Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That's their business, not mine.' Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Mamie Till-Mobley
Mamie Till-Mobley never wanted to be a leader. She just wanted to get married and live a normal life raising a family…but that was not her fate. When her son Emmett was brutally murdered due to the color of his skin, she was thrust into being a leader. It would have been easy to take the path of least resistance and fade into the background – her son’s death yet another casualty of a racially segregated America. But that was not Maime’s way and her actions made a tremendous impact on the struggle for equality.
On this National Leadership Day, I mention Maime Till Mobley because she is the kind of leader we need today. Bold but kind. Thoughtful but understanding the importance of the moment. Unafraid but humble. She led through her words AND her actions.
Through circumstances often beyond our control many of us are pushed into situations where leadership is needed. Consider this exchange in the book, The Lord of the Rings, between the wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Frodo Baggins,
Frodo: 'I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.'
Gandalf: 'So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
Often in life, leadership finds us, just like it did Frodo Baggins. As Gandalf explains, we have a choice when that happens. To step forward and make a difference or let the opportunity pass forever. On daily basis we are all confronted with the challenge of leading, whether it is at work, at home, or in the world around us. We all must meet this challenge because we all are, or can be, leaders.
As I stepped back and thought about what to write for National Leadership Day, I began to think that we are missing the boat when it comes to looking for leaders to emulate. Often, we look to our politicians, athletes, or famous actors. I sincerely believe we are looking in the wrong places. Some of the best leaders to learn from are those that naturally emerge through circumstances beyond their control, and they rise to meet the challenge, like Till Mobley did. So, look around today…some of them may be in your midst. Or better yet, perhaps they are staring back at you in the mirror.
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