Class Act

(Tags: Leadership, Heroes)

This is not a partisan column, but there was a year, almost a decade past, when I spoke to the future president, Barack Obama, regularly.

Sometime before he received secret service protection, we belonged to the same gym in Chicago.  He and I both tended to work out late.  There were usually only a few people in the gym.  Mr. Obama was friendly, always said hello, and frequently asked about my executive coaching practice as I inquired about the events of his day. Even though he was already a senator, he was polite and engaged in our conversations.  One time I even got the nerve to tell him he was too easy on Condoleezza Rice while the two were on C-Span earlier that day.  He listened.

The last time I saw Barack Obama in real life was outside of the gym, near the entrance. I was sitting on a bench, talking on my cell to my now late father. The senator was walking toward me and greeted me.  I pointed to my phone and let him know I was speaking to my Dad. I quieted a voice inside that said, “Get off the phone and talk to the senator!” However, I thought it was important not to interrupt the call with my father.  Little did I know that I would not see the future president again in person. For soon after his greeting outside the gym, he virtually disappeared due to the secret service starting to manage his safety. It was rumored he still showed up at unexpected times to play basketball.

I now occasionally joke about how not exchanging contact information with then Senator Obama was my biggest mistake so far in business. What might have happened if we stayed in touch?  It’s an unknown scenario.  In the span of a single year, Barack Obama went on to be the most famous man on the planet.

I teach clients who are leading or growing businesses to “own” their accomplishments as well as their failures.  Failures are the scars and learning points of great leadership.  I worry more about a leader who says they have not made any mistakes or had any failures.

Humility is clearly my favorite quality a person can possess.  It is also a proven key ingredient of great leadership, along with competence. It relates to seeing oneself as equal to others—not better or worse.  Being humble steers one to naturally respect and value others.

David Brooks declares that he misses the president already [“I Miss Barack Obama” New York Times, Op-Ed, February 9, 2016].  He points out that unlike many of the president’s predecessors, Obama and his administration have been relatively free of scandal.  The president strongly demonstrates the qualities and performance of superior leadership. Mr. Brooks lists the president’s qualities as:  integrity, rectitude, humanity, the ability to attract like-minded team members, respect for others, sound decision-making, optimism, good manners, and elegance.

I say Mr. Obama deserves an amazing library.

He is truly a class act.



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