Leadership Lessons From Maya Angelou

What I Learned About Life After Traveling with Maya Angelou for Eight Weeks, by Dain Dunston 

I first met Maya Angelou in a resort in Dallas. The yr was 1992 and he or she was in a room on the fifth flooring, with the curtains drawn. They have been drawn as a result of she had a concern of heights, and we have been assembly in her room as a result of the resort elevators had floor-to-ceiling glass partitions overlooking the foyer and he or she couldn’t bear to journey in them. So, we sat at a desk in her room and talked.

I had been assigned to supply a sequence of lectures for her to ship to audiences of IBM staff. I wasn’t fairly positive of the parameters of the task. Often, I might write and direct the segments, so I began asking questions on her work and her life. One query I requested was how she would outline success. “Success,” she answered, “is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

I knew we have been going to be associates from that second. I nonetheless have that quote above my desk, a form of north star to inform me if I’m making the correct decisions about my life.

Maya and I have been on the street collectively for practically eight weeks, six in Orlando and one other two in a resort in Puerto Rico. She spoke twice every week and naturally I by no means wanted to write down a phrase for her. She opened with an acapella model of the hymn God Put a Rainbow within the Cloud. Her singing was magnificent, her deep voice booming out over the stunned viewers. And then she instructed the story of her life’s journey, her years of silence after a childhood rape, her time on stage as a calypso singer, forming a dance duo with Alvin Ailey, each as but unknown, her years touring Europe in a manufacturing of Porgy and Bess.

Her output as an artist was astonishing. Most individuals know her as a poet, however she wrote, produced, and typically directed movies and documentaries. Maya composed film scores and wrote songs. She directed and acted in performs, incomes a Tony nomination in 1973. She spoke a number of languages and taught at a number of universities through the years. And after we labored collectively, she spent a few years within the Nineties giving talks to company audiences.

One night time, at dinner with IBM executives, Maya revealed two issues. The first was that she was allergic to seafood, which was unlucky as a result of we have been being hosted in a fish joint close to Disney World. The second factor we discovered was a shock to me. An exec requested who her inspiration was as a author. As a author myself, I thought of my influences: the usual listing of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac; after which I believed, no, wait, the one that made me need to write was Herb Caen, the lengthy working columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. And that’s when Maya spoke, “Herb Caen,” stated. “Because he made me feel that I had a story to share that was as good as anyone else’s.”

In our second week working collectively, I observed there was a second close to the top of her discuss that appeared to construct to the form of vitality that will get a standing ovation, after which as she talked previous the purpose, the vitality subsided. After the discuss, as we have been strolling by means of the backstage hallway, I discussed this to her and began to recommend an answer. But she drew herself as much as her full top (nicely over six toes in heels) and snarled at me, “Don’t tell your grandmother how to suck eggs!”

She stalked away and I adopted sheepishly, assuming I used to be going to be fired and despatched off in disgrace. But once we obtained to the escalator, standing subsequent to one another, she checked out me out of the nook of her eye and we each started to chortle. And the subsequent time she spoke, she obtained the standing ovation.

Our final week collectively, in a lavish oceanside resort, my spouse Jean joined me. After she heard Maya communicate, the three of us sat exterior collectively and talked. Maya instantly associated to Jean, a former dancer-choreographer turned author and poet. She was delighted when Jean sang the white church model of Rainbow within the Cloud, and laughed on the bouncy, up-beat tempo. Over the subsequent couple of days, Maya introduced Jean printouts of her poetry and of Langston Hughes.

I knew of Maya earlier than we labored collectively, in fact. But I by no means understood the affect she had on the general public till I began strolling by means of airports along with her. Not everybody acknowledged her. But those that did have been in awe and approached her the best way one would possibly strategy the Pope or the Dalai Lama. More than a poet, she was a non secular chief within the truest sense.

We don’t usually consider poets as management fashions, however in Maya’s case, that’s precisely what she was. She confirmed the best way for thus many individuals, main by the instance of her life and her work. When I used to be along with her, she taught me the worth of her idea of success. I discovered to understand myself and the work I obtained to do. And from that, and from her instance, I discovered that if I wasn’t liking myself a lot, to alter what I used to be doing and the way I used to be doing it.


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This visitor publish was authored by Dain Dunston

Dain Dunston has spent 35 years as an advisor and coach to leaders.  He’s a founding Partner at Reservoir LLC, an organization led by a coalition of revered govt coaches within the U.S.  Dunston is a frequent speaker on management, tradition and training subjects. He has offered speech and govt teaching to firms like Deloitte, General Motors, IBM, BMW, British Airways, Pfizer, Rite Aid, Wyndham Hotels, and plenty of others. He is writer of the brand new ebook Being Essential: Seven Questions for Living and Leading with Radical Self-Awareness 

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