Question for leaders: what’s the difference between special and essential?

May 24, 2011

It meant something during President Obama’s state visit to England, as a joint message with Prime Minister Cameron revealed.

The two leaders published the communication in the Times. It seemed to be at pains to address the increasingly aging notion of the special relationship between the two countries. Instead, the word was ‘essential’. How modern. Special is an emotion laden word. Essential is a cool word of functional management. Special has symbolic overtones. Essential doesn’t.

As noted by The International Business Times

The relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. however is much older and complicated than the one between the leader and the Queen. The referral of the countries mutual relationship as ‘special’ can be traced back to a phrase used to describe the exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relationship in a 1946 speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Since then, although both the United Kingdom and United States have close relationships with many other nations, the level of cooperation between them in economic activity, trade and commerce, military planning, execution of military operations, nuclear weapons technology and intelligence sharing is perceived as a unique one.

President Obama is strong at emotions when they are authentic. He is cautious when he has to wear his mask of command. He was the charismatic leader of his election campaign in Ireland yesterday [May 22nd 2011]. He was playing it for fun as well as for the votes back home with the Irish community. Today it was business as usual.