What Michelle and Laura share
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?
Everyday millions of Americans engage in leadership. They may not have formal positions of authority, and we may never see their names on the front page of a paper. Nevertheless, they are impacting the lives of individuals and transforming their communities through their service to something greater than their self interests. The care and tenacity with which they tackle difficult issues is admirable; without their actions, our nation would be at risk of losing its compassion and sense of responsibility for those most in need.
Leadership is not just a title, status, or power; although, clearly these are helpful. Spouses of the president have a unique opportunity to lead but what they choose to do with it is what determines whether they are leaders. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush appear to be able to see themselves apart from the public's projection of what they should be. They seem to who know who they are and what they are called to do. Both convey a solid inner core that grounds them. It is this comfort with themselves and the clarity of mission that makes them leaders in their own right.
My observation of anyone who can lead with or without authority is that they possess certain attributes. They are equals in their relationships. There is not a sense of being subservient even when others may regard them as such. Although self possessed, they are humble and tender, yet strong. They don't feel entitled; they appreciate the extraordinary privilege they have and their gratitude is expressed through giving to others. They are intellectually inquisitive. Their natural curiosity helps them to see things that others do not. They prepare for their responsibilities because they want to make a real difference. They like being competent, not because they desire praise, but because it can get things done. They are able to communicate in ways that capture the hope and imagination that may lie fallow in the hearts of those they seek to help.
There is something about the first ladies that draws others in and inspires them to follow and find their own purpose. Perhaps it's their authenticity or their ability to be fully present in the moment. It's likely that they are trustworthy and live the values they espouse. They refuse to be deified and can embrace failure as a way to learn and grow. They possess a joy, a gleefulness about their work and life, and manifest a genuine love of and respect for people in all of their discomforting diversity.
So, of course first ladies can, and do, lead not because of a marriage, but because they are wed to an idea, a vision, a hope, and a cause that will benefit many others. In this way, they are the same as millions of leaders hidden in plain sight.
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