The Hidden Figure in All of Us

I remember the disappointment I felt towards a previous leader. I was under the impression that this person would teach me strong leadership skills. Although I heard negative things about them, I was optimistic. Unfortunately, the rumors were true. This individual allowed bullying towards me from my teammates even after I expressed how I felt. My team lied and sabotaged my work, in addition to other horrible things. I realized that even though I worked hard and tried to operate in a spirit of unity, they did not feel the same way. Power was being abused and those abusing it were protected by “greater powers.” It was disheartening, I saw someone who had the ability to influence change but instead used their power for bad. That experience changed me.

However, I was recently inspired after watching Hidden Figures. A remarkable movie depicting the story of three African American women who worked for NASA and made noteworthy contributions to history. My favorite character was Dorothy Vaughan played by Octavia Spencer and I was impressed by her leadership skills. She didn’t have the official title of a supervisor but she displayed the qualities of one:

  1. She was dedicated. She refused to accept another position without bringing her team along. In my experience, it didn’t feel good being an outsider and knowing that my leader/team took every chance they could get to run me over with a big yellow bus. An effective leader cares and respects their team while creating an inclusive environment. It’s true, teamwork makes the dreams work. Do you encourage unity? If not, how can you?
  2. She was a selfless teacher. When she realized that learning how to work the new computers would be critical in keeping her job, not only did she teach herself but she was proactive and taught her team how to work the computers as well. It makes all the difference when a leader is truly dedicated to your development.  How do you help others grow?
  3. She had a heart for people. Throughout the movie, I felt like Dorothy was talking to her family not co-workers because of the way she treated them. She was personable, compassionate and authentic. Yes, status, power and the title may seem great but remember the most important part of leading is having a desire to motivate, challenge and cultivate people. Although it’s business, you’re dealing with people who think, feel and have emotions just as you do. At the end of the day, I want to know that you care about me as an individual. How do you show others that they matter?
  4. She birthed leaders. She saw something special in her team and nurtured it. It’s imperative that when a leader identifies unique qualities in someone, they promote them. Their talents and skills could positively impact you, your team and the world. Effective leaders raise up more effective leaders. Are those you’re leading becoming leaders too? If not, what can you do to change that?

To be a leader is a big responsibility and while it’s impossible to be perfect, there’s always a chance to be better. We are all leaders in our own right, whether it’s at home, amongst our friends or at work. There are many useful strengths that we can take away from Dorothy Vaughan. Change needs to happen within our communities and corporations where we aren’t just placing individuals in leadership positions because we like them or because of who they know but because they actually resemble the traits of a leader. Evaluate your motives, search your heart and find the true leader within yourself, the one who desires to create change in others. You could be or lead the next hidden figure that history needs.

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