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Coro Fellows
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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

'The beauty of your dreams'

Q: With Laura Bush in the news with her new memoir and Michelle Obama pushing her plan to fight childhood obesity, what advice would you offer to those who find themselves in such ambiguously defined leadership roles? Can a First Lady be a leader in her own right?

The title "first lady" irks me. It's strange how the status of being married to someone is supposed to supercede the value of the individual. Titles alone do not breed true leaders. Many of the greatest first ladies were already amazing leaders before having that new title bestowed upon them. The power of the first lady is not in name, but in the spirit, conviction, and leadership of the individual.

Before Michelle Obama became first lady, she was the executive director of Chicago Public Allies. Hilary Rodham Clinton, who almost became president herself, began as a young leader in Wellesley College advocating bold changes on campus. Lady Bird Johnson was president of LBJ Holding Co. and turned it from a small investment of $41,000 to a $150 million-dollar corporation.

It is mind-boggling to consider that even an extraordinary leader such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who was pivotal in drafting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was merely immortalized with the nickname of "First Lady of the World." This is the tragedy of the office of first lady: her role is still symbolic rather than one infused with authority and accountability.

Despite this, numerous strong women have been able to develop the position from a mere association with the Presidency to something that is highly respected and honored in its own right. The freedom of having an undefined role brings with it an unlimited opportunity for the individual with the creativity and integrity to take advantage of the access, networks, and forum the role provides. Being a first lady means that the capacity by which the individual can take action has increased dramatically.

Thus the bigger question is not "Can first ladies lead?" The question is "How capable is the person who is the first lady to lead?" For the individual who finds themselves in this role, who already has vision and determination, the best advice comes from Eleanor Roosevel: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." --Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  May 13, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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