1. She lives in integrity.
A person who lives in integrity consistently shapes her beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions from her core values. Michelle Obama is the quintessential integrity-driven leader. She has been able to be Mother-in-Chief while still championing the causes she cares about most- education, health and wellness, military families, and education, among others.
2. She has exploded the definition of sexy.
Michelle Obama dances effortlessly between J. Crew, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, and Jason Wu. Her arms have earned her respect throughout the world. But the First Lady hasn’t just buffed up her physique. She’s also flexed many a cognitive muscle. She graduated cum laude from Princeton and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. But her ultimate sex appeal has come from fusing her commitment to social justice with the ability to command a six-figure salary. Sexy is finding your calling, letting it catalyze a career, and bringing home the bread. And knowing that while you don’t need to apologize for staying out of the kitchen if you can best provide value elsewhere, you can still whip up a mean apple cobbler and shrimp linguine if/when you get the urge.
3. She Has Re-envisioned Work-Life Balance
Michelle Obama understands that while a woman can “have it all,” she can’t have it all at the same time. When asked in Time’s June 1st “The Meaning of Michelle” why she would sacrifice her career for her husband, the First Lady pushed back by saying, “I’m 45 years old. When this is over and my kids are grown… I’ll still be in the prime of my professional life, as far as I see it… That’s a whole lot of good years of doing a whole bunch of things…that fit into my particular line of work.” She understands that her current situation is a rarity, a blessing, and possible only because of the team she has assembled from her mother to her chief of staff. Michelle Obama has sought to extend some of the work-life balance she has cultivated for herself to working parents by advocating for their flextime, sick leave, and on-site child care.
4. She Understands that Real Women Live in the Underutilized Space Between Castrating Bitch and Kewpie Doll
Michelle Obama can get angry. Racism, abuses of power, and childhood poverty are just a smattering of the injustices that get her goat. Michelle Obama can also come across as a love-struck schoolgirl when canoodling with the President. Or one of the gals when lunching and laughing with her staff. But more often than not, she comes across as living somewhere between the poles of the good girl/bad girl dichotomy that so many public women get restricted and defined by. Her authenticity to show up to each day exactly as she feels shows young women that it is not only okay but also vital to surrender to the range of emotions that comprise the human experience. And to resist playing into another’s first impression or stereotype. Find Brand You and live her at 150%.
5. She Gets That Real Privilege Begins with Education
While Michelle Obama often touts herself as the product of the Chicago Public Schools, she is aware that the opportunity for a similar education is not available to many lower income and working class families of color today. During her February 2, 2009 address to the Department of Education staff she said, “I am committed, as well as my husband, to ensuring that more kids like us and kids around this country, regardless of their race, their income, their status, the property values in their neighborhoods, get access to an outstanding education.” The First Lady understands that it’s millennials, who will be the largest generation at work by 2012, who “Will close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” And she is determined to ensure that whether young people come into the world with a pewter or platinum spoon that they have an opportunity to get the education necessary to have a voice in this process.
6. She Listens as Effectively as She Speaks
The First Lady is incomparable at showing up to any audience and sharing her message in whatever way she needs to so that her audience can really listen and take action afterwards. However, she also is a masterful listener. I love to watch her nonverbal cues when others are speaking. She absorbs what they are saying with her whole body. I always get the sense that she not only hears the language that is being spoken but also what the person is not saying but nevertheless is thinking and feeling. This is one of the most important ingredients to effective leadership, and Michelle Obama models beautifully how to do it.