Institutional

What President Obama Taught us About Management

Geraldo Thomaz
Geraldo Thomaz December 11, 2019
What President Obama Taught us About Management

One of the most memorable experiences of my life took place on May 30th, 2019. On the VTEX DAY main stage, I interviewed one of the most influential men on the planet, former US President Barack Obama. He shed light on powerful lessons that rang true throughout my career, from engineer to co-CEO of VTEX commerce platform.

As opposed to my obvious pre-interview jitters, President Obama emanated a graceful calmness while listening and answering every question. The pindrop silence of the fifteen thousand-strong audience made one of the biggest Digital Commerce events in the world seem like a small book club. The serenity of his tone, combined with his perfectly chosen words, gave the audience a glimpse of his management style.

It took some time to digest everything that happened that morning, but I believe that the time has come to share some of my takeaways from that conversation. I’ve learned a lot as the leader of a company that has been consistently growing by 44% year-on-year in the last 6 years; a company thriving as Major Player in today’s Digital Commerce landscape.

01. You’re only as good as your team.

President Obama reminded us that no one can achieve greatness alone. We must have faith in and lean on people for everything in life. In business, it could not be any different. Once your company enters the growth spiral, it’s impossible to be responsible for everything. Invest in the quality of your hiring process. Sure, curriculum is essential, but the cultural fit is just as important, especially during challenging moments. Be surrounded by experts who you can trust and rely on.

To have experts around you may seem costly at first, but this is the sort of investment that boosts income and healthy growth, while scaling your influence across the company.

It’s crucial for the leader to know all the steps of the process, but there’s no need to be a specialist in everything. The decision-making process must be based on a collective answer built together with this network of experts, which takes us to the second lesson.

02. Having people smarter than you on the team is crucial to your leadership.

President Obama calmly stated that he often found himself in moments where he didn’t feel the wisest, smartest, or the most intelligent person at the table. During those times, he barely knew what questions to ask, much less how to come up with an answer. This situation seems terrifying to many leaders, but he pointed this out as something totally healthy. We shouldn’t be afraid to have people around that are more knowledgeable than ourselves. The convergence of these perspectives will guide us onto a path that has a higher chance of being better.

Photo: © by Everton Rosa

03. There are no right answers, but more likely ones.

At this point of the conversation, President Obama made it clear that being a good leader doesn’t mean having the answers to everything, but to be open-minded and aware of other points of view. He said that there’s not often a single right answer, and pointed out that a good leader does not seek to give a verdict but to resort to probability. A leader shouldn’t make decisions based on perceptions or emotions, but by analyzing data and facts, and consulting experts.

“A Good leader does not seek to give a verdict but to resort to probability. “

President Obama reinforced the idea that we will never be completely sure if the current answer to the problem will work, so we should always be aware and up-to-date with what happens in our businesses, markets, and countries. Again, we must draw on the vision from the experts around us to take action based on multiple points of view.

It doesn’t matter if you are conducting a company towards exponential growth or if you are leading a nation. There is no shortage of tough challenges and difficult decisions in a leader’s routine. If I am any indication of this, the perspectives President Obama shared with all the people sitting in front of him on that May 30th of 2019 will change the way we conceive leadership, attract talent, and manage teams.

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