Profiles in Leadership: Wilma Mankiller

Profiles in Leadership: Wilma Mankiller

We must trust our own thinking. Trust where we are going and get the job done
-Wilma Mankiller 

Wilma Mankiller was a leader that broke barriers for her people. She was elected as the first female Chief of the Cherokee people and brought Native Americans forward in infrastructure, representation with government officials and funding to a group that desperately needed it. She started in very humble beginnings and later rose to impact generations. 

Finding and following her purpose


Wilma Mankiller and her family moved to San Francisco to escape the heavy drought that was going on in Oklahoma at the time and was looking for a fresh start. On Nov 20, 1969, 98 Native Americans occupied Alcatraz as a form of protest for land rights. Mankiller saw the event play out in her own city and it became clear that her purpose was to also serve Native Americans in improving their rights and healthcare.

Have you found your purpose in what you do? If not, look to others. Sometimes, just like in Mankiller’s story, it starts with someone else. Another encouragement from her story is that she didn’t discover her true purpose until she was married and had children. It’s ok if you are an adult and are still looking for that calling. Be diligent in your search don’t give up. 

Having a vision for others


Wilma Mankiller eventually moved back to Oklahoma where she became an activist for Native American rights and rose in the Cherokee Nation ranks. She became the first female Chief for the Cherokee People and sat her sights on accomplishing her vision for her people. The tribal council grew its revenue to over $25 million and vastly enhanced the infrastructure in retail, healthcare, agriculture, and education. They also reached their goal of self-governance to minimize federal oversight. Much like other civil movements, there is still a significant amount of work to do today, but there is no doubt that Mankiller left a monumental impact on the Cherokee Nation in her lifetime.

It’s almost overwhelming to see all the projects and initiatives that started and completed under Mankiller’s leadership. How did she get it all done? She led her people towards a unified vision with care and purpose. 

There is power in a great vision. It unites people that normally would not be together in a meaningful way. It gives people the why behind what they do. Do you have a vision for your future? Does the company you work for have a vision of where they are going? Make sure you (and others) have a vision to follow. 

Think of purpose as the fuel in your car. Vision is the GPS that tells you where you are going to go. 

You can lead from anywhere


Even though Wilma Mankiller made history during her time as chief, that wasn’t the only time she was a leader. She led others before and long after her terms of service. In fact, Mankiller continued on in teaching and authoring numerous books and working with public officials after her retirement and through bouts of fighting cancer. Her platform as Chief helped her get many things accomplished, but it was her leadership drive and tenacity that made her so influential.

It doesn’t matter if you are a stay at home mother of two, or a retired school teacher, you can impact others and your community right where you are. Sure a title helps with those that don’t know you, but your actions and beliefs speak so much louder than a name on a business card. Lead yourself and others well no matter your life stage or job title.

A few interesting facts

  • Wilma was known to make jokes about her last name. It’s an old Cherokee term for watchman or soldier.  
  • Mankiller’s grandfather received 160 acres of land in Oklahoma as the US forced the Cherokee nation to relocate to the area. She grew up in a house with no electricity, indoor plumbing or telephone service. 
  • During her time as Chief, Mankiller helped grow the Cherokee nation population from 55,000 to 156,000 in part by re-establishing connections with people groups across the country.

You can learn more about Wilma from autobiography Mankiller and Chief and her People as well the documentary called Mankiller

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Profiles in Leadership: Joan of Arc

Profiles in Leadership: Joan of Arc

You say that you are my judge. I do not know if you are! But I tell you that you must take good care not to judge me wrongly, because you will put yourself in great danger.
-Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was an illiterate farm girl that grew up in the French countryside during the 100-year war between France and England. Through a divine revelation and bravery, she would go on to lead a nation’s army to its first victories in decades. She became a leader and beacon of hope that French soldiers rallied behind. Even though her time in the military was short she provided us with several examples in leadership for us to follow today.

Have tenacity


Joan was born into the 100-year war. It’s all that she knew. At thirteen, she said that she received a vision from God that told her to drive the English out of France. At sixteen, she asked for an escort to see the royal court and was basically laughed out. Joan later returned again to find two soldiers who would escort her. After correcting predicting a French win, she was allowed to banner with the French Army. Even then people tried to exclude her from war councils and meetings. She just kept showing up.

It would have been easy to turn back and go home after the first no. It would have been even easier to give up after all the nos that followed.  How tenacious are you in your mission and passion? Do you give up and call it a day, or re-focus and try again? It can be a difficult path to stay on especially after it goes on for months or years at a time. Keep at it. France won several major battles because a girl refused to accept no. What victories could be waiting behind your nos?

A different voice and example to follow


The French army had just begun to change its siege tactics as Joan of Arc entered the field. If you’ve lost for years, why keep doing the same thing? She led the armies to victory by taking a non-traditional approach to war strategy and battlefield maneuvers. She was the only leader not to actually fight with their soldiers. Joan carried her unique banner and would ride into battle and offered support, battlefield awareness and aid to her fellow soldiers. She was so successful because she thought different and was inspirational to those around her.

Make sure to include others in your plans and ideas. That different perspective could save the project or the company you are working at. If you are the new voice or the one with a different perspective you also have to be brave enough to voice that thought or no one will ever know until it’s too late. 

Stand by your convictions


Joan of Arc was captured during one of her battles and brought to trial by England. They loaded the affair with biased judges and clerics that set out theological traps to get her to unknowingly confess to any number of the 70 charges initially brought against her.  She never fell into the cleric’s traps. She also never gave up on her convictions that she was in the face of certain death. Joan was finally found guilty of heresy for taking up men’s clothing again. The reason she took on her armor in prison was to protect from harm from guards in the facility. She died a martyr and was burned to death at the age of nineteen.

Hopefully, you aren’t put in a situation where you have to choose between your morals and convictions or your life. You likely have been and will continue to be asked to compromise your convictions in leadership, business, and life. Stand your ground during those times, no matter the consequences.  It may not be easy, but compromise could have an even longer-lasting impact on you and others around you. 

A few interesting facts

  • She technically was neither Joan nor from Arc. She was known as Jeanette and grew up in Domrémy, a village in northeastern France. In those times last names were neither fixed nor widely used and her parents had different last names. 
  • The women’s popular “Bob” haircut originated from Joan of Arc. She cut her hair to match the paperboy style while she wore men’s armor in battle. Later a hair-stylist in Paris began cutting his clients’ hair this way as a tribute to her. This style became popular in the 20’s in the US during the silent film and flapper era. 
  • She was hotheaded. Imagine a peasant girl telling off royalty, yelling at commanders and insulting the people putting her on trial. 

Joan of Arc’s story is certainly tragic in the end but also inspirational. A 17-year-old girl inspired a winless army to reclaim much of their homeland all the while not entering into combat with anyone herself. It doesn’t matter where you start out in life, you too can impact your community and nation in a positive way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Profiles in Leadership: Winston Churchill

Profiles in Leadership: Winston Churchill

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
-Winston Churchill 

Winston Churchill is perhaps the greatest prime minister that ever lived. He led Britain through World War II and held his people against attacks from Germany. His roaring speeches and refusal to quit were inspiring to his countrymen and leaders all over the world. 

He simply refused to give up. 


Winston Churchill was famously stubborn when it came to giving up and it’s exactly what Britain needed at the start of World War II. A critical moment came Sept 7, 1940. Germany began an 8 month and 5-day long bombing campaign on the country in an effort to get the Britans to surrender or at the very least to prepare the way for an invasion. Churchill refused to give up and instilled that sensibility in his people. Britsh countrymen got to the point that they talked about the level of bombings like the weather, “It’s looking extra Blitzy outside today.” Germany failed to break the country’s spirit and only fueled Britain’s intensity to stand for freedom.

Hopefully, you will not have to live through anything as harsh as near-daily bombings in your city or nation. People are much more resilient than they give themselves credit for. You can weather more than you think you can. It’s an underlying lesson that all military personnel are taught early on. Don’t give up. Even if your back is against the wall, fight with all that you have. Sometimes the mental and emotional battles can carry a heavier toll than a physical one. Know that those battles can also be won as well. 

He knew how to connect a message


Churchill was also famous for his speeches. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” was his first speech as prime minister and it instantly connected with his opposition in politics and the people of the country. He utilized radio and in-person talks to encourage and rally The British so they would keep fighting and not give in to Germany. His speeches are among the most quoted in history. 

Churchill’s speeches were so successful because he knew how to connect with his audience. He had an equal understanding of what his people were going through (empathy) and what the most pressing issues were. He then simply connected those two pieces in his talks. 

Do you find yourself struggling with getting your message across to others? Stop and consider how you are connecting and what your message is.

  • Be sure to connect in a way that the person wants. A great message can be lost because it’s delivered in the wrong medium. Understand your team’s communication preferences (email, video etc)  It often takes delivering the message in several different ways to fully connect with everyone.
  • Gain a good understanding of your team’s position, perspective, struggles and strengths as you craft your message. The vernacular, tone and content should strike a cord with those that receive it. 

He stayed focused on the larger picture


Churchill famously hated communism. He never thought of working with the Soviets, much less aiding them. As soon as Germany invaded Russia, British supplies and tanks began being sent to Russia as aid. Churchill famously said, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” He understood the bigger picture and was willing to work across political differences for the larger good. 

It can be easy to write people off because we don’t get along with them. Maybe they are a jerk. maybe they have a different philosophy on leadership. Do what you can to maintain a working relationship with them at a minimum. You don’t know when that person’s talent could be essential in helping you meet a goal or deadline. Also, work to build a bridge with them by helping them as needed. 

A few interesting facts

  • Winston Churchill was an accomplished writer. He authored about 20 books and won a Nobel Prize in Literature.  
  • In addition to writing, Churchill was also a painter. He created around 500 pieces during his lifetime and received kind words about pieces from Pablo Picasso.  He had his first piece displayed in the Royal Academy under the pseudonym David Winter. Churchill also enjoyed landscaping and bricklaying.
  • Churchill gained instant fame from the story of his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa.

Stay tough and inspire others to do the same during difficult times. You can pull through just about anything that is set before you. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Profiles in Leadership: Martin Luther King Jr.

Profiles in Leadership: Martin Luther King Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King Jr. 

Few people have had an impact on American history like Martin Luthor King Jr. An incredibly smart man, Dr. King stood against racism, poverty and war while leading others in an inspirational and non-violent way. He still inspires leaders and civil movements more than 50 years after his death. 

Answering hate with love


Martin Luther King Jr. became famous for his non-violent protests and responses to hate and prejudice. He was once nearly killed from a stabbing and then forgave the man while he was still in the hospital. He walked, talked and showed protests, but never raised his hand against anyone who opposed him. 

In today’s age of anonymous internet browsing, people spread hate at a very high and loud rate. Groups have been emboldened to cross the line into the world and harass and intimidate others. It’s easy to answer hate with more hate. Dr. King knew this and realized that it would only solidify the other side’s prejudice thoughts on the movement. Follow Dr. King’s example of showing love when others show hate. Sure, it’s desperately needed at the world and national scale, but it’s also needed in your daily interactions with those around you. 

Empathetic towards all


Dr. King was an incredibly empathetic leader. He understood the plight of African Americans living in the U.S. at the time even though he hadn’t lived through each of their hardships. He also showed care and empathy for other groups as well. He was a strong supporter of Native American Rights. He spoke at several Native American events and partnered with tribal leaders to help their own rights movements. Dr. King also used his empathy and thoughtfulness to connect with political leaders in a meaningful way. 

People can be quick to respond with a very strong opinion and often basing their info off of a headline without reading the story, and out-of-context quotes or other misrepresented information. Take time to get to know the other side. Understand their perspective from a personal level. Use that knowledge to help you form a well rounded and empathetic response. You’ll win over more people, have a more central view on the issue and will likely to be listened to as a result. 

Stay humble


Just before his death, Dr. King said that he didn’t want to have mention of any of his awards or honors at his funeral. He wanted to be known as someone who tried to help others. Did he enjoy the awards he received? Sure. We all enjoy being recognized and I’m sure it was an affirmation for him that the movement was heading in the right direction. Dr. King knew that his worth was not in awards and it held no value in who he was as a person. 

The awards and accolades that you receive are a good thing. It shows your impact on others and it’s a way for them to recognize your contribution and say thanks. Take the recognition with grace and avoid letting it become fuel for an ego. Stay grounded in your purpose in your job and larger purpose in life. Dr. King knew that his legacy wouldn’t come from the hardware that he had received, but the impact that he left behind. 

A few interesting facts

  • MLK Jr. was actually born Michael King. His father was Micheal King as well and later his father changed both of their names in honor of Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer. 
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • He was arrested 29 times and assaulted 4 times during the civil rights movement. He was once arrested for going 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.  

To learn more about Dr. King’s journey and the bigger picture of the Civil Rights Movement I would recommend a trip to a few places here in Atlanta. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a fantastic visit and will you an experience that will stay with you long after you leave. King’s final resting place, as well as his church and birth home,  are not far away and they are a worthwhile trip as well. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Profiles in Leadership: Jesus

Profiles in Leadership: Jesus

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
-Jesus

There is certainly no one in the history of the world that has been talked about and written about more than Jesus. Three of the worlds largest religions acknowledge him in some way. (Christianity, Judaism, Islam)
The records of Jesus’s time is filled with leadership. While not an exhaustive list by any means, we’ll cover a few of the highlights on what Jesus can teach us about leadership. 

He was a servant

Think about if you were the president of the country and there was not a legislative body. Whatever you said or wanted would happen. What would you do with that amount of power? How would you carry yourself? That alone is hard to imagine. Now multiply that to having the power the rule the world and everything in it. 

Jesus had that power but never showed it for personal gain. He never ruled in a political way, never sat on a worldly throne, and often slept outside. He wasn’t caught up in his own power; he was there to serve others. You and I obviously don’t have the same power that Jesus carried, so why should we act as if we do? 

Serve others no matter your role or position. If you ever get to the point where you believe others are there to serve you, then you have lost your way as a leader. 

He was a storyteller

Jesus is well known for his storytelling ability. He used this communication tool often when teaching his disciples and other followers about theological and life lessons. Jesus showed us the power of storytelling and why it is a tool that you should use when communicating with others. 

  • The stories made complex theology mentally accessible to everyone. You didn’t have to spend your life in the temple to understand the concepts. 
  • They were memorable. Think about the speeches and lectures that you hear. The parts that you walk away remembering are likely the stories that were told. 
  • They all followed the same basic outline: A beginning, a challenge or dilemma, and a resolution. They were also typically short and to the point. Your stories don’t have to be long narratives to be effective. 
  • His stories caused people to think. The best stories are the ones where people can project themselves or their circumstances and learn a lesson about themselves. 

He handled interruptions well. 

When reading about Jesus, it’s easy to overlook one thing. He was constantly interrupted. He was interrupted in his sleep, prayers, conversations, and in his travels. In each circumstance, he welcomed it with grace and humility. 

We generally don’t like interruptions. I really dislike interruptions when I’m in a creative mood because an interruption can cause my creativity to come to a screeching halt. Jesus’s example shows us that we likely have an opportunity for growth in how we handle the daily interruptions that we have in work and life. Treat people with respect even when they interrupt you and keep your composure as things happen throughout your day that are unexpected. 

A few interesting facts

  • Our system for counting years was developed in the Medieval Times based on their guess when Jesus was born. They got close but they likely weren’t right. Most scholars put Jesus’s birth between 6-4 B.C. while others put it as late as 7 A.D. That means you most likely are living 4-6 years from now if the calendar was fixed!
  • Speaking of birth, it’s very unlikely that Christmas is Jesus’s actual birthday. The date is never mentioned in the Bible and from historical context, it was likely sometime between summer and fall. 
  • Jesus fulfilled many prophecies that were written in the Old Testament, with over 300 accounts about acts in the New Testament. To understand just how rare that is; the odds are 1 in a trillion raised to the 13th power. 

Lead with a humble heart. Be a servant to others, tell great stories and embrace the interruptions. Lead like Jesus. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

If you are interested in getting to know more about Jesus, I would suggest the book The Case for Christ. It’s a book written by Lee Strobel about his journey as an award-winning journalist to disprove the existence of Jesus. 

Profiles in Leadership: Thurgood Marshall

Profiles in Leadership: Thurgood Marshall

The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.
-Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was the country’s first African American Supreme Court judge. Before landing the historic position, he was known as a leader for equal rights, having argued, and won, hundreds of cases to bring the nation closer to equality. A man that led himself well and stood for a cause much larger than his own, Thurgood Marshall gave us several great examples of leadership. 

Follow your calling instead of what others call you

Thurgood Marshall knew that he wanted to be a lawyer and worked hard through his college career to position himself for law school. After graduating with honors, he was rejected from the Maryland Law School based on his race. The encounter with discrimination stuck with him for the rest of his life. He went on to become a lawyer though another school, worked at the NAACP and began arguing civil rights cases.  Where Dr. Martin Luther King brought people together in the streets, Marshall began righting social injustice laws in the courts. 

When you find your calling, let no one keep you from it. If you run into adversity, find a way around it, through it, under it. Do whatever needs to be done to follow your calling. Had Marshall given up, the civil rights movement may not have been as strong and the progress set back a number of years. 

Use your gifts to help others

Marshall’s drive was to end as much inequality as he could. He won one of the most famous cases of the 20th century; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. He challenged the notion of separate but equal, and then won a unanimous decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” While the change was slow, this was the foundation that ended segregation in schools. 

Use your gifts, just as Marshall did, to help others. It may not be as dramatic, but there are certainly ways that you can utilize your skills and talents to increase the value of others. 

Work toward a vision even if you know you can’t reach it

At Marshall’s retirement press conference, several reports asked him about his legacy. One asked about MLK’s “Free at last” statement to which Marshall replied that he didn’t feel free. Marshall also said that wanted to be remembered as a man that did what he could with what he had. He knew that he wouldn’t see the vision that he and Dr. King had during their lifetimes, but that didn’t stop him from pushing towards the goal. 

Hopefully, you are working towards a vision and purpose for your life and/or work that is so big that you may not make it. That’s what makes it exciting! Don’t be discouraged if at the end of the day you don’t get to realize the vision. Think about the progress that you made from your efforts.

I had a culture vision for an organization that had been around over 100 years. Although I never got to realize it’s full potential, I’m very proud of the progress that was made. Sometimes you are a steward of a vision for a while and then someone else will come along and carry it further. 

A few interesting facts

  • Marshall had a great track record as a lawyer and judge. None of his 100 decisions as a circuit judge were overturned in the Supreme Court. He also won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued in the Supreme Court. 
  • He said that one of his greatest accomplishments in high school was that he could recite the whole constitution from memory. He initially received the assignment from a teacher for misbehaving in class. 
  • The Thurgood Marshall Academy was established in 2001 to honor Marshall’s legacy and drive for equal opportunities. The school is located in D.C.’s historic Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8. There they prep students for successful college careers and teach the importance of being engaged in their community. 

Use your skills to help others, follow your calling and shoot for a goal so big that you may not hit it in your lifetime. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH