As a leader, would you take a bullet to the head for your beliefs? In a sense, that’s what Malala Yousafzai did when, in 2012, members of the Taliban shot her while she returned from school. What was Malala’s perceived “crime”? She dared to write publicly that girls should have a right to be educated. (You can read more about her story here and here.)
Thankfully, she recovered from her wounds. Mulala now lives in England and continues to advocate for the rights of girls and young women. I first heard about Malala from Les Hayman’s blog in a post titled, To Find True Leadership, Look Beyond Presidents and CEOs. In the months after Les’ post appeared, Malala became a mainstay in the American press as she promoted her book “I Am Malala.”
Like many in my country, I was captivated by her story, which is one of profound bravery and conviction. But what amazes me most is that Malala seems to have come through the horror of her injuries without animosity, or without paralyzing fear. That resilience has made her a powerful voice on the world stage.
As Les Hayman wrote in his blog:
I believe that a leader not only has to have a clear vision, but must be able to share that vision with others in a way that will make them willingly follow, and that a leader is someone who steps up in a time of crisis, or to right a human wrong, without any regard for personal safety or personal gain.
Clearly, Malala Yousafzai fits this description of leadership. And that fact that she did experience intense harm personally and still continues on her mission (at the age of sixteen, no less!) is a testament to her character and strength of conviction.
I write primarily for business people, with a focus on the American workplace. Within that context, it’s rare that this sort of threat to personal safety will directly affect my readers’ lives. Even though it’s unlikely that you will be called upon to exercise the form of bravery that Malala has shown over the past few years, you can nonetheless use her example to examine your own beliefs.
As a leader, for what would you be willing to sacrifice your personal safety?
Maybe that question feels too big, too profound.
How about this, then?
What if you framed “personal safety” not as a potential gunshot to the head, but instead as:
- Worries over losing your job
- Diminishment of your credibility
- Reduction of power
- Fear of failure
- Threats to your image as a leader
These are far more real in our quotidian leadership lives. So, again I ask the question: As a leader, for what would you be willing to sacrifice your “personal safety”?
Will you, like Mulala, face your concerns down with conviction and belief?