Ms. McDonald Goes to the White House, pt. 3

The group dispersed to the Hall just as President Barack Obama literally dashed across to the Red Room, calling out a welcome to the crowd.  An amazingly ordered receiving line formed quickly, we were given photo cards with our names for the “candid shots” to come, and we progressed toward the Blue Room where the familiar voice of the President could be heard.  I tried to think of words that would express my appreciation for the honor of the meeting with a respectful tone.  I grasped tightly to my words as we rounded the corner and were standing in front of the President of the United States.

Thankfully, President Obama has done this likely a million times and helped to seed the 30-second conversation.  I was able to get out my, “Thank for this opportunity.  It is an honor to meet you Mr. President,” before I lost the ability to do anything but smile and shake his hand vigorously.  He asked how we were enjoying the visit and Michael commented that we were honored to have the opportunity to see the White House.  The President replied that he was glad and that there were others around who could share its history, as he himself admitted to not being the best tour guide.  Just then, the Secret Service began ushering us away as we continued to thank the President profusely.  I remembered that Michael’s phrase he wanted to express was, “Thank you for your service to the country,” and that I hadn’t heard him say it aloud.  So, I spun around and said the words as quickly as I could before we ushered out completely (and feeling much like Ralphie in The Christmas Story when he’s wedged on the slide telling the mall Santa that he wants the Red Rider BB gun).  We walked lackadaisically through the Red Room crowd, out into the Cross Hall, and waved as the President walked back toward the private stair.  About 15 minutes later, we were slowly corralled down the stairs, out the East Wing portico, and through the Pennsylvania Avenue gate.

Bonnie's Cell Phone Picture of President Obama

I took away a very personal sense of leadership from this experience.  Despite the myriad of critical issues being handled by the President and his staff, they demonstrated to me that as leaders, they were able to devote precious time to recognize the value of these average citizens working to solve their community’s challenges.  An authentic leader devotes time to celebrate achievements, recognize the contributions of his or her colleagues, and inspire others with a genuine, generous, and collaborative vision.  Again, I would like to thank President Barack Obama and the staff of the White House Office of Public Engagement for their hospitality, Robin Sternberg with Minnesota DEED for this unique and inspiring experience, the many leaders with whom I have the pleasure to work with on the Building Jobs Coalition, my supportive and collegial staff and Board of Directors, and my cohorts in the Wilder Foundation’s James P. Shannon Leadership Institute for helping me to define authentic leadership.

Most of all, to Michael, for his own supportive leadership and taking every step along with me.

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