Becoming Michelle Obama: The Best Non-Leadership-Leadership Book I’ve Read

michelle obama first lady attends community meeting about schools

I just finished reading the autobiography of Michelle Obama, Becoming. I borrowed it from a friend when I was running low on books. “Have you read Michelle Obama’s book?” “No.” “It’s really good.” I initially shrugged at the suggestion. I’m not usually motivated to read new-release, hardback New York Times bestsellers or autobiographical memoirs of public figures. On the other hand, I’m nearly always pleasantly surprised when I take recommendations from other people. It’s refreshing, if not vital, to read books – or generally explore anything, whether by reading, traveling, or other medium – that you normally wouldn’t. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the subjects in the book and how she wrote and organized it. I not only got to know Michelle, learning about her values system, her upbringing, and how she achieves her goals, I also got to know the South Side of Chicago. The book corrected my idealistic assumption about her’s and Barack’s perfect marriage (they do fight!). I learned about some the inner workings of the White House, from the perspective of the unpaid, by the way, First Lady. And I got to learn all of this from a pragmatic woman, who it turns out, I admire for many things, including her no-nonsense attitude, her devotion to detail and thoroughness, and how fairly she treats everyone, including herself. 

Michelle Obama, Type-A-Go-Getter

Her writing style reflects her uncomplicated and optimistic personality. I envy how exceptionally well organized it is: point A always leading perfectly to point B, with point C there to wrap a bow around points A and B while quaintly introducing point D. Nothing is out of place. It’s clear and engaging, which I realize now, after getting to know Michelle through this book, couldn’t have been written any other way. 

Michelle is a “Type A” person through and through: scholar, rule follower, and Harvard-trained lawyer. Personally, and somewhat unfortunately, I relate to her tortured, cerebral, individualistic and introspective husband, Barack, more. Though, to my credit, I was a driven student, I’m ambitious, and I don’t even roll my eyes at accountants anymore (what a dull bunch they all must be! I used to think), realizing the gratification that comes with meticulously completing work and to do lists. I even took a job as a program manager recently, fully indulging this side of myself, obsessively coordinating details and tracking project completion, working towards fulfilling set short and long term objectives. 

Michelle dutifully kept to a linear life path – excel in school, attend the best university possible, make partner at the law firm, marry and have kids. It never really occured to her to ruminate about what “fulfilled her” until Barack came along and turned Michelle’s tidy world upside down. Thanks in part to Barack for inviting her to question her direction, she wouldn’t be employed for long as a corporate attorney in the entertainment industry before concluding her work wasn’t working for her. 

How Michelle Changed Careers

How she handled changing careers wholly inspires me. Keeping emoitions and self-doubt at bay during the process, she asked for introductions to people in fields tangentially related to her skillset. On a mission to uncover what they did and why, she learned a lot about her own aspriations.

This is so unlike me. Everything I do in this regard always feels so loaded, so analyzed to death I often paralyze myself with my thinking. Michelle is not particularly introspective, and it works to her advantage. She doesn’t seem to carry around this burden of self and without noisy inner monologues clouding her judgement, she gets a lot done for herself and for those around her. 

Michelle’s quest to find work that better suited her led to her working in several leadership positions at “do-gooder” public affairs jobs in Chicago. Eventually, kids and Barack’s rise in politics would pry her focus away from her career, but before becoming First Lady, Michelle worked in the Chicago Mayor’s Office, at Chicago City Hall, and became executive director of a non-profit whose mission it was to provide leadership opportunities to underprivileged and under-served Chicago youth.

She then worked in community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, and dedicated herself to building a bridge between the hallowed university, with its deep well of resources, and the city of Chicago, where many residents could benefit from what the well-resourced university had to offer.

Michelle, Master Team Builder

Michelle would be the first to admit that she didn’t accomplish much on her own in any of her work. As an extrovert, reaching out to her network for help came to her easily. She was masterful at assembling teams, from the team that supported her on several campaign trails, to her wardrobe, hair and makeup crew, to the teams that helped her formulate her intiatives in the White House: Let’s Move!, Joining Forces, Reach Higher and Let Girls Learn. She even assembled a team of people to help her write her book. 

There’s nothing wrong with getting the help you need to accomplish what you want in life. Whether it’s being resourced enough to hire a nanny, or getting extra tutoring from your teacher, getting help from others, hired or otherwise, and assembling teams to fulfill objectives isn’t indulgent, It’s a realistic, effective way of getting more from life. It takes a village, remember?

Becoming also reveals how Michelle prepared to launch her biggest intiatives in the White House… and she didn’t do it alone. She gives us detailed insight as to how she formulated her strategy for and executed on her Let’s Move! Initiative for reducing childhood obesity. Her idea for this came from receiving news that Malia, her oldest daughter, was at risk for type II diabetes. This compelled Michelle to team up with a Chicago chef, Sam Kass who enlightened Michelle on the nascent healthy food movement forming in the United States. Sam, at that time, could do a better job of feeding her family healthy meals than she could. 

“Something had to give. No one else could run my programs at the hospital, campaign as Barack Obama’s wife or fill in as Sasha and Malia’s mother at bedtime. But maybe Sam Kass could cook some dinners for us.”

– Michelle Obama, Becoming

Michelle, Visionary & Project Manager

Perhaps what made Let’s Move! successful was expecting it would fail. In light of this, Michelle waited until she was completely prepared to share her vision for Let’s Move. First, she planted the White House vegetable garden, which was a symbolic gesture hinting at things to come. Michelle then came up with a specific, measurable goal of cutting childhood obesity in half within a generation.

First Lady Michelle Obama joins FoodCorps leaders and local students for the spring planting in the White House Kitchen Garden, April 2, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Michelle secured support from key allies in the public and private sector. She also ran the whole plan past elected representatives to ensure there would be birpartisan support for the intiative. With all of her preparation, at least launching Let’s Move! would be successful. She and her team did extensive research, doing everything they could in advance to anticipate objections to the initiative.

“We conducted focus groups to test-market our branding for the project. PR professionals worked with us pro-bono to fine-tune the message .”

– Michelle Obama

Most organizations can’t afford to conduct focus groups. But all organizations can prepare to the best of their ability to release new products and services. It’s tedious, foundation-laying work like this that pays the most dividends in the long run. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the “quick-starts. These are the ones willing to get out of the planning stage, and amidst uncertainty or with incomplete information, be bold enough to light the fire and go

Looking For A Leadership Book? Look No Further…

Michelle’s top focus for her book, which is so Michelle of her, was to tell her story. And one of the main themes of her story, whether she intended it or not, is leadership. Aside from working in leadership positions, she’s also been a strong leader for herself and her family throughout her life. Cross-categorizing Becoming as a leadership book wouldn’t be a mistake. While Michelle seldom uses the word leadership throughout her book, she doesn’t need to. Her book demonstrates Michelle’s innate capacity for leadership.

I promise there’s still plenty to learn from Michelle Obama’s book that I completely left out. So order it here and read it yourself sometime. Or better yet, borrow a book from a friend… maybe even a book you wouldn’t normally ‘go for.’

What do you think? Have you read the autobiography of Michelle Obama? Have any feedback for me? Is there a typo? Broken link? Did I miss something? Please tell me in the comments below! I enjoy reading and responding!