Betty Ford did not have the title, training or experience that authorized her to lead.   Her leadership authority rested in the power of who she was.  She had a unique combination of ferocity and vulnerability that shifted the hearts, minds and habits of millions.  As such, Betty Ford’s influence style was an examplar of grit and grace in balance.

On the ‘grit’ side, she worked tirelessly for what she believed.  Time Magazine dubbed her the “Fighting First Lady.”  She was not afraid to take unpopular stands. She brought taboo topics such as cancer, mental health and drug addiction out into the open.   She got people thinking in new ways about everything from women’s rights to gun control.  She was not afraid to make people uncomfortable – so much so that some conservative politicians called for her to “resign” as the first lady.  Betty Ford was tough in the ways that we still long for our leaders to be.

Yet she balanced that toughness with great vulnerability, daring to reveal her most personal struggles in an era where that simply “wasn’t done.”   By talking about her own breast cancer, she motivated millions of women to engage in breast self-examination.  By talking about her struggles with drug addiction, she encouraged people around the world to confront and address their own addiction.

Betty Ford blended the force of her convictions and the frailty of her humanity in a way that left a lasting and positive legacy on American culture, consciousness and behavior.  That is leadership.

What about you?

As a leader at work, at home, or in your community…

  • Are you surfacing the undiscussable issues?
  • Are you ‘calling it like you see it?’
  • Are you willing to take unpopular stands for what you believe is right and fair?
  • Where do you need to bring more grit to increase your impact?

At the same time…

  • Are you approachable?
  • Do you make it safe for others to tell the truth to you?
  • How vulnerable are you willing to be, in service to those you lead?
  • Where could you offer more kindness and humanity to increase your effectiveness?

Commit to make one courageous shift in yourself to make things better for others.  And let me know how it goes!