Whether you support or oppose President Obama's policies and beliefs, you have to admire his will, determination, and strategic approach to obtaining and maintaining the highest office in the world. Obama has instigated a lot of change--some positive and some negative--and, through the process, has left entrepreneurs and business owners with a number of positive lessons.
Six Worthwhile Takeaways
Obama is a polarizing figure. He's relatively young among his peers, yet he's incredibly influential. He's as sharp as a thumbtack, yet he enjoys playing golf and shooting hoops. He's deadly serious, but he's not afraid to crack a joke to lighten the mood.
While it's hard to put a label on the 44th president of the United States, one thing is clear: he's inspiring in many different ways. As an entrepreneur, it would behoove you to take the time to study some of the business takeaways that he leaves behind.
1. Success Looks Different for Everyone
One of the dangers of business is that we often spend so much time molding our approach after other successful entrepreneurs and businesses that we fail to remember the importance of being unique and original. President Obama--who didn't come from a privileged background with strong connections and plentiful resources--has always made it clear that success looks different for everyone.
"You don't have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name in order to have a good idea," Obama said when speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Grasping this concept may not lead to success, but it'll help you to overcome psychological barriers that are preventing you from taking that next step.
2. The Details Matter
You'll often hear people tell you not to get caught up in the details and to focus on the bigger picture. While there's certainly value in this statement, you have to be careful with the notion that the details don't matter.
In Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, you could argue that it was the details that pushed him to the forefront. While his "Hope and Change" slogan may have received most of the attention from campaign strategists, it was the minor detail of choosing a typeface and campaign design that some believe catapulted Obama to the top.
If something as seemingly insignificant as typeface can impact an individual's ability to become president of the United States, nothing is too trivial. Success is in the details, and Obama has proved this time and again.
3. Leadership is a "We" Thing
All too often, people in positions of leadership take a "me versus them" approach. This isn't always on purpose, but it can be seen clearly in the way that people talk and communicate with one another. Well, Obama has replaced this typical approach with a more evenly balanced form of leadership.
"Whether he's talking about the death of Osama bin Laden or more recently, eulogizing the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Obama's change language is framed using 'us' and 'we,'" venture capitalist Lisa Calhoun writes. "This isn't just politics. Using the plural first person, instead of I, invites you to identify with him."
As an entrepreneur with aspirations to be an influential leader, remember that relatability is everything. People want to follow someone who understands them. Something as simple as the pronouns you use matters.
4. Clear Communication is Important
Whether it's stakeholders or customers, clear communication can mean the difference between frustrating followers and keeping them engaged. This is something that the Obama brand has done well.
According to one source, the Obama administration spends $5 million per year on staff salaries devoted to communications. While you can argue over whether this is exuberant or not, the main point is that he understands the significance of conveying ideas clearly to the American people. Whether it's Facebook or town hall meetings, communication is always happening.
You may not have a multi-million dollar budget, but you can make communication a priority. Any time and money that you invest in being open with your followers will go a long way toward building a strong and transparent reputation.
5. Keep the Ball Rolling
Too much celebration and reflection can open you up to vulnerabilities. This is something that Obama understands and constantly fights. Over the last seven-plus years, Obama has repeated the phrase, "Let's get back to work" hundreds of times after delivering a rousing speech on some sort of accomplishment.
"Classic Obama leadership celebrates ends with a begin," Calhoun writes. "Rather than rest on the laurels of any particular victory or mope about moments that didn't go his way, Obama uses circumstances to set up the next phase of his agenda."
The takeaway for entrepreneurs like yourself is always to keep the ball rolling. Whether it's a major success or a massive failure, you need to press on and build momentum for the next big objective.
6. Surround Yourself With the Right People
When Obama ran for president in 2008, he was only 47 years old. This made him the fifth youngest president of all time. And, while age certainly provides additional experience, Obama has proven that there's more to being successful than age. Much depends on who you surround yourself with.
Obama has done a fantastic job of surrounding himself with people who are older and more experienced. Not only does this show good judgment, but it also shows that he isn't prideful or arrogant. He's willing to admit that there are people with more life experiences than him.
In business, you need to surround yourself with people who are experienced and talented. You need people who are going to push you, rather than appease you. This will bring out the best in you.
Take a Look Around You
All too often, we look for role models and examples within our own networks and industries. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, it undermines our ability to receive balanced advice and wisdom. If we only study those who are similar to us, how can we ever expect to grow and change?
President Obama may not be an entrepreneur--but he certainly exhibits relatable characteristics and delivers surprisingly relevant lessons. Studying his rapid rise from a relatively unknown senator to a historic two-term president yields plenty of examples and takeaways. Study them, and apply as many insights as you can to your own career.