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A Conversation with President Barack Obama

Portrait of Mette and Stephen Bruyant-Langer with President Barack Obama

Do you want to know, how it is to live in the White House? (At the end of this article, you’ll find some fun facts and private comments).

Last summer, I was asked to help prepare interview questions for a conversation with President Barack Obama. We grouped the questions around three themes:

  1. The President’s view on Europe and the World
  2. The Next Generation Leader
  3. The White House

Be kind and be useful!

President Obama – according to my notes – commented in the following way:

  1. The President’s view on Europe and the World
    “If you look at modern history, it is a victory for freedom. The challenge for Europe is not to take this evolution for granted. A certain arrogance crept in. We became complacent and took these values for granted. Now we need a counterreaction. How do we restore the belief, that democracy works? And how do we fight the fear of change? By getting back to a fact-based and objective reality. Democracy can’t function without agreement on facts. It is not enough to only admit facts that reinforce our opinions. The most important position in a democracy is the position of the citizen.”
  2. The Next Generation Leader
    “Leadership can be taught. At the Obama Foundation, we teach young leaders to focus on, what they want to do, not what they want to be. We teach them to think big and be kind and useful. That’s where I can have the most impact. As a senior leader, you need to bring young people up behind you. You need to pass the baton to the young, to make room for new trees in the forest.”
  3. The White House
    “As President, there are no perfect solutions. In the White House, we worked with probabilities. There is no roadmap for governing a large country. As president, you don’t have absolute power. Democracy functions differently than dictatorships or monarchies. It’s not about the charismatic leader – the one that saves you. I am proud of setting a high ethical standard. You do have to set a culture of integrity and respect. It’s necessary to have a good process and follow your moral compass. In the end, we have the responsibility to solve our own problems.”

Fun Facts and Private Comments

Now, what about the fun facts? Well, President Obama mentioned three:

  1. ”I always ate at 6.30 pm together with the family. That is what life is all about. Getting a reality check.”
  2. “You pay for your own food in the White House.”
  3. “What I miss most is being anonymous.”

And on the private side: “I tell my daughters – to the extent they listen to me – be kind and be useful. If you are good to other people and you insist on being of use … on having a purpose. Then that covers most things.”

President Obama still exudes optimism. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need the attitude behind “Yes We Can”!🍀

By Stephen Bruyant-Langer

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