On the evening of Tuesday 28 March thousands of people gathered to hear one man speak. No agenda was set, no single topic promoted – the draw card was the sheer leadership, grace and statesmanship of the former President of the United States, Barack Obama.
I have always been fascinated by American politics. When I say always, I really mean from the first time I experienced Martin Sheen, as President Bartlet in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. As far as I was concerned, no real human could compete with the fictional President Bartlet. This was until Barack Obama reared his head and stunned the world with his compassion, eloquence and intelligence.
So, when the opportunity came to see President Obama in real life, there was no question, I was attending.
From the beginning it was an unusual experience as an Australian. Security surrounded the ICC in Darling Harbour and infiltrated the Italian restaurant next door. Our umbrellas were forced into a coat check. We are used to seeing our politicians out and about on their lonesome, even in their budgie smugglers on beaches, not with the mountains of security that was present that Tuesday night.
Councillor Yvonne Weldon’s welcome to country beautifully set the tone for the evening. It was thoughtful, honest and the best reflection of why it is so important to understand the lands on which we meet and the importance of acknowledgement.
With the Hon. Julie Bishop asking the questions, the evening ranged from discussing world politics – to the new age of technology and the risk it brings of misinformation. Throughout every answer, President Obama did not miss a beat.
In the classic tone and pace that is signature of President Obama, no “um” was muttered, no lost or trailed off sentence was heard - every word was chosen, deliberate and purposeful. If you wanted a lesson in engaging thousands of people from the comfort of a bright orange chair and a handheld microphone (yes, very high tech), President Obama’s display was a masterclass of effective communication.
While the discussion of world politics was highly engaging and interesting, for me what stood out was President Obama’s sheer understanding of purpose.
When asked what advice he would give to the younger generation, he said a phrase that truly resonated with me - focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. If you put too much focus on what you want to be, you may reach your destination, but will have no real understanding of your why.
So often, and mostly when we are young, we are asked what we want to be. Some of my answers were a lawyer, a hairdresser, a unicorn, Hermione Granger. The focus of the question is the end goal. This breeds the narrative of everything being about the ultimate position. Instead of living in the present and having impact on the now, we are being asked to focus on the outcome; the title.
This resonated with me as I have recently changed careers. I knew I was missing a purpose, an understanding of my why. When leaving school, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. As I focused all of my energy and efforts on that goal, when I finally got to my destination, I lost the understanding of my why in the process. This realisation led me to some serious soul searching and finally to SenateSHJ, a company grounded and energised by their why and the why of their clients. While there is always a place in understanding where you want to be – we should always be asking – what do you want to do and why?
I believe this is also an important consideration in the corporate context. Why does a company want to undertake activity? How does it align to their purpose? A clear answer to these questions enables a clear and compelling story to be told which employees and other stakeholders will gravitate towards and meaningful outcomes are achieved.
So, while I was being soaked in the rain waiting for my umbrella, I reflected on the night that was, the man that was President Obama, and why he inspires me to pursue work that aligns with my purpose.