Obama Foundation’s chief engagement officer discusses empowering others

Obama Foundation's chief engagement officer discusses empowering others
Photo provided by Mike Strautmanis

As chief engagement officer, Mike Strautmanis oversees community affairs and strategic partnerships for the Obama Foundation. He served in the Obama White House for four years as chief of staff to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Rolling out had the opportunity to speak with Strautmanis.

Name two iconic humans who have inspired you or currently inspire you. Why?

I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if it wasn’t for Barack and Michelle Obama. When I met the Obamas shortly after getting out of law school, they awakened an idealism in me that I now bring to everything I do. Thanks to their mentorship, friendship, and trust, I get to be a part of giving people the opportunity to participate in what I think is one of the most important projects of my lifetime: the Obama Presidential Center. And the OPC itself will be an inspiration, a place where young kids can imagine what the world would be like if they were president, steps away from where our nation’s first African American president and first lady got their start.

How do you build your network for success?

Surround yourself with people who are not only inspiring others but who are empowering others to make an impact and giving them the tools they need to be effective. That’s how we create positive change. The people you meet who embody those qualities will be in your network, building you up and pushing you to strive for something greater, for the rest of your life.

What piece of advice would you give your teenage self?

Don’t rush through your youth. Your teenage years are a time for exploration and growth that won’t come around again. Take full advantage of them and seek out opportunities for learning and adventure that will expose you to new people, places, and ideas. Don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes along the way; that’s how you’ll grow.

What advice would you give to young men about dealing with their emotions?

Use your emotions as a force for good. The overwhelming majority of young people I meet are not apathetic – they’re passionate. Through my work at the Obama Foundation, I’ve met young leaders from across the country and around the world who are eager to create change and strengthen democracy. The challenges of our time need passion, so invest your emotions into projects that have the potential to make the world a better place.

How do you deal with obstacles and setbacks?

Focus on the bigger picture. We deal with setbacks all the time – both in our personal lives and at work. But those setbacks are often just temporary obstacles. If we think about the long-term vision of a project, while still acknowledging any hiccups that occurred and having a conversation about how they can be avoided down the road, we’re almost always able to come up with a solution.

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