Tips on becoming a leader, Barack Obama style

Audrey Edwards
Former US president Barack Obama speaks during the ‘How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us’ event in Kuala Lumpur December 13, 2019. Obama said it was important to have a time out from work in order to reevaluate one’s life. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 — Leaders need to surround themselves with people who are willing to tell them they are wrong.

Former president of the United States Barack Obama, in dishing out this piece of advice on leadership, said this is what he does.

“You are doing yourself a disservice if you have ‘yes’ people all the time who laugh at all your jokes and say what a brilliant insight that was.

“Not only are you not going to grow. You are going to make big mistakes.”

He was taking questions from participants of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Programme.

The programme is a one-year leadership development programme that seeks to inspire, empower and connect emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region.

He earlier spoke at a plenary session “How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us” that was moderated by his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng.

He also spoke of confidence and humility, saying one has to have the confidence to know that one does not know everything and to be with those who were not afraid to say it.

When asked about who was his mentor, he said that he did not have a single individual but instead a set of people that he learned different things from.

“Being open and seeing where I can learn from different people who are good at different things.

“You have to be open to more people and more experiences. Meet people who can teach you, seek out people not like you and don’t be afraid of people who know more than you do.”

He added that when he was president, he made sure he had people who were smarter than him in his government so he could focus on agenda and vision for the country.

He also said that it was important to have a time out from work in order to reevaluate one’s life.

“The question is whether you are going to be staying on the general path, to maintain the general trajectory.

“Then you won’t feel like you have somehow lost the way. It’s a long journey. You’ve got to have staying power and be comfortable with the fact you have to take a pause consolidate.”

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