... the tales of two sisters

Dana lives in Seattle, and Tracie lives in Germany. We are businesswomen, writers and humorists. We write about life, dating, and today's modern women.

The King of Cool

When I heard that the 44th President of the US was coming to town to speak at the GEDANKENTANKEN World leadership Summit in Cologne,  I scrambled to get a ticket. There was absolutely no way I was going to miss out on not breathing the same air and experiencing  the extreme oratory charisma and intelligence of Barack Obama. And I wasn’t the only one with this sentiment: 14,000 people filled the Lanxess Arena to witness this once in a lifetime experience. I sat next to a beautiful twenty-five year old Peruvian German nurse who came from the Salzburg Austrian Alps who sold her car to experience this. 

I have always been enamored with his grace, eloquence, intelligence and his ability to say what he wants to say in the highest form. The day I viewed him singing Amazing Grace at the funeral of a pastor killed in a Charleston shooting, deepened my admiration for this man. Go to Youtube, open your hearts and minds to the magnitude of the moment and get a spiritual chill. 

Obama’s sister Rita Auma Obama (educated in Germany), an activist and the Executive Chairperson, of Sauti Kuu Foundation, a non-profit that helps orphans and other young people struggling with poverty in Kenya introduced him in German. 

And suddenly there he was, gliding onto the stage into the spotlight where he belongs. The audience roared! A rock star was in the house! He and the interviewer took a seat at a small table center stage and with that the one hour of questions and answers began. 

Here are some highlights: 

President Obama said that one of the greatest things about leaving the presidency was that he and Michelle could live their lives without having so many people around. That they now have the time to rediscover each other. More time to spend with their girls and just read a book. 

One of the first things he did when he left office was to learn to make the coffee machine work. Tasted terrible. Laughter. He fights with wife and youngest daughter for closet space. Laughter.

Six months before leaving office, he began to consider what he would do with the rest of his life. He was after all, one of the youngest elected presidents and would be one of the youngest retiring presidents. He wanted to be productive and so he asked himself what he deeply cared about. Amongst those things are climate change and growing inequality in our societies. “…significant change is a group effort,” he said.  Applause. Indeed, The Obama Foundation wants to support young leaders all across the globe in their efforts to make change for a better world. 

He drew applause when he said that one of the most important things he has learned to do is to listen. “That is the first requirement of being a great leader: hearing and feeling what people care about.”

How does a good leader manage to keep ego out of the process? 

“The vanity that comes along with seeing your name in lights and the applause doesn’t last very long. What will keep you going as an effective leader is the work. My advice to young people going into politics or leading an NGO or any leadership situation is to focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. People say that they want to be president, prime minister or chancellor but when they get there they don’t know what to do with it because the goal is to be somebody. If  we focus on what we want to get done, we can always make a difference–holding a specific office or position is not a requirement for this.” Applause. 

You’ve got to have people around you who share your values and your vision and then build a culture that ensures people are there for the right reasons, that they treat people with respect, that their job is for them because of service, not greed; that they are less interested in taking credit rather than for getting the job done and know how to work as a team.” 

 After eight years of office, he said, “We never had a scandal, no one went to jail… Applause. We were able to hold ourselves to a certain standard of integrity.”Applause.

We learn to make decisions based on probabilities: analyze every option, figure out what exactly is the nature of this problem, get as many perspectives as possible. Have as many women around the table as possible.” Applause.  “Studies have consistently shown that organizations that have boards of directors with significant numbers of women, performed better than organizations without.” Applause.  

Regarding his decision making? “…my goal, he said was to make sure I had all the facts.” Applause.  “And all the data.”. 

One of his long term goals is to create education programs for young people, give them a sense of hope and purpose so that organizations like Al Quaida can’t recruit young vulnerable people. Applause.  “To be moral in this world we have to be willing to dig our hands into the very messy realities of life which means that your decisions are not going to be perfect, you certainly won’t be perfect, but you do the best you can based on hopefully the best information you have to work with.” Applause. 

 “I am a big believer in enlightening values like facts, and reason and logic.” APPLAUSE!!  “We need a consensus around basic facts. A democracy by definition has to operate with differences of opinion, but it can’t have differences of basic facts.” Applause. “If I say this is a table, you can’t say this is an elephant. If we agree that this is a table, we can say I don’t like that table or we should set it there, or it should be higher or lower, then we can have a dialogue. But if you say this is a tree…then I won’t know what to say.” Laughter. Applause. “Then we’ll end up having a fight that cannot be resolved because we are addressing two different realities… This is what happens in our current information age: people just look for the facts that reinforce their opinions rather than shaping their opinions around the facts. “APPLAUSE!!

Before the hour was over, he spoke of the former First lady, Michelle, as a picture was shown of her flexing her biceps. Michelle, he said is “ unique, smart, strong, (Applause) and beautiful.” What they both share is that they were both born into fairly modest circumstances. Their success was not preordained. They were lucky enough to have good solid values from their parents who taught them that they were smart and there was nothing they couldn’t do but they had to work for it and not expect that the world would give them what they wanted served up on a silver platter. They have lived, like most of us, an ordinary life and know the everyday struggles of trying to pay the bills and looking for affordable childcare. 

And speaking about childcare, the former president said that we need to instill confidence in our girls. They should be assertive and have high expectations for themselves. He also thinks that we should also be teaching our boys a lot more.  We need to break the mindset that they are in charge simply because of their maleness. Applause.

And before the hour was up he said “ We need to be conscious of creating environments where everyone feels valued. . .with that things will greatly be improved. And even though we may think we’re all doing the right thing, there is always more that we can do.”

And suddenly, there he was, The King of Cool– I mean the former president– waving to the audience and gliding off the stage…