If You Could Have Dinner With… Barack Obama

by | Aug 16, 2022 | Thought Piece Series | 0 comments

If I could have dinner with President Barack Obama, I think most of my questions would be about how did he hold on to his sanity in the face of the GOPs mission to block everything he did.

How did he find calm when he wanted to lose his sh*t?
What made him laugh?
What was the craziest thing he did to take care of his sanity?
What’s it like to never be alone? How did he find his alone time?

Watching from a distance, I can’t help but think: what a toxic, politicised work environment.
I know I’ve worked in environments where it seems like politicking is more important than actually doing our jobs, and I hated it.

I haven’t had dinner with him, but I did see him speak (should that be hear him speak?) at a leadership conference back in 2018.

And he actually gave answers that fit some of these questions, so let me share them with you.

obama amber rahim coaching

Hang on a minute. Before I get to the learnings I’ve got to share something with you.
I was front row, about 5 meters away from Barack Obama. omg! it was awesome. 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 til the day. I. die.

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

How To Deal With The Stresses: 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.

We all see that right? The higher up we go, the further away we get from the customer, from the outside world, and ironically, from the mission of the company. And its less likely that you will hear the truth from those around you (they have too much to lose if you react badly to their negative feedback).

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

Influence and Persuasion

If you want to move people

  • Listen

This is the thing we all forget, too often. We prepare our ideas, our rebuttals, our arguments to persuade. But to actually move people? You need to listen.(and then you know what things will actually persuade them, and they will be ready to listen to you because they’ve been heard).

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

Fortunately for many of us, we are actually allowed to have some fun at work. He was under intense scrutiny, we are not. But having a conversation on ethics, creating guidelines, that you regularly reference, helps us all stay on track.

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, without losing your sanity:

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
(hear that all you fellow perfectionists out there? let go of doing it right)

And this last piece of advice has worked for me since 2014. An argument for #workfromhome or #hybrid from Obama:

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

Why It Matters That These Lessons Are From Barack Obama

These aren’t new ideas. These are very similar to my own philosophy about work and life. They probably sound like your own ideas about managing stress and being successful as a leader, right?

But if you are anything like me, those little inner critic voices in your head will tell you that now that you are a manager/director/VP/CEO these things aren’t enough anymore. You need something else. It can’t be this simple in such a complex working environment.

Recognise those thoughts? Yep, thought so.

I can’t imagine a job more stressful than a leader of a country. And add to that an opposition party who has made it their mission to literally oppose everything you do (it’s in the public record).

So if these simple lessons worked for him? Then they will work for you and me.

This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward. Want to connect? Click here

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