Sometimes, okay often times, reading the morning paper bums me out. But I do it, not just out of habit or to stay informed, but because every now and then, something I read stops me in my tracks as it did this past weekend. And it has everything to do with you, me and leadership.
It was a chilly Saturday morning. It had taken 16 silent mutterings of “just one more minute,” along with my dog Gracie’s gentle tug at my sheets, to roll out of bed before I began reading the paper.
The front page story in the Inquirer was about this year’s winners of the Nobel Peace Prize – Malala Yousafzai, the inspiring 17-year-old Muslim girl from Pakistan, and the passionate Kailash Satyarthi, a 60-year-old Hindu man from India – who were sharing the prize for their tireless efforts championing children’s rights.
The sentence that left me gobsmacked read, “‘This is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard,’ said Malala, who chose to finish her school day in the central English city of Birmingham before addressing the media.”
It wasn’t the first part of the sentence that roused me, it was the second part. That after hearing she had been honored with one of the most, if not the most, prestigious awards in the galaxy for her work and her courage, instead of doing what nearly any other man/woman/child would do in such a circumstance – okay, what I would most likely do in such an unlikely circumstance (hoot and holler like a fool and dance out of the school in egoistic ecstasy eager to bask in my moment of glory) – Malala chose to finish her school day, studying chemistry no less, before addressing the media.
If anyone had any doubt about her fitness for this award, read that sentence over and over again until it sinks in.
Malala’s actions are what authentic leadership looks like, and it calls forth three important points:
- It’s not what we say that most matters, it’s what we do that counts. It is the beautiful and often times rare alignment of our words, our purpose and our deeds.
- Leadership development and character development are two sides of the same coin. We cannot become effective leaders without cultivating our moral fiber.
- Character is how we live our stated values, such as staying in chemistry class and honoring our mission through our actions, or having the courage and fortitude and humility to lose our sense of self to our work. And the people who embody these traits, seemingly effortlessly, are indeed worthy of our attention and our following.
On a smaller scale, I had my moment in the sun last week when celebrating the launch of my book. It was a humbling and deeply gratifying experience and one that I will cherish. But in the days since, what has come to mind is the Buddhist quote, “After enlightenment, the laundry,” meaning after all the hootin’ and hollerin’, we must get back to our knitting – our purpose. We must, as Malala so powerfully demonstrated and as Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, challenges us to do, “Mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” And for me that means continuing my work of inspiring women (and men) like you to be leaders in your own life. It means blogging, speaking, coaching and finding ways to serve you more and better. I’m no Malala, but I am Cheryl and you are you. And if you, me, and girls all over the world are able to claim our authentic voices in the way that Malala inspires, then the world will indeed be a richer, more, noble place.
So, dear reader, tell me:
- How do you define your work in the world right now?
- What part of the world is in your reach to mend?
- How can you more fully align your words with your actions?