Co-authored by Dee Conway and Alycia Diggs-Chavis
In our previous post, it was remarkable to see how Althea Neale Gibson and Berry Gordy Jr. invested so much time and energy into coaching others. Now, before wrapping up this series, we’re turning our attention to...
Leadership is having the humility to put what you know into action for the good of others without needing to be recognized for it. It’s letting others be in the spotlight, letting them shine for their contributions.
Dorothy Height, “godmother of the women’s movement,” used her background in education and social work to advance women’s rights as a leader in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for over 40 years. Her many honors included the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
Throughout the 1960s, she organized southern voter registration, northern voter education, and scholarship programs for student civil rights workers. In the 1970s, Height helped the NCNW win grants to provide vocational training and assist women in opening businesses. President Obama delivered her eulogy, saying: “She never cared about who got the credit. What she cared about was the cause.”
QUOTE: “My mother helped me understand how not to show off what I knew, but how to use it so that others might benefit.”
Eddie Robinson Sr., at 22, became head football coach at Grambling State, a historically Black university in Louisiana. At a time when African American players weren’t allowed in southern college programs, Robinson built Grambling State into a football powerhouse. His teams were recognized in the 1960s for sending more players into pro football than any school except Notre Dame.
Over 200 of his players competed in the NFL; others joined the Canadian Football League or USFL. Four former players are Pro Football Hall of Famers. Robinson retired in 1997 as the most successful coach in Division 1 history (408-165-15) and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame after coaching at Grambling State for 57 years.
A coach and civil rights pioneer, Robinson worked to achieve equality for athletes regardless of race. He turned out thousands of young men who went on to coach, teach, enter business, succeed, and make a difference in society. Coach Robinson always remained humble, crediting his players, family, wife, media, and fans for making the name Eddie Robinson synonymous with the best college football has to offer.
QUOTE: “If some boy I coached writes me a letter or publicly says that our relationship meant something to him, well, that’s enough for me.”
Both Dorothy Height and Eddie Robinson stayed humble and grounded, even when accepting some of the highest honors and awards. Their example reminds leaders to keep people at the heart of all work.
We hope you enjoyed this journey through our series, and that the stories have inspired your own day-to-day leadership. It’s been a pleasure to recall how Benjamin Banneker and Madam C. J. Walker maintained and pursued a clear vision, how Althea Neale Gibson and Berry Gordy Jr. helped others through coaching, and how Dorothy Height and Eddie Robinson stayed humble and grounded.
Thank you to everyone who has been sharing this series with their teams and colleagues. Doing so is a great way to talk about what good leadership means today, and we hope you’ll encourage someone new to read from the beginning here.