Barack Obama's 4 key leadership lessons for startup founders

At Reshape 2021 summit, President Barack Obama in Conversation with Hande Cilingir, Co-founder and CEO, Insider spoke on key leadership lessons.

Barack Obama's 4 key leadership lessons for startup founders

Wednesday September 15, 2021,

4 min Read

As the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama has seen many challenges, and dealt with several ups and downs throughout the eight years of his presidency. However, he believes there are few things that kept him going, and as leaders, it is important for everyone to have these few things that can help them in distressing times

Believing in hope

"I think we all have our definitions of hope. For me, hope is a possibility. Hope is the faith, the belief that the world, as it is, is not a fixed thing, and that we can create the world as we'd like it to be. Now, it's a possibility that has to be grounded in reality. It's about being able to imagine a future while still being rooted in the here and now," said President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, in a conversation with Hande Cilingir, Co-founder and CEO, Insider, at the ReShape 2021 summit.

He believes it is important for leaders, entrepreneurs, and startup founders to have hope and belief. President Obama said that many people think of hope as just sitting back and hoping that things will get better without taking action, doing the work, doing the analysis or without recognising that the world is challenging and that hardship, cruelty, war and disease are real.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

He said,

"Hope isn't blind optimism and not ignoring the realities of the world. But hope is being able to look squarely at your situation around you, and to say, even if my situation is difficult, I can imagine something better and then hopefully take action to make it better. And so, to me, that ends up being the engine of progress. If we can't imagine the world being better than it is, we will give up and we become cynical. We don't really try to find some sort of meaning and purpose to our actions and I think that's detrimental to both individuals and societies, when they don't have a vision for what's possible in front of them."

Enjoy the basic things in life

President Obama said that it is important to enjoy the basic things in life and not take them for granted.

"I think even when I was president, just sitting down and talking with my children was therapy; playing a basketball game with some friends was important. I think that so often, leaders, particularly those who are under high stress and high pressure, forget that they have to find ways to find joy," he added.

Set a long term perspective

He also mentioned that it is important to work out and get some form of exercise. While as president he may not have gotten enough sleep, President Obama said that having a routine helped him stay steady.

"It [The routine] is to always remind myself that things are never as good and never as bad as as they may seem. I was someone who has spent a lot of time trying to maintain a long-term perspective in terms of my goals. On any given day, things may go bad or they may go well, but what's important is maintaining that long-term horizon."

Get a set of routine

To focus on the long term, he said that it is important to put in place habits or routines.

"As President, I never watched television news because TV news is designed to attract viewers so it wants to make the most sensational spectacular story on any given day. But that wasn't good for me, as somebody who's trying to make long-term strategic decisions about the direction of the country or our impact in the world. So, I just didn't watch television and that's one habit that I think served me very well. As otherwise, you end up reacting all the time to whatever the latest headline is, and lose sight of your primary purpose. There are other ways of doing that; some people meditate. Some people use their religious practices as a way of keeping a long view on what life is about and what their purpose is, but I think we all have to find ways in which to stay focused not just on the short term but on the long term.

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Edited by Kanishk Singh