Maya Angelou has been an inspiration to countless individuals during her lifetime. The tragedies that colored her life created in her a desire to empower other people. These life alternating events enabled Angelou to offer compassion to those around her. Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents’, Bailey and Vivian Johnson, troubled relationship ended early in Angelou’s life. After her parents divorced, Angelou lived in Stamps, Arkansas with her paternal grandmother (Waxman).
Her upbringing in the segregated South influenced her writings. During the next years of her life, Angelou would go between her mother’s home in St. Louis and grandmother’s home in Stamps numerous times. During one of the visits to her mother’s Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She was only eight years old (Waxman). This one instant proved a catalyst for both heartache and greatness in Angelou’s life. The man that raped her was beaten to death after he was released from prison. Angelou felt responsible for the man’s death since she had told her family of the attack. Ultimately, Angelou choose to not speak due to the fear of the power of her words (Waxman).
When World War II erupted Angelou took the opportunity to find work in primarily male dominated fields. She had moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was a teenager (Fox). She is credited as being the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco at the age of sixteen (Waxman). Women during this era, learned that life held so many more opportunities for them outside of the homes. She faced another life altering challenge when at the age of sixteen she gave birth to her son (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). According to the website FemBio, Angelou was quoted as saying that her son was the, best thing that ever happened to me. In order to support herself and her son, Angelou held several different jobs including some less than desirable professions such as a prostitute and a madam (Waxman).
However dire the circumstances may have seemed Angelou continued to push through and ultimately became a voice to women and minorities around the world as a poet, author, singer, dancer, actress, speaker, and an activist (Waxman; Editors; Nichols). Angelou’s role in the civil rights movement and also as social activist helped to pave the way of women and minorities today (FemBio).
I feel that Maya Angelou is one of the most influential people of the 20th and 21st centuries due to her courage and tenacity. Although faced with numerous challenges in her childhood and adolescence, she prevailed. Proving her bravery in her inspirational and groundbreaking memoir that highlighted the sexual assault she suffered and the ramifications that it had upon her life, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969. Sexual abuse and the resulting traumas faced by victims was considered taboo (Waxman). Angelou chose to accept her story and to tell of her experiences. Angelou’s transformational style of leadership has proven to be successful in helping others to accept their own stories and to create greatness out of their brokenness. The response she received helped her to see that people related to her stories and fueled her passion and fire to help those around her (Nichols).
Angelou’s ability to make others feel heard, enabled her to be paramount in the ongoing battle for equality for women and African Americans. Angelou was reported to have said, 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 (Siegal). On the website Business Insider, Rene Shimada Siegel states that there are three important steps to be a successful leader. First, as a leader you must pay attention and listen. Jill B quotes Angelou as saying that we must, be present in all things and thankful for all things. In our technological society, people seem to have forgotten the importance of being present. In order to create an atmosphere that prioritizes people they must first feel heard. The simplest way to accomplish this is to simply be present. Putting the technology down for a few minutes is perhaps the easiest way to show that you care about the other person. When you listen to your employees and fully hear them you create a desire in them to be loyal.
Second, you must surprise others with kindness. When employees are treated kindly, they in turn show kindness to others. Everyone makes mistakes. Unrealistic expectations only create dissatisfaction within a company and high rates of turnover. Being patient with your employees creates an environment for growth. Understanding and patience is critical to building a team that is loyal to a corporation.
Lastly, you must remember important details. If employees, or people in general, feel important they will do their best work for you (Siegel). Connecting with employees and customers will only increase their productivity and their desire to do their best work. When others feel appreciated and valued, they choose to pour more of themselves into their work. When people feel replaceable, they rarely give their best. The smallest detail that is remembered and later commented upon is an investment in people lives.
Oprah describes her mentor and friend’s worth as being, not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she did it all. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fiery, fierce grace and unbounding love (Waxman). Angelou’s uncanny knack at making others feel cared for is possibly the biggest reason she is a great influential leader. Loved people love people. They serve others and they desire to make their surroundings better in whatever way they can. Loved people create better worlds for others. When it comes to being a leader, take Angelou’s advice. If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be (Jill B).
Angelou’s influence even reached the White House. She was appointed to committees on culture by President Ford and also by President Carter due to her work in social activism and civil rights (FemBio). Angelou helped to raise funds for King and others to organize historic challenges to the Jim Crow brutality she would later examine in her books (Nichols). Due to her success at raising funds for Dr. King, Angelou became the coordinator of the New York office of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by Baynard Rustin, King, and others (Britannica). After King’s death, Angelou continued to work for civil rights by helping to set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity with Malcolm X (Britannica; Fox). During a tumultuous time in the United States of America’s history, leaders that choose to inspire others with love and understanding stood out among the rest. Perhaps one of the reasons that Angelou was so successful in her endeavors is that she created a sense of belonging for all those that encountered her.
That connection between herself and those that listened to her speeches and read her books is priceless. She excelled at written communication. Communication in all relationships is of the utmost importance and that of employee and employer is no different. Angelou won numerous awards for her works and nominations for performances (Waxman). The ability to communicate well, both written and face to face, is crucial to success as a leader.
Often written communication can cause conflict due to a lack of information. Angelou’s ability to paint scenes with her words left little space for people to misconstrue her meaning. It is imperative to reread all written communication prior to it being sent. It is also important to remember that the intended recipient will need all the information in order to fully understand the message. Often, omitted information is the cause of miscommunications.
In closing, you can see why Maya Angelou can be considered to be one of the most influential people of the century. Even after her death, she continues to inspire people to create a better world around them. What better way to make this a reality than to start in the work place.
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