I was privileged to attend an evening with former US President Barack Obama at the state of the art Sydney International Convention Centre.
I had hoped to have a swim with him the day before (lol) when he visited Manly beach in the rain, but in his opening remarks, he said it was too cold compared to Hawaii. Here’s a summary of what else he said over 90 minutes:
His commentary on political events, including views on China, Ukraine, the pandemic and financial markets, was fascinating but I share below only a few of my key takeaways on leadership for those of us in everyday life:
-The reason to pay attention to inequality and diversity isn’t just moral-it’s economic.
-He spoke of shifts in the media and commented that if people only watch or read a single news source, that we are unable to have a joint conversation or shared story.
-When questioned, ’What was the low point of your presidency?’ his reply was candid:
‘There are low points every day when president. That’s the nature of the job.’ But the killing of innocent children at Sandy Hook Primary school was the closest he came to feeling cynical about politics because he was unable to have gun legislation changed.
-His advice to young people: ‘Don’t be cynical.’
-More advice: ‘Turn off your phones and read a good book preferably mine or Michelle’s’, he quipped.
-He commented (and I wasn’t sure if he was serious?) there could be an experiment that if all world leaders were women for 2 years, the world might be a better place. Julie Bishop replied: ‘It would only take 6 months.’
-No photos were allowed when he spoke. To me, that and his comments on AI were the most fascinating. He said he was more worried about selfies than security when he walked through Sydney streets. As AI can now so cleverly manipulate images and voices, he can be shown to appear to say almost anything or be seen with anyone.
‘This makes it hard to verify what is truth when reality is manipulated; and contributes to polarity. Sometimes only Michelle would be able to tell if it is really me.’
-The public is less certain who or what to trust…and his comments on AI were poignant when I had observed the day before a photo of him and former German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that appeared on a social media feed. It claimed he had ice cream with her at the beach. The only reason I knew it wasn’t true was because it was actually raining here that day!
-He saw Angela Merkel as one of his close friends during and post political life- because even if they may disagree on some policy, they shared common values on human rights and accountability.
-‘Focus more about what you want to do versus what you want to be.’ He claimed he was more exuberant after his health care legislation was passed than when he first won the election; because although he wanted to be president, it was more important to want to do good, which the office allowed him to try to do.
-‘Everyday move the ball forward a little on what you want to do to make a difference that gives you joy.’
Although obviously briefed on the questions, he had no notes or teleprompter. His considered replies showed a man totally comfortable in his own skin…the skin of the first Afro American who became the 44th president of the USA and continues to contribute through his leadership foundation.
With Caroline Kennedy, the new US Ambassador to Australia, also in the audience, it seemed we were in the presence of the American equivalent of royalty.