Leadership Lessons from Maya Angelou, my Grandmother, and Grandmothers Everywhere

Maya Angelou just passed and I have been struggling with whether I should write a blog post to express my feelings about her life lessons or just quietly reflect to myself on their impact.

Like so many others who have spoken eloquently about her contributions and the wisdom of her quotes, her passing saddens me too. Although I never met Maya Angelou, I felt that I knew her because she reminded me of my grandmother.

A thoughtful business article I read got me thinking about Maya Angelou and my grandmother again. The article reminded me of their wisdom—the simple yet profound wisdom that comes from persevering through struggles.

I also had further reinforcement to write this post. It came from a personal email from an individual in Germany. She sent me an email in response to a comment I made about the business article. She shared how her wise, recently deceased, grandmother helped her. (Her grandmother was a survivor of the World War II concentration camps.)

So, as I’ve said over the years to many managers, “When you keep getting the same feedback from different sources, it’s wise to consider the message.”

Taking my own advice, I’ve decided to move beyond quiet reflection. Here’s three lessons for anyone in leadership that come from Dr. Angelou, from my grandmother, from my reader’s grandmother, and from grandmothers everywhere:

Maya Angelou Lesson 1: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Click To Tweet

My grandmother passed years ago. While I cannot remember every conversation we had or everything she did, I do remember these many years how she made me feel. Whenever I was around her, she made me feel like I mattered. She validated my worth. I always felt that I was important to her.

In whatever leadership capacity you have—at work, at home, or in your community—how do you make those people feel who are following you? What’s your leadership style? They’ll forget much of what you say and do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou Lesson 2: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Click To Tweet

My grandmother often said that actions speak louder than words. She had a keen insight on people and their behavior. As she would say, if you want to know what a person really feels about something watch what they do, not what they say.

As a leader, do you walk your talk? If you don’t, you’ll lose your credibility and your words will lose their impact. And, once your followers no longer trust you, you’ve lost your ability to lead them.

Maya Angelou Lesson 3: If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Click To Tweet

Whenever I spoke to my grandmother about a problem, she always pushed me to find a solution. I had to do something. She lived her life that way. She never stopped working and she never gave up, no matter what significant challenges came her way.

As a leader, what do you do when you face significant challenges? Can you lead yourself and your team through the organizational challenges that come your way? 

Like Maya Angelou, my grandmother could say so much in just a few words. And, like Maya Angelou, what my grandmother did not say in words she taught by her life example–the way she spoke and interacted with people and the way she shared her folk wisdom with humility and purpose.

As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I see that my best lessons on life and business came from my grandmother.

Sometimes you never know the full extent of a person’s impact on you until years after they are gone. I think this is true for Maya Angelou too. Though we feel the sting of her passing now, many years from now we’ll also see the lasting impact of her words of wisdom. Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou.

Finally, while we all felt we knew her, Maya Angelou did have a family and loved ones who actually did know her. They are feeling her loss more profoundly than any of us can. To them, I want to express my condolences.

With Respect,


Photo Credit: Maya Angelou visits YCP! 2/4/13 is licensed under CC BY  2.0

Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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