Barack Obama, Another Positive Role Model

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Barack Obama, Another Positive Role Model on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

Yesterday, for the first time since he left office in January, President Barack Obama spoke in public. Given the firestorm of criticism from his successor in the interval—about wiretapping, health care, immigration, climate change, and more—you might have anticipated some rejoinders. But it was not to be. Mr. Obama spoke only briefly and shared a panel at the University of Chicago with a group six successful young people to discuss civic engagement. Not once did he mention his successor’s name. In doing so, he was a role model of the words coined by his wife, Michelle Obama, during a speech she gave last summer, “When they go low, we go high.”

He was also a role model of an essential skill for all communications: being positive. In a previous Forbes post, I wrote about another role model, retired U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven. In all cases, every communicator and every presenter must get beyond criticism and step up to positive ideas and action.

Mr. Obama encouraged the young people to take such assertive action. “The single most important thing I can do,” he said, is to “help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”

It’s also worth reiterating one of the other cases from the McRaven post: In business communications—and that includes marketing and advertising content as well as presentations— one of the most frequently used phrases is, “What we’re not is…” Instead, say, “We are…”

The same advice applies to everyday life. Recently I visited one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants and chatted with the owner. I told him how much I enjoyed his food, service, and décor, and particularly, their jazz combo. The owner lamented that the music is a blessing, but can also be a curse: sometimes, some of his patrons get up and start dancing. He said that he has to tell these customers not to dance. I recommended that, instead of stating his request negatively, he should say, “Our music is just for listening.”

His broke into a smile and said, “Great idea!”

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Barack Obama, Another Positive Role Model on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

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