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Eleanor Roosevelt


It's a joy for me to celebrate a few of our great leaders here in my small way.  You can read more about how I view leadership in real life in my article What Would Abe Do?

We all probably know Steve Jobs' story. He founded Apple and created what would become the Personal Computer. He was fired from Apple when the board deemed him unreasonable and irrational. Jobs founded NeXT Computers, a company that did not succeed, then Pixar Animation Studios, a company that did. Ten plus years after his firing, Apple was failing. They ask Jobs to come back and turn around the company. He had little reason to do so other than to save the company he founded. If Apple failed, he would be blamed. He was already a billionaire from the sale of Pixar to Disney. As we know, Jobs took the job, then went on to make Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.

I add Jobs to this list not because of his visionary work at Apple 1.0 or Apple 2.0, which is worthy of admiration, but because of his great redemption story. There are many horror stories about how Jobs treated the people who worked with and for him. During his years away from Apple, Jobs learned to give up control, to collaborate, to build great teams, and to be a leader, in addition to being a brilliant product visionary. His personal redemption in re-establishing a relationship with his daughter is equally inspiring. Steve gave us a very large public example of how growing our leadership skills and growing our personal humanity are wound up together. The way he stumbled in his path to leadership is stunning and should be celebrated. This is one of the great redemption stories, and leadership stories, of our time.

Steve Jobs

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Most of us know Billie Jean King for playing the "Battle of the Sexes" match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. The match was watched by an estimated world audience of 90,000,000. The stakes were high. Riggs had recently defeated Margaret Court, another top female tennis player who had traded tournament wins with Billie Jean for years. King stated that she knew if she lost to Riggs, it would set the position of women in sports back by 50 years. She was 29 when she played Riggs and won. 


King's activism started in 1967 when she learned about and exposed the under-the-table payments from organizers to top tennis players to get them to enter tournaments. In the early 1970s she helped start the Virginia Slims Tour, the first professional women's tennis tournament, as an alternative to participating as an adjunct to men's tennis tournaments, where women were paid significantly less money. She co-founded and was President of the Women's Tennis Association and she co-founded womenSports magazine. Because of her leadership, in 1973 the US Open became the first tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.

I include Billie Jean King here because she did not start out to be an activist. She says she merely called out unfair treatment when she saw it. She recognized the power of her platform and did not shy away from using it. She was fearless. She took the adversity facing her and turned it into an opportunity to change her industry, and consequently, the world.

Billie Jean King

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Eleanor Roosevelt is best known as First Lady to President Franklin D Roosevelt, but on her own, she was one of the most outspoken and effective social activists of the 20th century. In World War I, Franklin was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and they lived in Washington DC. Eleanor went to Arlington National Cemetery every day to attend soldier's funerals. If no one showed up, she would stand at the graveside to witness the burial. FDR called Eleanor "my eyes and ears". Throughout his presidency, she would take road trips, driving herself across the country visiting coal miners in Appalachia, patients in publicly funded mental hospitals and elder care homes, and Japanese families forced into internment camps. She would report their horrible conditions to the President and to the public in her daily newspaper column.


In 1939 she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution because they would not let Marian Anderson, the most celebrated opera singer of the day and a black woman, perform in their 4,000 seat auditorium. She then helped organize a performance by Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which was attended by 75,000 people. When female reporters were turned away from the White House Press room, Eleanor started holding her own regular press conferences and invited only female reporters. News organizations around the country rushed to hire female journalists. She actively lobbied Franklin to de-segregate the armed services, which he told her was too radical for the public, but that he would do so when WW II ended. He died before the end of the war, and Harry Truman, Roosevelt's successor integrated the US armed services. Eleanor was viciously attacked and vilified throughout her time as First Lady for her outspoken activism.


The United Nations was created in response to WW II and in 1946, President Truman appointed Eleanor as US Delegate to the first UN General Assembly. After seeing the atrocities of WW II and the mistreatment by the Soviets of WW II refuges, she campaigned for the creation of an international declaration of human rights. She created and chaired the UN Human Rights Commission and was instrumental in writing and getting approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is still the guiding principle of the UN today.

There's a reason why we study this woman. Fearlessness. Vision. Embracing change. Perseverance. Empathy was the great north star in her life. She used her privileged and power to fight for those who had neither. She saw a future the rest of us couldn't imagine, and she stretched her hand back to us and urged us to hurry along. Thank you Eleanor.

Eleanor Roosevelt

It is questionable as to whether Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s would have happened without Bayard Rustin.  Rustin was born a Quaker and studied non-violent resistance under Mahatma Gandhi's followers in India. He organized the very first "Freedom Rides" to challenge bus segregation in the south and he was one of the first riders.  He formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with Martin Luther King, Jr. He taught MLK the tactics of non-violent resistance and continued to insist that protests be conducted according to Gandhi's non-violence practices throughout the movement.  Rustin came up with the idea of a March on Washington in 1962 with A. Philip Randolph. He planned the agenda, scheduled the speakers, recruited participants across the country, and organized the bus network to bring hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, DC. 


Although Bayard was unquestionably one of the visionaries and leading strategists of the Civil Rights movement, he was never allowed by the other leaders to take a public role because he was a gay.  When confronted by Jesse Helms and others in power, he refused to deny his sexuality, which was a crime at the time. In spite of his vision and role leading the Civil Rights movement, he is mostly unknown today. He went on to fight for worker's rights, ending the Vietnam war, ending world poverty, and other causes around the world until his death.

I admire this man for his bravery in speaking his truth, his incredible organizing skills, his lack of ego, his commitment to non-violence, and his vision of what our country could be. His life is a story of fighting, over and over again, for what he thought was right, and always from behind the scenes. He was beaten and jailed and disgraced throughout his life, and he kept pushing. We should all know this man's name and accomplishments and thank him every day. May we all find the Bayard Rustin within us.

Bayard Rustin

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In August 2018, at age 15, Greta Thunberg started spending every school day outside the Swedish Parliament holding a sign reading "Skolstrejk för klimatet" - School Strike for Climate. She was inspired by the teen activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL following the mass murders in that school. Part of her demands were that the Swedish government meet carbon emissions goals prescribed in the Paris Accord. After her photos were posted on social media, other students joined her in similar protests in their communities. Thunberg and other teen organizers originated "Fridays for Future" where students skipped class on Fridays to protest for action against climate change. Strikes in March, May, and two in September of 2019 drew between 1,000,000 and 4,000,000 protesters in 4,500 cities across 150 countries. In spite of suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, Thunberg spoke publicly at TEDx Stockholm, the World Economic Forum, the European Parliament, the British Parliament and many other policy and governing bodies, telling leaders they were failing and must wake up and take action on climate change. 


In September 2019 Thunberg crossed the Atlantic to New York in a sail boat and spoke before the UN General Assembly. In that speech she said "How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us."  Her speech received massive worldwide media attention and sparked governments around the world to re-start climate change abatement measures. She is now one of the most effective spokespersons and representatives of the climate change movement around the world.

She started one of the largest movements in modern history. She was 15. Fearlessness.  Commitment. Truth telling. Seeing a world the rest of us could not yet imagine. One of the factors to creating massive change is naivete. You actually believe you can. I can't wait to see what this leader brings to the world.  We will watch, and learn.

Greta Thunberg

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