An Obama Occasion in Ottawa

Last week, former First Lady Michelle Obama, graced our nation’s capital with a stop during her current “conversational tour”. In partnership with the Ottawa Board of Trade, this event followed the book tour she was on earlier his year for her memoir, Becoming. Becoming has sold nearly twelve million copies world-wide. The success of her first book, book tour and continued partnership events only seem to be intensifying since leaving the Whitehouse in January 2017.

Over the past two years, Michelle Obama has continued to show the world that she was more than the traditional first lady. She offers advice on everything from issues women face in the workplace, to work-life balance, diversity and combatting racism – all in the pages of her book and to full stadiums across the continent. Last week’s event lived up to all of that and more – and captivated an audience of 12,000 Ottawans, who were eager to hear about her journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House.

Perhaps the most central theme in her fireside chat with moderator and professional speaker, Komal Minhas, was on expanding diversity in the spaces we find ourselves within, including the workplace. “You want to have people that don’t look like you and think like you in every room,” she explained while giving insight on how to advance Canadian [and American] workplaces. Although, Obama did not directly refer to politics – nor did she make many comments about Canadian or American politics, she did take a few jabs at the current American administration, where she implied Trump’s team does not prioritize diversity in thought, policy or practice.

On a journey through her own workplaces and career, Obama spoke to her experiences – beginning at graduation from Princeton and Harvard, to her role as a lawyer in a top Chicago firm, to her leadership roles in the non-profit sector, to her important role as a mother and finally to her role as America’s First Lady. She links all of those important roles together by saying, “it’s really all about how you show up every day,” outlining her constant internal work to be a positive role model for both herself and others.

The crowd was left with a lasting impression on the power of words, as Obama declared that “every word you utter can change lives.” She also left each person in Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre inspired to “show up every day” as their best selves.

Obama’s lessons should serve to remind those in the political capital to reflect on the current Canadian election climate – from the ambitious promises to the ugly aggressive undertones and insults between all parties. How can political parties in Canada learn from Michelle that the power of our words matter – and what would change if our party leaders showed up every day on the campaign trail as their best shelves?  For $20.89, maybe candidates running in our election should buy a copy of Becoming from Amazon to find out.

Kait LaForce is an Associate Consultant at Ensight