Whenever someone meets me, two things become clear rather quickly: I'm from New York, and President Barack Obama is my hero. I picked up his memoir, Dreams From My Father as an NYU undergrad in 2004, before his name surfaced in his first primary. It was a time when I'd read any book on mixed identity I could get my hands on, as I tried to figure out my own. As his political scope evolved and he became not only leader of the free world, but a living symbol of hope for so many across the world, he became my hero. The way my parents herald icons like Muhammad Ali and Sidney Poitier, and papi's neighborhood buddy who made it out of the South Bronx and into the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, POTUS became my north star.
When I discovered that we share a birthday, August 4, Obama took on an even bigger significance. It was my hope that the dreamer, the optimist, and the mixed kid with a funny name that I am, could really leave an impact on the world, to make it better. As I've watched his characteristics of leadership, charisma and intelligence under impossible pressure, I've developed in myself a quiet confidence that's shaped my own evolution into a leader.
Here are four lessons our birthday POTUS can make you a leader the world needs, long after his presidency.
Hope is a powerful change agent.
In his first election in 2008, Obama's main pillar was the idea of hope. But somewhere between breaking graham crackers in nursery school, and getting our hearts broken by a first love, the idea of hopes and dreams seems like child's play. We're taught to be realistic, to find a career that pays the bill even if it doesn't necessarily feed your passion. Birthday twin's hope and idealism validated my own, but more importantly, it helped me to foster the same ideals in my team. It creates a feeling that anything is possible, and I love to see that light flourish in those I lead.
As a biracial child growing up, I never felt like everyone else. And let's face it, when you're young, you want to blend in with the rest of the pack. I didn't have the skin color of my parents, I had a head full of bouncy curls that I desperately wanted to straighten. I remember absolutely hating my lips, because they were two-toned. I was never Black enough, or Latina enough, and as a prep school honors geek, I wasn't very cool. In Obama, who was raised by an awesome single mother who doesn't look like him, with a super ethnic name, who was absolutely brilliant, cool but totally nerdy, I finally saw someone just like me. I had a pack. As a leader, I also celebrate what makes the members of my team different. Those are the qualities to nurture. Who wants to be ordinary.
Introverts are incredible leaders.
Leos are not necessarily known for being wallflowers, and I'm often told that my reserved personality would hold me back from being an effective leader. I used to be very self conscious about that, but I've learned over the years that it's just not true. Obama doesn't anger easily, even when the origin of his birth certificate becomes a crazy demand by one of this year's quite outspoken Republican presidential candidate. He remains cool under fire, and commands the ship with a steady hand. Introverts observe, analyze and assess before making a decision, and that establishes trust that's priceless.
Remember the leaders before you.
If you ever listen closely to the president's speeches, he often refers to iconic leaders who inspire him. Whether it's FDR's methods of dealing with the Great Depression, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic March on Washington during the Civil Rights movement, he looks back to plan the course ahead. And his leaders are not always world renowned. He often speaks of his grandparents who helped raise him, and the way his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama keeps him focused and gives him solace. Leadership may feel daunting at times, but with amazing pioneers from Dolores Huerta to a simple phone call from your mami who knows you best, you never have to figure it out all on your own.
I get it from Obama. Happy Birthday, hero.