Throwback Thursday: What I Learned From Obama

by | Apr 29, 2020 | Learning

What I Learned From Obama

In Oct 2018 I create a long post called “Obama’s not the only great leader”. It was a collection of learnings from a diverse group of leaders who all spoke at the Denk Producties Forward Thinking Leadership seminar.

Having not taken the opportunity to see Obama in Edinburgh the year before, I bought a ticket as soon as I heard that he was speaking at this event. It was THE BEST GIFT to myself. So many and varied examples of great leadership.

So here’s the bit about Obama, and these are lessons that are so crucial right now.


Hang on a minute. Before I get to the learnings I’ve got to share something with you.

Fangirl moment I was about 5 meters away from Barack Obama. omg! it was awesome. I am so grateful for the seats I managed to get. This is my very own photo, take by my very own phone. And I’m pretty sure he was looking right at me. That smile is for me. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it till the day I die.

obama amber rahim coaching
Looking right at me!

Ok, back to the serious business of sharing the learnings.

Stay connected to real life: The stresses that come with leadership can put you in a bubble. The higher up you go, the bigger the bubble gets.

So the things that kept him out of the bubble are:

  • Bring the mother-in-law to live with us
  • This is my job, for now, not forever
  • Recognise that your position doesn’t lift you above everyone else
  • Stay in touch with the people to remember that you are dealing with real things, not abstractions or concepts. The decisions affect real people. So he used to read 10 letters from citizens every night

If you want to move people – Listen

To keep going and to succeed

  • Set up a culture that avoids self-inflicted wounds, based on values and principles
  • set up an ethics office. For his staff a key rule was: if it looks fun, you can’t do it
  • set up a good feedback operation

Primary job as a leader – Help your people be successful

And here’s the key to all the above, to knowing what to do, what direction to take, for how to get there:

Really think about what you believe, about what’s important, and start from there. And focus on doing the right thing, not on doing it right


How to manage it all? Don’t waste time commuting.

I was a work from home Dad. Instead of commuting, I got to spend time with my family

With all the stuff going on these days, with homeschooling and keeping my business going, with the awareness of the things I’m not doing (that I need and want to do), this one is really helping me right now:
This is my job for now, not forever

So what are the things that help you keep on track? How are you focusing on doing the right thing, not on doing it right? Why not give me a call and let’s have a chat about it.

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