Legacy-Minded Leaders

Look over the last 50 years of history and we see the vast legacy of dynamic African American women leaders. During Black History Month 2011, we can walk through history books to reflect upon the significant contributions of those who carried the torch and left a legacy for the next generation.

Top leadership at the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), for instance, included civil rights giants Mary McLeod Bethune and Dorothy Height. Both were giants during their time. Both worked tirelessly to create a better future for African Americans and a greater level of social justice. Even as they worked for noteworthy causes with women’s and civil rights organizations, I’m sure something about how to pass the torch and what to share with the next generation of leadership crossed their minds.

We can see the evidence of their legacy-minded focus through the sustained efforts and international support for NCNW. This umbrella organization advocating for women of African descent in the U.S. and abroad was founded by Bethune in 1935. Later, NCNW was led by Dr. Height who assumed the helm in 1957, a position she held until her death last year.

It’s profound to me how these dynamic leaders understood the significance of legacy. They showed the determination to build and improve conditions while in their capacity. More importantly, they were committed to lead the way for the next generation.

As leaders, both demonstrated how to create lasting legacies through action and commitments. Just look at the expansion over the last 10 years with NCNW hosting the annual National Black Family Reunion, a 2-day cultural celebration on the National Mall in Washington, DC to honor the legacy of African American culture.

When we ponder the traits required for a future generation of good leaders, we can look to the examples of Bethune and Height who grasped the concept of legacy, a fundamental of the seven essential leadership principles outlined in my book Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success. Quite simply, leaving a legacy is an opportunity to shape history and the future simultaneously.

NCNW is committed to sustained legacy given the July 2010 appointment of Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, an NCNW staff member, as the new (and youngest) NCNW executive director. Including reflections and future plans via the NCNW website, Jones-DeWeever stated “together, women from all across this nation will bond together at this critical time to not only continue the legacy that has been bequeathed to us by our tremendous forerunners, but to usher in a new era of relevancy, action, and impact in communities all across this nation and around the world.”

Also consider the tenacity of Blanche Williams, executive director and founder of the National Black Women’s Town Hall. Williams launched a national effort committed to bringing women of African descent together for thought-provoking discussions about policy issues, challenges, and strategic leadership development (see http://blackwomenstownhall.com and join the conversation via Twitter at blackwomenstown). For instance, she was featured at Spelman College’s Women of Excellence Leadership highlighting the group’s 21st Century Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto. Kudos to those who are passing the torch and those who are likewise picking it up and running with it!

Let’s all learn valuable lessons from those like Bethune and Height who knew the importance and others like Jones-DeWeever and Williams who know how essential it is today to be legacy-minded.

So, what is your legacy and how will you create the next generation of leadership to follow in your footsteps?

-Dawn McCoy, author of Leadership Building Blocks: An Insider’s Guide to Success

Blanche Williams, Filmmaker Daphne Valerius, and Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever at White House with a special screening of “For Colored Girls” with First Lady Michelle Obama

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