In Conversation with Barack Obama

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Today I had the privilege of listening to President Barack Obama in Singapore.

He eloquently shared his wisdom on topics like global economy, political polarization, climate change, rise of social media etc. yet what got me spellbound were his incredible insights on leadership.

Obama said when you are in a leadership position, the first thing to do is to assemble your best possible talent – people with integrity, who will subscribe to your vision – and then make the best possible decisions based on the circumstances and the best available information by setting up a process to look at every problem using logic and data.

He said he believes in a constant renewal of leadership. In his point of view, most of the problems around the world are happening because of “old men” not getting out of the way – these are people who have their old mindsets, and like to quash the perspectives from younger ones.

His advice to the leaders in the room was to embrace diversity and put people at positions where they can shine, to not put ‘yes men’ around you, to not be threatened by great talent in the team or the hierarchy, and to understand and accept that you can’t master all tasks and be subject matter expert in everything. He said this is missing today in many countries leadership too.

One of the wrap-up messages stuck a great chord with me. He said “we all have flaws, our blind spots. We make mistakes. Laugh about it and then get back up. People who take themselves too seriously are brittle and can’t bounce back”.

If only we could all embrace such an open-minded leadership culture, our countries and our companies would flourish and the world will be a much better place to live in.

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A matter of R.E.S.P.E.C.T

A few weeks ago Singapore woke up to an interesting news online. A primary school kid was seen shouting vulgarities on Facebook. Now you may wonder what’s wrong with that, given that it’s getting pretty common these days. What’s unusual here is that the girl was actually scolding vulgarities at her teacher. That made me wonder… where is this new generation heading to?

Many years ago when we were in school, we were taught “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Daivam” (माता, पिता, गुरु, देवम्) which literally translates as “Mother Father Teacher God”. The meaning of this Sanskrit adage is the greatest truth, and is the order in which one should offer reverence.

Kabir, a mystic Hindi poet in 15th century India, who was probably inspired by this adage, wrote in one of his verses:
Guru Govind dou khade, kaake laagoon paye
Balihari guru aapki, Govind diyo milaye.

Translated:
I face both God and my Guru (Teacher). Whom should I bow to first?
I should first bow to my Guru, as he’s the one who showed me the path to God.

I guess I cannot expect the youngsters of today to uphold such high principles. But the least they could do is respect their parents and their teachers.