AND Stay the Course of Greatness

October 5th, 2014

Last month, friends, colleagues, family, and many prominent leaders gathered for the inauguration of a brilliant leader to a position of prominence. A woman of great intellect, emotional intelligence, spiritual clarity, and most of all, heart has been selected to lead a medical school dedicated to and known for national leadership in creating health equity.

While each of us has a unique purpose and the calling to lead from our highest selves in doing whatever our work in this world calls us to do, there are a few among us in whose presence we experience true greatness. The leader inaugurated President and Dean of Morehouse School of Medicine is one such leader and the recognition of such greatness was palpable during the investiture ceremony.

Speaker after speaker lauded her clarity, brilliance, tenacity, courage, and commitment to the mission of this medical school. I was struck by those, from all walks of life and relationship with the leader, who wanted to be associated with her success, sometimes making her success a reflection of their contribution and influence and other times gratefully expressing how she has touched their lives. It was as if everyone wanted to touch the robe and ride the train of inspired greatness.

What struck me in the midst of all of these wonderful accolades, which are more often bestowed in a eulogy than during the lifetime of an individual, was the question of where these people will be when the leader needs support, fails to lead as they expect, steps into her own path without asking their permission, or stands courageously for positions that threaten their power or identity.

We often seek to be inspired by greatness. We all have the capacity to recognize it when in its presence. Are we as quick to recognize that an enlightened leader is still human and may not always behave as or make choices we would wish? Are we prepared to stand beside and behind courageous leaders during difficult, challenging, or scary times? Will we have the compassion and clarity to remember the mission, know the intention, and forgive the awkwardness in execution? Will we take our own egos out of the way and remember to stand with her when the path is uncertain and our own reputation may be threatened?

Sometimes, in this country, we behave in ways that can be quite fickle. We identify greatness, and look to be a part of it. Yet, when a leader is truly great and advocates unpopular, uncomfortable, or inconvenient positions that are rooted in truth, we often criticize and abandon. A great leader stands for something, engaging the hearts and dreams of others who share the vision. A great community supports the leader in finding ways to recover from missteps, risk rejection, and stand for those truths and dreams worth defending, regardless of the consequences or immediate reactions.

An accomplished leader stands poised to take a medical school already recognized for its work in health equity to untold levels. She will need the support of an entire community, who share her vision and values, to realize the potential this moment holds for her, the school, those served by the school, and the health of the wider population. AND we who support her will need to stay the course when challenges arise, familiar past practices are challenged, and new practices are introduced. It is a time for leadership from our highest selves to support the realization of greatness, in whatever walk of life or circumstances we find it.

Congratulations Dr. Valerie Montgomery-Rice and the Morehouse School of Medicine

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