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3 Leadership Secrets From President Obama

The commander-in-chief has a few notable techniques he uses to help balance work and family life.
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Moving to the C-suite for the first time can knock your life off balance. The slower the rise to the top, the easier it is to adjust, of course. But what happens when you go through a meteoric rise and become CEO?

One person who knows how to deal with a swift promotion is President Obama, who became the commander-in-chief midway through his first term in the Senate. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Jodi Kantor, New York Times correspondent and author of The Obamas, writes about how the president tries to keep a balance between his responsibilities to his country and his family. Here are three of Obama's secrets for doing so while performing one of the world's most stressful jobs.

1. Be home for dinner.

Even though the pressures of the presidency can be extreme, requiring him to travel frequently and be available at all hours of the day, Obama has a rule he lives by to create boundaries between his duty as the president and as a father: Family dinner is mandatory nearly every night. "One of the details in my book that people react most strongly to is that the president has a strict 6:30 time for dinner with his family, and it's pretty much inviolate," Kantor tells HBR. "He's willing to miss dinner twice a week, but that's it. That's very unusual for a president."

Kantor says Obama's approach may raise a tough question for CEOs: How rigid should you be about setting boundaries? Certainly you need to keep the responsibilities of your job at top of mind. Still, the next time you say you can't make it to dinner, think about how even the president makes time for his family.

2. Have a great spouse to support you.

As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said, choosing the right spouse is the most important career choice you can make. "I don't think Barack Obama would be president without Michelle, for both practical and psychological reasons," Kantor says. "The practical reason is that he was a newcomer to Chicago who needed to become not just a politician, but a black politician in a new city. He had an unusual background and no roots there. Michelle Obama provided those roots when they married." From a psychological perspective, Kantor adds, "Mrs. Obama always had a very elevated sense of who her husband was. She talked about how he was not like other politicians, and that influenced his own self-image."

3. When necessary, pull an all-nighter.

Although Kantor says Obama is successful at maintaining boundaries, he also knows when it's necessary to tear them down in order to get the job done. "There is a sense that he works incredibly hard--for instance, he's known to pull all-nighters, especially when writing big speeches," she says.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 4, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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