Barack Obama on the mistakes he sees leaders make

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during the funeral of late Representative and Civil Rights leader John Lewis(D-GA) at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on July 30, 2020.
Alyssa Pointer | AFP | Getty Images

Former president Barack Obama has rubbed elbows with some of the most powerful people in the world. And he has seen the good — and the bad — when it comes to leadership.

Obama told NBA star Stephen Curry during an Instagram Live on Wednesday that one of the biggest mistakes he sees leaders make is that they "think being a leader is 'How do I dominate and stay on top of other folks?'"

"If you have that kind of approach, your organization or whatever it is, is not going to be as good as it should be," Obama said.

Having a mindset to dominate will prevent any leader from creating tight bonds with employees and colleagues, which is needed when things go wrong, according to Obama.

Instead, the key to leadership, he said, is figuring out to how to empower the people around you and to help them succeed. Their success is good for you, too.

"And by the way, they'll feel good about your leadership, because they're seeing that you're invested in their success," Obama told Curry.

Another mistake Obama said a lot of people make is that they think good leaders are born that way. But in reality, "leadership is, like anything else, it's a skill. And there are a bunch of different ways to do it," he said.

Obama himself wasn't always "perfect" at being a leader, he said. But over the years, he learned that the No. 1 best thing you can do as a leader is to "set a tone in terms of culture as a team."

"Whether the team is a basketball team or a business or an administration. What are the values in which you are organizing yourselves?....Being clear about what your values are as an organization, that's part of leadership," he said.

Obama said the reason he wrote his new memoir, "A Promised Land," was to encourage more people to take on leadership roles, especially in government.

"Put yourself out there, get in the arena, take your shot. It's not gonna be perfect, you won't get everything out of it that you want but you will have more power than you understand if you just let it show and take some risks."

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