Special Black History Month series: This article is a part of the Leadershipopedia Series where we help you to grow your leadership skills because being a leader is about our actions, not our titles #blackhistorymonth #leadershipopedia
Nichelle Nichols started a remarkable history-making role when Gene Roddenberry asked her to play Chief Communications Officer Lt. Uhura for a new TV series he was calling Star Trek. As was the case for so many others, I was definitively influenced by Nichelle over the years as a young science fiction tv show addict. Through her role in Star Trek, she would become a civil rights and women’s rights spokesperson and icon. Dr. Martin Luther King would refer to her role as the “first non-stereotypical portrayal of a black woman in television history.” She would eventually become a leader who was referred to as “television royalty” at a time of civil unrest and dramatic social change. Her efforts would help to shape the thinking of wide-eyed youth like myself by painting for us a picture of what was possible in the future. Recently, I came to understand three fundamental lessons from her about leadership.
- Everything a good leader does is for everyone. Nichelle would say this about our colleagues, and that is to “love the people you work with.” Without a deep caring for those in your care, a leader is incapable of making a great impact and in-fact is more likely to cause damage. To make a difference, every leader must start by examining their own heart. Where do you stand on the spectrum of caring for your team?
- Everything a good leader does is to make a difference. Nichols was given considerable leeway in creating the “essence of Uhura” as a character. Every one of us has the full authority to create the essence of our leadership. To pursue the personal changes necessary, we must ensure we have a growth mindset that strives to make a difference in the work we do and the people we work with. Profit margins, earnings, and cash flow will fluctuate however the positive difference a leader makes will endure long after their departure. Every leader should leave every environment or team in better shape than before their arrival. As a leader, Nichols has leveraged her TV success to have an impact outside of acting by working with NASA to encourage and recruit the first women and minority astronauts in the Space Shuttle Program. A good leader makes a difference “outside of the office” as well. What opportunities do you have to increase the impact you make and the legacy you create?
- Everything a leader does is to adapt to the changing needs of the many. This requires flexibility and agility. Nichols has often shared, “I thought my career would be in musical theater until Star Trek interrupted my career.” She continues by telling the story of how she planned on leaving the TV series to go back to musical theater until she was introduced to one of her biggest fans. That fan was Dr. Martin Luther King who encouraged her to recognize the magnitude of the opportunity she had. Nichols would say in a later interview, “I made the decision to jump in feet first.” When leaders are faced with decisions between a personal agenda and one that benefits the greater good, it is important to realize that this decision may also be linked to their defining moment. Do your core values reflect being flexible and agile in supporting the success of others?
Little did I know as a young elementary-aged youth that the show that I attentively watched was, in fact, priming my brain to think differently about the future… my future. As leaders today, you are being watched as well and how you show up may have an influence on how someone else grows up. Everything a leader does should be for everyone with intent to make a difference by being flexible and agile in pursuing the greater good.
John F. Edwards is a professional speaker, author, and leadership development expert who works with people and organizations to Lean Forward into success during uncertain times. His latest book, Culture-Profit or Pain is now available on Amazon. You can learn more or book John as a speaker.
For motivational and inspiration, follow John on twitter @Edwards_Group or visit his blogs.