The lineup at the Association for Talent Development Conference in San Diego, on May 7th, had started sometime in the early hours of the morning.
Rumours circulated that people had started lining up at five o’clock in the morning. Or four. Or maybe three. Either way, the energy of the crowd was a palpable, vibrating thing. As I went to take my place in the line at 6:30am, it was already snaked around the massive conference centre, and continuing to grow. Thousands upon thousands of people congregated, drinking coffee, chatting with fellow conference goers and waiting in patient anticipation.
Then, finally, the sea of people began to shuffle forwards. The throng filed into a massive conference room– all thirteen-thousand of us – to witness what was, for most of us, an opportunity of lifetime.
We had purchased tickets, planned our attendance, waited in line for hours. We waited some more, through a speaker’s opening remarks. And then, finally, the man we had all been waiting to see was introduced and made his way on stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
I had the honour of being in the audience that day, to see and hear the 44thPresident of the United States, Barack Obama, be interviewed on stage.
From where I was sitting way back in that massive room, Barack was actually pretty hard to see; just a small blur of a person way up on stage. But the giant screens throughout the space confirmed his presence, as did his signature voice echoing through the speakers.
Barack had an easy going, casual yet professional manner. He came across as laid back and friendly, as someone with boundless wisdom and humility and humour. I hung on his every word and, when I occasionally glanced at the crowd around me, I sensed that everyone else was equally enthralled.
During that magical hour, Barack Obama shared many messages. Messages of optimism and hope. His own learnings on change and decision-making. And lessons on leadership.
For me, the opportunity to hear Barack Obama live was truly a gift that I will always treasure. As a leadership coach and consultant, many of his messages deeply resonated with me. And so, I write to share with you a few of the pearls of wisdom that Barack Obama shared with all of us on that memorable day:
“Know what you want to do; worry less about what you want to be. Bill Gates didn’t start of by saying ‘I want to be a gazillionaire…’ Get clear on what you want to achieve and be ambitious in terms of what you want to accomplish, rather than what title you want”
“Most things that are worth doing are hard”
“I appreciate the values that I learned growing up: being honest, being kind, working hard, being respectful, being useful, carrying your weight, being responsible. Your values become your foundation and get you through hard times as well as good times, and they ultimately give meaning and purpose to what you do”
“I learned to take the long view and I don’t get too high when things are high or too low when things are low – these things prepared me the best…these are the kinds of things that sustain your soul and strengthen you as a person”
“You’re most successful when you help others tap into their best selves”
“When it comes to change, you change because you come to the conclusion that a situation isn’t working for you. Change is hard so break up change into its component parts. Accept that it’s a process and takes time”
“It’s about how you interact with people on a day-to-day basis”
“Change is hard because you’re always building off a legacy system; building off what is. Often it’s not that things are terrible, they’re just not as good as they could be. So, you can’t blame people for not wanting to rip out the roots of what exists and take a chance…”
“Progress is not inevitable: it’s about each and every one of us taking steps to make things better, treating everyone with respect”
“We all have a responsibility to make the world a better place”