10 Leadership Nuggets from Maya Angelou

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. *

Maya Angelou has passed and I’m left with a feeling of deep sadness but also with gratitude. Reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a young person had a profound impact on me, as she wrote about things I’d never experienced and yet I was the same age as those in the book. Like all of her work, it challenged me, expanded my mind and was relatable and yet unknowable.

To see her speak was to see a woman with such presence, such depth – the embodiment of dignity and inner strength. She commanded attention – when she spoke you simply couldn’t look away.

Her legacy is strong and shall provide inspiration for years to come, as she was both a woman of her time and also timeless.

She has spoken and written so many important words, but here are 10 of my favorite short quotes:

1. The only thing is, people have to develop courage. It is most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.

2. 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.

3. Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

4. Those of us who submitted or surrendered our ideas and dreams and identities to the ‘leaders’ must take back our rights, our identities, our responsibilities.

5. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

6. All of us knows, not what is expedient, not what is going to make us popular, not what the policy is, or the company policy – but in truth each of us knows what is the right thing to do. And that’s how I am guided.

7. I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.

8. All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.

9. If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be

10. Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.

As usual, I’ve found that 10 was not enough. Here are 6 more:

11. The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.

12. One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

13. I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.

14. I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.

15. At 50, I began to know who I was. It was like waking up to myself.

16. How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

Maya Angeou embraced life and gave a lesson in how to do that well:

What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.

When Nelson Mandela passed, Maya Angelou tweeted: “We thank him for coming, we thank him for teaching, we thank him for loving us.” Now we can say the same thing about Maya Angelou herself.

Which are your favorites? Are there others that you like? I’d love to hear how reading Maya Angelou’s work has touched you. Share your thoughts where this column first appeared on LinkedIn or let me know via Twitter – I’m @lucymarcus.

*This verse is from Still I Rise. Take a moment to read the whole thing – you won’t regret it.

Photo by Michael Brennan/Getty Images


28 May 2014

10 Leadership Nuggets from Maya Angelou

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