3 Leadership Tips from Rosa and Oprah

While I was gathering relevant information for this program, I came across a short article by Life Coach Paul Davis.

In his article, Davis takes a look at the biographies of two African-American women he particularly admires: Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

At face value these women and their stories seem as different as night and day:

  • Rosa Parks’ simple act of civil disobedience in the early 60’s was the symbolic pebble that set the American Civil Rights Movement into motion.
  • Oprah Winfrey defied the expectations placed on her by an industry dominated by white males to establish her own successful mainstream media empire.

These two women – each in her own way – simply followed their passion; something that need not always be particularly big or spectacular. In Rosa Parks’ case it simply meant taking/keeping a seat on a bus because she was tired. In almost any other situation her action would have gone completely unnoticed and warranted no comment. Oprah defied her own early biography to not only establish herself in the career of her choice, but went on to expand  the role of the afternoon talk show host to a heretofore unheard of dimension.

In his article Davis lists 12 leadership secrets, but after a bit of thought and meditation I discovered that three resonated especially strongly with me  – because true leadership begins when we take control of our own lives:

Turn your “mess” into a message!

Sometimes we look at our lives and see all the things that have gone wrong in them due to our own bad decisions, lack of discipline and poor judgment. Those are also usually the aspects of our lives that we try to hide – from ourselves and from the outside world.  After sweeping our mess into a corner or under the carpet, we focus all our attention and our energies on the tidy facade we’ve build up around ourselves. That’s when our “mess” starts to ferment below the surface. Before we know it, it’s bubbling and broiling so violently that keeping up our neat facade is no longer an option.

Does this speak to you? If so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why are you so afraid to “own” your mess?
  • What is stopping you from focusing your energies on dealing with your mess – right now! today! – instead of pretending it doesn’t exist?
  • How could dealing with your mess – by first acknowledging it, then embracing it, and finally “cleaning it up” – liberate and empower you in the future, as well as enable you to share the power of that valuable lesson with others?

Your pain is the power of your purpose!

Sometimes things seem to come easily to some people: the right partner, the right job, the right opportunities in general. If that doesn’t describe your life’s journey, you may wonder what you’re doing wrong or simply believe you’re  “unlucky”. Have you ever considered the possibility that you’re not doing anything wrong? You may just need to look at your situation from a completely different perspective!

If this resonates with you, focus on what you consider your main purpose in life – your primary “reason for being” – then ask yourself these questions:

  • In what key area are you currently experiencing difficulties, setbacks or stagnation?
  • How exactly is this area interconnected with your primary purpose?
  • What would be the result of overcoming this situation? Would you be liberating yourself like the proverbial butterfly from its cocoon – or would you be struggling against the current that would otherwise push you towards your unique life purpose?

Your adversity is your testimony!

If the first tip allows us to focus on things that were caused by our own actions and attitudes, this one addresses the hand we were dealt in life, and the cards we subsequently plucked from the deck. We have no power over those cards, but all the power in the world over how we choose to play them. There have been plenty of people who’ve wasted their aces, while many others have gone on to win big holding only deuces.

Just look at Rosa and Oprah!

If you can follow my card-playing analogy and it struck a chord with you, ask yourself these questions:

  • What things that make you “uniquely you” fall outside the societal cookie-cutter norm?
  • What are three specific instances that these characteristics have caused you problems? How did you solve or overcome those problems?
  • Looking back at those solutions, what did you learn about yourself that gave you a strong sense of personal empowerment or liberation – and how has that feeling helped you deal more effectively with new problems that may have arisen?



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