On Friday, September 28th, 2018, Barack Obama was interviewed in Amsterdam at the Forward Thinking Leadership conference. I drove over 250 km to be there, and his words resonated with us all in the deepest sense. Obama spoke about his experience and compelling takeaways from his time in the White House.
Keeping a Normal Life
As one of the most prominent, well-spoken leaders in White House history, Obama was asked how he normalized life in the most powerful chair in the world – especially coming from a humble background. Besides sitting at the dinner table with his wife and daughters every evening at 6:30, he brought his mother-in-law into the fold, who lived on the premises. Each evening, he’d open 10 letters from citizens and would proceed to read them at dinner. This made sure he and his family stayed connected beyond the “bubble”. Furthermore, Obama continually reminded himself that the baton would eventually be passed; that returning to citizenship would be his most important job.
The Power of Truth
While holding a mic that would reach not just his country, but billions across the globe, the former US President insisted on truthfulness as a speaker. His speeches and text, completely written by him, carried an authenticity that he encourages, saying, “believe what you tell, and believe what you say.” He emphasized this to companies, “because under an authoritarian leader corruption is lurking.”
When Barack Obama came into office, he hired a Chief Ethic that measured the ethical outcomes of decisions. With this, having an extra “check and balance” next to him was a bonus in making sure he made the right choices.
Michelle and Obama left the white house “with our souls intact”. They learned important lessons, like the power of storytelling, meaning what you say, practicing humility, honesty, and not getting sidetracked with who you want to be and climbing the power ladder; instead focusing on who you are now. He puts humor on a pedestal and sees it as an important tool to “keep things in perspective.”
Even with the appointment of President Trump, Obama has faith in youth and he trains young leaders through the Obama Foundation, telling these youth that leadership starts with listening. And in the middle of tough spots, like the 2008 financial crisis, he found value in others who had experience.
Keeping his family together in the chaos of being the President of the United States was no easy task. He credited his wife Michelle for being a “fantastic woman” that tied all the knots. And in terms of keeping focused on what’s important, he says, “Contribute to the things that you find important. Make the world a little better every time.”
And with that, Barack Obama instilled hope, motivation, and kindness into an inspired group of onlookers. I left the Forward Thinking Leadership with a permanent pep in my step, and hearing from influential guest speakers as well as the former US President was a day to be remembered.
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