Hidden Figures, Gold Medal Leadership

Too often we assume that leaders are the ones in charge. No, not always. Guess again.

Some amazing women leaders who worked behind the scenes will be awarded congressional gold medals. Real-life African-American female pioneers will be honored with the Congress Medal of Freedom and include mathematician Katherine Johnson, engineer Christine Darden, as well as the posthumous award to engineer Mary Jackson and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan.

Their experiences working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) supporting the Project Mercury, the first human suborbital space flights from 1961 to 1963, were pivotal. Women of color were not typically supporting these projects and certainly were not recognized during this historic period of segregation. Interestingly enough, their contributions also supported the Apollo 11 flight to the moon endeavor, and awards for the 2016 historical drama received national and global motion picture recognition.

In short, they flourished despite the circumstances and without consideration about the recognition that would follow their service. In 2015, for instance, Katherine Johnson was bestowed the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016 at Langley Research Center, NASA dedicated its computational research building to bear her name. She also worked to design a Barbie doll replica that follows other dolls designed for other women trailblazers including Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, and artist Frida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican artist.

With these amazing leaders recognized for their quiet leadership, maybe you are looking at how you can make a contribution to your community too? Be sure to ramp up your leadership game with this Leadership Worksheet.

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

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