Barack Obama’s farewell speech: this is how a leader signs off

So, what is it that made the 44th President of the United States of America a charismatic, unparalleled leader? The answer can be found in his final address
President Barack Obama arrives on stage to deliver his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago.(NYT)
President Barack Obama arrives on stage to deliver his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago.(NYT)
Updated on Jan 15, 2017 05:13 PM IST
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ByRuchira Karnik

For the United States of America, the last couple of months have been no less than reality TV drama. You saw two presidential candidates fighting for votes and eventually locking horns in a series of high voltage debates on national TV with a million pair of eyes glued on them. Eventually on result day, Donald Trump trumped and stumped everyone and took over the coveted seat in the White House. Amidst the tornado of events, however, no one forgot Barack Obama.

So, what is it that made the 44th President of the United States of America a charismatic, unparalleled leader? Well, every answer can be found in his final address which is a lesson for all leaders on not just how to lead well, but to also do justice to the responsibilities given to you.

Do your job

Being in a leadership position isn’t as easy as it seems to onlookers. It requires a huge amount of conviction in the goals you’ve set for the greater good. Here’s what Obama says:

“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons programme without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-11 — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.”

A leader must continue to inspire despite challenges and roadblocks. To achieve what you set out for may seem impossible, but continuously and actively working towards it will not stop you from reaching your aim. During his tenure, Obama managed to dream the impossible, but did he not eventually succeed? That’s the point he proves.

Strike the right chord

The remarkable eight years that he reigned supreme over Americans and the entire world, Obama was always looked up to just like he still is. After the election results were declared, the one thing everyone was looking forward to was Obama’s speech before he finally and formally puts an end to his era. If not that then whom do you call a true leader? As any leader would or should, he chose his words wisely and kept everyone going. Towards the end of the speech he says, “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.” There’s a huge round of unending applause by the audience. Deservingly so. Only a true leader can garner such massive love and support.

Be grateful

For someone who is in a position of authority, arrogance can come easy and integrity can be easily compromised, but Obama never let either usurp his mind. A leader’s mettle is also seen in his modesty. As a mark of his humility, he acknowledges his team who had his back the last 8 years, giving their best under his leadership. The POTUS says, “To my remarkable staff, for eight years, and for some of you a whole lot more, I have drawn from your energy… Even when times got tough and frustrating… You guarded against cynicism.”

A good leader will always appreciate and never forget his humble roots too because everyone starts somewhere and your words could just wake someone up and make them find a way to realise their own dream too. Obama reminisces:

“So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, and I was still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.”

Don’t forget humour

Inject humour to lighten things up. Work shouldn’t forbid you or your people from forgetting that there’s more to life. When Obama says, “You can tell that I’m a lame duck, because nobody is following instructions”, the audience laughs unanimously! The man has a humorous side to him, but that doesn’t make him less serious about the work he does or has done over the last 8 years of his presidential rule. You too have got to remember that you may be working on cracking the toughest deal or in the middle of some of the worst corporate muck, but stay in touch with the lighter side in you. When used at the right times, humour can help you and you team sail through the toughest of days with the minimal amount of stress.

Finally, as the man himself says, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

The author is co-founder, Work Better Training

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022