The mindset of a world leader: 5 things we can learn from Barack Obama

Ruling one of the worlds largest and most influential countries requires some very advanced leadership skills. Former US president Barack Obama was in the Netherlands to give an interview on leadership. And we were there, armed with pen and paper.

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Here are 5 things we can learn from Barack Obama:

1) Create fundamentals

The secret to creating focus is to create fundamentals. Be effective in doing the basics. So that your focus can be on subjects that require your attention.” Obama pointed out the importance of working with reliable systems. With fundamentals he also referred to putting the right people in the right place. As an example, he mentioned the benefits from being able to “work from home.” Whenever he was in town during his presidency, he dined with his family. He mentioned this as one of the important “zones of normalcy” that helps in keeping focus where it should be. The more hectic your life, the more important the basics.

2) Set direction and stay focused

“You don't have to build the road as a leader, but you will have to set the direction.” Once the leader makes sure that everyone knows exactly what their job is, it's the job of the leader to trust that the road will be built. This of course does not mean that you should ignore the rest of the process. Obama illustrated that nicely with another example: “If there's a fire blazing in the house, you take emergency solutions. But it's also very important that you gain a day to day focus after the crisis is over.” So, it is only with determined focus that you transform a building into a house, and a house into a home. This process requires different types of focus and action throughout the different stages. Sometimes (adrenaline generating) external stimuli will dictated what needs to be done, other times the focus must come from within.

3) Bring the outside world in

We all live in our own bubbles. It's valuable to break through them on a regular basis. To bring the outside world in.” Obama mentioned a beautiful example of doing this. Every day, he read ten letters from citizens, selected by his team. He asked them to choose letters which represented the country's biggest issues. A great example of keeping an overview and setting the right focus. Another way to optimize your perspective, is to surround yourself with youth. “Young people make you hopeful and optimistic. They are more comfortable with life as it is right now. They are not afraid of change,” is what Obama answered when questioned why he chose to work with so many young people. He pointed out the benefits reaped by society by helping and encouraging the youth to grow their talents towards excellent.

4) Be authentic

We live in such a volatile world, that people desire and expect authenticity.” Why did Obama sound so true with his best speeches? Because he wrote them himself. If you deeply want to connect with others, it's very important to connect with yourself first. A real challenge, since technological developments produce unprecedented possibilities and an incredible amount of noise. Nevertheless, being authentic doesn't mean that you should always stick with what you know. “Ask for advice from people who have been there. Learn from history.” A final tip on how to be authentic? “Laugh at yourself. That is what keeps the focus where it should be.” According to Obama, humour is an expression of perspective.

5) Have hope

I'm blindly optimistic because we work to make things better.” Even though Obama doesn't take himself too seriously, he does take his job seriously. He compared being the president to running a relay race. A job is always temporary, so you have to give the best you can. And even if you want to do everything at speed, it's still the most important to safely transfer what needs to be carried. It requires hard work and it's never going to be easy. But no matter how important or challenging your job is: “You should know your most important project is to look back at your life with satisfaction when you die.” Obama didn't refer to his speeches, nor ending the war in Iraq or pulling the USA out of one of the worst recessions. He mentioned a picture of him holding his daughter's hand in the park.


Here is one final point that we feel should be added to this powerful list: Dream BIG!

You may be surprised by the power of speaking out loud what you truly desire. We were very honoured to be invited to this special event and once again, would like to thank to the people who made it possible.

So, what is it that you truly want to achieve? What is it that makes your heart flutter with excitement? What legacy do you want to leave? With the right mindset everything is possible and in the words of a great leader: “Yes you can!”

Keep your eyes on the ball,

Marcia Dominicus

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