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Leadership Lessons from Maya Angelou

June 6, 2014
Maya Angelou

As we mourn the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou, we also celebrate her life, her contributions, and the wisdom she shared with the world. She was a poet, author, teacher, historian, activist, leader, and mentor who taught us what it means to live and lead with your heart in every facet of life.

While I never met her personally, I have been in her presence and experienced the light and love she gave to the world firsthand. I’m also lucky enough to know several diversity officers who knew and respected her deeply.

What was so moving to me about Maya Angelou, and I believe to most people, was her authenticity. And it was her authenticity, along with the wisdom she shared, that made her such an endearing, powerful woman leader. She was often the voice of reason in a world that’s sometimes full of unreasonableness. As leaders, we can all learn from someone who stood up for what she believed in with grace, dignity, and courage.

Why is Maya Angelo famous?

Perhaps the best way to celebrate her life is to honor the legacy of ideas she left. Nothing has guided my philosophy of leadership more than the first quote listed. But there are lessons and inspiration in all of these quotes and many others:

“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.”

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”

Leaders will always be responsible for hard numbers such as sales, profits, and market share. Maya Angelou reminds us that leading with authenticity, courage, and heart makes it all worthwhile. She will be missed.

We all have a favorite Maya Angelou quote. What’s yours?

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