The keynote kicked off after Benioff introduced former First Lady, Michelle Obama, to a 3 minute standing ovation, with a video reel highlighting Michelle’s work with children, and showcasing some of her biggest advocates – kids. They look to her as a “changemaker”, someone that believes in them and helps them achieve their biggest dreams. Even a clip of Hillary Clinton is featured in the video thanking Obama for her work with children. It’s clear that many of the fundamental values, philanthropic mission and liberal beliefs are shared by both of the inspirational leaders on-stage.
1. The Kids are the Real #1
The video led fluently into her first big message — Focus on the children, they are the next generation. It’s our responsibility to ensure every child has a solid foundation, that we make them thinkers, and learners. It’s not enough to make sure you only look after your own either. It’s one thing to be putting your own children in the best schools, with the best resources, with the best education, but it’s also your responsibility to make sure this is possible for every child.
This message of prioritizing education certainly resonates with Benioff’s message. At Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, which Benioff “adopted” to contribute not just his own wealth but also his own and his company’s professional expertise. He implored the audience to sponsor a public school themselves:
“I encourage every C.E.O. in this room to adopt a public school,” Mr. Benioff said last fall to an audience at a tech industry conference. “It doesn’t take much to walk down there, meet the principal and ask one question: ‘How can I help improve this school?’” via NY Times.
Blaze the path for others, too.
2. It Takes Focus
Benioff asked Michelle, how did she choose children as her focus? Her response was something that can be applied in all areas of life. Obama replied, “You can be the “master of all” and get nothing done. I wanted to go deep and move the needle on ONE thing.”
Our time is limited, and you can’t fix everything, but if we focus on making and educating the leaders of tomorrow, they will deal with the issues that we don’t get to.
3. Prioritize Yourself
Michelle talked about growing up in a household watching women doing everything for everyone else, but not putting time into themselves. If we’re going to be role models for the next generation, we need to lead by example, and take care of our physical, mental & emotional health. If you’re asking children to eat healthy, you have to make time to show kids what is means to live a healthy life. She touched on mental health, too, recognizing that we often hesitate to ask for help, and that we need to learn to get help when we need it. Workplaces too need to play their part in nurturing healthy families by creating work structures that support them.
4. “A group of men alone at the table are not gonna get much done… no offense.”
Benioff: “Where does your passion for women come from?”
Michelle: “Because I’m a woman”
Michelle re-emphasized the common theme of helping women “getting a seat at the table”, but talked about the importance of creating this environment around the dinner table, too. She challenged everyone in the room to put women in a position to practice their voice from a young age. She pleaded with the dads in the room not to just treat their young daughters as precious little things, but to help them find their voice by really listening to their ideas, and opinions. Make their voice matter around the table while they’re young, so they are instilled with the confidence to own their seat at the table later.
5. Reach Back
“It’s not enough to walk through the door of success if you’re not reaching back and pulling other people through the door with you,” said Michelle Obama. In our world, when we see mediocrity, inequality and injustice, or people hoarding the seats and not sharing the wealth, it’s our job to speak up and drive change. And when we do get a seat at the table, reach back to help blaze a trail for others too.