Today I’m contemplating the very sad passing of the author, poet, activist, and wonderful human being that is Maya Angelou. I heard of her passing yesterday, and was surprised at how the news had an immediate effect on me, feeling both sadness, and deep gratefulness for her life. My reaction was surprising because I have never had the privilege of meeting her, have only read excerpts of her various writings, and seen the odd interview of her on television. Not even the passing of Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela had the same effect on me.
But today as I contemplated on this further, I realised the reason of her profound effect on me was her very human beingness. She never hid from her past, never pretended it didn’t exist, or minimised it in any way. She also never “glorified” it in way, holding it up as an excuse for behaving in a certain way or not attending to important life matters. What she did was embody who she was, she learned from her traumas, she used it to inform her character, and through her strong spiritual beliefs, transcended the bounded properties that historical traumas can sometimes impose upon us. She used her suffering to find deep compassion in herself and developed the ability to have great compassion for others. She used her considerable gifts to uplift others through her presence, words and writings. Most of all, she demonstrated how one imperfect life can have a monumental effect on thousands (perhaps millions) of other lives.
What does all of this have to do with leadership? Well, as an advocate of spiritual leadership, and the notion that we are all leaders of our own lives, for me she absolutely embodies the qualities of meaningful leadership. Leadership is meaningless if we are unable to take new actions, or motivate others to follow us. We know that positional leadership is not enough for leadership success. Those that we lead need to be willing to be lead by us, and need to feel empowered and motivated to bring out their best for the sake of the teams and populations they are serving. If we are looking for the qualities of this kind of leadership, we really are privileged for the example of Maya Angelou. Her great humanity, her vulnerability, her transcendence beyond her history, and her deep connection with the creative force of spirituality embody the qualities of Spiritual Leadership. Maya Angelou – thank you.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou)