, how’s that working out? Public option in health care – or not. No mandates! Wait, maybe we need them. McCain’s idea to tax employee health care benefits is ridiculous – except that funding health care for everyone is expensive, so maybe we could use those revenues.

    Wait, he did say that he would have talks with Iran with no preset conditions. He’s done that. So, I guess having talks with an election stealing, violent, holocaust denying regime is enough to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


  11. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    I’ve been mulling my mixed feelings on the prize (I love Obama). I was leaning toward it not being a good idea, but your post made me rethink. Hmm.

    Also, I was really looking forward to more on Asperger’s. I would really like to know more.

  12. Eduardo Di Lascio
    Eduardo Di Lascio says:

    Penelope, people are still mad at you.
    Anyway, I was quite shocked as well when I heard that Obama just won the Nobel Prize.
    He`s a great guy, dont get me wrong, but he`s not that great.

    Regards from Brazil

  13. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    Leadership is overrated. The CEO needs to get good people, set a direction, then get out of the way. “Let me know if you need anything” is the sign of a good manager.

    All this adulation for Obama is the sign of a cult, not good leadership. It’s a way of ignoring all the hard problems, and all the hard work, which needs to be done by the people, not by Dear Leader. “Hope and Change” are not solutions. Slogans are not a plan. And the CEO never does the real work.

    You should know that…

    • Liza
      Liza says:

      Pres. Obama is not the CEO of the U.S. He a the nominated leader. He has no ownership, only direction. Change is a solution. Without change things would stay the same. Hope allows people to believe that change is possible. Slogans represent what the plan is geared towards, what it represents.

      I didn’t think that narrowminded people would read this blog. I guess I was proven wrong, much like you’ll be when hope allows positive change to occur through slogans and intellectual speaking from our current President. People don’t worship Obama like a cult. I think you should think more about the words you use before you post next time.

    • Desiree Frieson
      Desiree Frieson says:


      You obviously know nothing about the difference between managers and leaders. Anyone could be a manager but so few can be leaders; and even fewer great leaders. The country has been in turmoil over the last 8 years because we had a manager in office. Actually, we had an assistant in office.

  14. Brad
    Brad says:

    He does have one tangible peace-related accomplishment: He got that pissed-off black Harvard professor and white cop to come to the White House for a beer.

  15. ioana
    ioana says:

    I just recently got promoted from being a techie to a team leader, and since I’m totally clueless they sent me on a course. The most important thing that I learned from the course was that a good manager is the biggest factor of the team’s performance. When people quit their jobs, they actually quit their immediate supervisors.

    So now I can’t sleep at night. And I only have 6 people under me.

    Can’t imagine the type of stress Obama must be facing.

    • Kirk Abraham
      Kirk Abraham says:

      Few thoughts:
      1)Fact that you describe self as clueless is a GREAT thing! That means you remain trainable with few if any bad habits to break. You know that you don’t know, ya know? :) Kudos!
      2) My guess is that your company also see’s big potential in you or they wouldn’t have placed ‘only 6’ people reporting to you. That could also be out of necessity, but…
      3) Be clear in communicating expectations. Then confirm that they understand said criteria.
      4) Be yourself. Doesn’t appear you need any help with this!

  16. Anne
    Anne says:

    The Nobel Peace Prize is not a public contest.The Committee has stated their reasons for awarding him. Just like hiring managers and executive have reasons for promoting, hiring and firing. The major public opinion is irrelevant. In terms of President Obama, those that continue to gripe will only attract those seeking to further divide the country and embarrass him. Not many corporations I know have such hatred and malice and “desire for his demise or failure” than can be found in government.

    I just wish that people would let the man celebrate for accomplishments(because he has had them!) let the country enjoy this most refreshing moment and perhaps support instead of knock down. In the spirit for which an award in intended, reflect on how we can embody and embrace the characteristics that winners possess in our personal lives and in our careers.

  17. mamaworker
    mamaworker says:

    The radio DJ this morning opened with “President Obama got a call this morning at 6 a.m.” and my first thought was, “Someone blew up something in New York, L.A.’s on fire, etc. etc.” The DJ continued “…about the Nobel Peace Prize” and I was able to breathe again.

  18. Andy
    Andy says:

    “I just wish that people would let the man celebrate for accomplishments(because he has had them!) let the country enjoy this most refreshing moment and perhaps support instead of knock down.”

    1 – please list President Obama’s accomplishments.
    2 – please list the collection of accomplishments that could possibly justify this award.
    3 – I’m not knocking the President for receiving it. He didn’t choose himself. I’m saying that the NPP has less significance today than it did yesterday because a reasonable case can not be built to answer question #2.

  19. TJ
    TJ says:

    I am embarrassed for all of the people posting here that actually think that he deserves this award. Yes, he ran a great campaign that gave hope to many Americans, but he has not followed through on a single promise that he made. So far, the most memorable moments of his Presidency have been killing a fly on national television, having a beer with a white cop and a black professor, and calling Kanye West a jackass.

  20. Ayrton D'Silva
    Ayrton D'Silva says:

    I have seen my friends in the US become somewhat disillusioned with Obama in the last six months. I think at one level this is because its natural to tire of any charismatic person and a cycle of awe-admiration-victory-fall from grace. Also, the biggest question mark about Obama even before he won the presidency was whether he could DELIVER anything or just an exceptional orator.
    Whatever the right answer might be, it is true that he spread the message of hope, helped to dissolve boundaries of race, color, nationalities and has the ‘voice of reason’ that is very fresh from a US leader.

  21. dr aletta
    dr aletta says:

    The message in your post was more about leadership in the workplace than it was about Obama and the Noble Prize. At least that’s what I got out of it. Regardless of whether he ‘deserves’ the award or not (he looked a bit abashed himself) he is the sort of leader/boss/CEO I am proud to emulate.

  22. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The CEO of Brazen Careerist – “But I wanted this guy because he inspires each of us at the company to be our best selves. That’s what leaders should do.” – I’d be interested to know his leadership style and some specific examples.

  23. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I have a boss like this. And he’s taken our association from being the smallest of its kind to the largest.

    And I wish everyone would back off of Obama for a little bit and give him some time. It hasn’t even been a year. Am I the only one who remembers the Bush years? It’s going to take some time to clean up the hot mess he left us.

  24. Kirk Abraham
    Kirk Abraham says:

    This isn’t about Obama, it’s about the ridiculous selection ‘process’, if you can call it that. When they saw him on the apology tour, they looked at each other and said there’s our guy!! What a sham.

    2 words: Dick Lugar He’s been on a CRUSADE for nuclear non proliferation for years. Does he not do this in a meaningful enough way?

    • Kirk Abraham
      Kirk Abraham says:

      Respectfully, ‘Proud to be an American’ doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Though I could understand ’embarrassed to be from Geneva’ or country of origin.

      This award continues to diminish in relevance every time they choose a questionable recipient (see Yasser Arafat) As a Jew, presume you have some perspective there – but no assumptions about what that may be.

      Relevance for careers~business? Believe a potentially meaningful topic for a future post would be ‘how NOT to talk about it’ at the office. Is it even possible or in one’s best interest to be Switzerland, nice double entendre :) either way, Gen Y is gonna need help.

  25. Dave - LifeExcursion
    Dave - LifeExcursion says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s sad to see so many media outlets and people downing such an honor and making it political. What I have been asking people is the following:

    “Assuming Obama wasn’t President, but he did everything the same as to inspiring people and giving people hope, would you back this award given to him?”

    I think he has done so much as a human being and that is not political. Putting the politics aside, I think he deserves this honor. I wish more people wouldn’t make this so political.


    • Shefaly
      Shefaly says:


      The Peace prize has always been political. And has always had signalling value as well as honour attached to it. Think Henry Kissinger (whose co-nominee Le Duc Tho declined to accept the award), Yasser Arafat/ Yitzhak Rabin/ Shimon Peres, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela/ F de Klerk amongst others.

  26. Alan
    Alan says:

    Penelope, ignore the people who comment on typos (“mesmerizing”). You already wrote a good post about that.

    Your post is both heartfelt and well-argued. I personally disagree with Obama’s policies, but your piece has shown me that he brings good qualities to the table.

  27. Louise
    Louise says:

    The data speaks loud and clear!
    Approval rating of US:
    Bush Obama

    France 11 88
    Italy 27 91
    Spain 11 85
    UK 17 82
    Germany 12 92

    • David Rees
      David Rees says:

      The idea of being “approved of” by other countries is a nice thought.

      The purpose of the American system of government is to safeguard the freedom of the American people.

      The idea that a government would compromise the liberty and freedom of Americans for the approval of other countries or for political power is dangerous and disgusting.

      I would rather have more freedom and I honestly do not give the smallest damn whether or not other countries approve of us. It is immaterial.

  28. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    As a reply to just Alan in this case; you are more concerned with how the “rest of the world” views our President than our own country?? To me this seems strange and foreign. If you care so much about how OTHER countries view our President, maybe you should consider citizenship there……….. Personally, I don’t want Germans, Italians, French, et-al telling ME who should run our country.


    • Jacqueline
      Jacqueline says:

      Given that one of the President’s primary areas of responsibility is foreign policy and that he is the “face” for the country to the rest of the world, how the rest of the world perceives him is indeed rather important…

      • Emma
        Emma says:

        Obama’s primary areas of responsibility also include national domestic policy. And since he is our executive, I’d say American’s opinions are more important to whether he’s doing a good job or not.

        And since, as you say, foreign policy is the area where he has the most power, why can he not decide what to do on Afghanistan? Why did he only talked to the general on the ground ONCE in his first seven months in office, yet he had time to go campaigning for health care reform and bringing the Olympics to Chicago? I really don’t care whether we double down or get out, but I do care that American soldiers are being left to die while Obama can’t be bothered to decide on a course. That’s hardly laudable behavior.

        Lincoln knew nothing of war when he became president, but he spent every day in office trying to learn as much as he could. He’d wait for hours to have the chance to talk to his generals, so that he could have the best handle on the situation as possible. I do not see that same kind of commitment from Obama. He seems more like a domestic policy president that just wants the wars to go away. In which case, he shouldn’t have ran until after the wars were over.

      • David Rees
        David Rees says:

        The Iran election situation has shown the world all they need to know about Obama.

        He had a chance to stand up to corruption and support people seeking free elections.

        His response was craven, cowardly and offensive.

        Where was the leadership? Where was the moral authority? What did he show us about his values? What did he show us about his views on human life? Free elections? Freedom?

        Speaking of which, when was the last time the man used the word “freedom” or “liberty” in a speech? And I mean in a generalized way, not as in “we will allow you the freedom to keep your doctor…”

        Let me be clear: This man is no friend of freedom or human rights.

  29. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I’m not sure I buy into the whole thing about our President deserving the “Peace” prize. Let me explain; for a couple of decades at least, we have had our share of pacifists decrying nuclear weapons…….. what makes our President (Obama) any different? I remember Clinton had pretty much the same views…………. before him Carter, and even Ford (From the other party) and I struggle to see the ideological difference between them all……

  30. Jeff Payne
    Jeff Payne says:

    Strong values?

    Intellect? He does a great job reading the teleprompter. Alan Keyes has intellect and ate his lunch when it came to debates!

    Lack of BS in politics — hardly.

    He is the typical Washington politician (Democrat and Republican), no backbone, no message, no conviction. Real change will occur when we throw all the crooks out of Washington.

  31. Kamal S.
    Kamal S. says:

    Penelope, not everyone can pick their company. Sad, but true for many, many, people, millions, their choices in the career market are rather restricted.
    Your statement reflects a certain optimism that may happen to be conditioned by your life’s experiences, struggles, and yes, privileges. They do not match everyone’s.

    Many people end up with as much choice as to which CEO they end up working under as they have over the President over their nation. Which is to say a perfunctory, largely symbolic, ultimately meaningless degree of choice. Let’s not fool ourselves.

    Two, Hank Kissinger also received a Nobel Peace Price. This one fact alone should tell anyone what it’s real value is. No further comment is necessary.

    Apart from this, good post.

  32. Will
    Will says:

    I’m surprised by your post as their is a certain naivete to your words. And it reflects the words of French Leader Sarkozy related to Obama:
    Obama: "We must never stop until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of the earth."
    Sarkozy: "We live in the real world, not the virtual world. And the real world expects us to take decisions.
    As Peggy Noonan stated: "He doesn’t have a body of work; he’s a young man; he’s been president less than nine months. He hopes to accomplish much, and so far–nine months!–has accomplished little. Is this a life of heroic self-denial, of the sacrifice of self for something greater, of huge and historic consequence, of sustained vision? No it’s not. Is this a life marked by a vivid and calculable contribution to the peace of the world? No, it’s not.
    At present, he reads well from a TelePrompTer, speaks in great generalities and seems to be more oriented on himself then the country itself. He is a politician clear and bold — wake up!

  33. Davies Lim
    Davies Lim says:

    haha, nice post. feel some provocation there. but it’s all good. I’m sure many people disagree. I was also shocked to see that Obama has a nobel prize award. Is he the first president to get one? Cheers!

  34. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    I doubt anyone who is “outraged” by Obama winning a Nobel Peace prize even know who 10% of the previous 96 Nobel laureates are, let alone why they recieved their award. I certainly don’t, so I can’t judge their decision to give one to Obama. If you don’t like our president that’s fine, just say that instead.

    • David Rees
      David Rees says:


      The list is interesting for what it says and what it does not say. Look at 1939-1943 – they say they reallocated the prize money.

      What they don’t tell you is that they came within inches of having their HQ commandeered by the Nazis.

      The Nazis were able to make the progress they did in large part due to the cowardly policies of many “Laureates” who did everything they could to avoid a confrontation with Hitler, despite his continuing aggression and menacing of Europe.

      I am not outraged that Obama received the prize. I think he is extremely short sighted to accept it, I think it is offensive on many levels (including being insulting to President Obama).

      I am also not in the least bit surprised. It’s a prize for leftists, thugs and dictators minus the occasional legit recipient (Mother Theresa, Lech Walesa, Dali Llama, etc) to give it the air of legitimacy.

      Oh yeah, those three are in the same category as Arafat and Gorbachev. Sure.

  35. PGS
    PGS says:

    Unfortunately the teaching moment was wasted. A much more meaningful message would be:

    Some people’s families a hard life because other people were mean to them. So, to make them feel better, we give them things that the rest of us have to work for and hope they will decide to do the work later.

  36. Cesar in LA
    Cesar in LA says:

    You know the saddest part of many of the commentaries is that they are so full deep envy and little boy/girl pettiness. I for one as a first generation American am VERY proud that OUR President has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    We have a President who is tasked with bringing this once great nation, back from the edge of a financial meltdown. He has been a great leader thus far and given half a chance will lead us back to an economic recovery.

  37. Hayley
    Hayley says:

    I am tired of people praising Obama’s every move no matter what he does. We are on the verge of a dollar crisis, partly based on the government’s non-stop spending. But until the dollar collapses and we’re all S.O.L, few of Obama’s faithful followers will notice.

    Being an objective critic of Obama and his policies will improve your credibility.

  38. Dan
    Dan says:

    We are experiencing record budget deficits and double digit unemployment.

    What planet are you living on? Obama has been nothing but a disaster for this nation and other world leaders have zero, zilch respect for him.

    Nice? Like putting up his middle finger to the camera and audience when someone else was speaking such has been documented?

    Shame that you are a Jew who had ancestors gassed, but wouldn’t hesitate to send your unborn children into their own gas chambers!

  39. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    What swill.
    You’ve discussed your hungry years, declared that one must work to survive – both physically and emotionally, and now you laud a phony poseur who only speaks “dismissively – sometimes even derisively” – of this great county, and one who managed to get where he is by barely breaking a sweat ever doing any real work. The only thing he is “encouraging” is for the permanent victim classes to whine louder, demand more, and reach further for more and greater entitlements, which we working taxpayers will have to pay for. Since you’re apparently now, finally making a decent living, I’m sure you’ll be right there at the front of the line to offer up your earnings for his “wealth redistribution” scheme.
    You’ve also apparently discovered the benefits of capitalism and entrepreneurialism, but his policies discourage both, as he marches us ever nearer his and his handlers’ socialist utopia.
    If you are a capitalist, reluctant or otherwise, you’d better take a closer look at his agenda and the people he has surrounded himself with.
    Open your eyes, pay attention to what is actually going on, and let’s get back to business – while we still can.

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