What It Takes to Lead: An Ode to the Leaders We Admire

By Caroline Helper (@forgetburgundy), Emily Lacy (@emstheticket) & Nikki Parrotte (@nikki_parrotte)


What makes a leader? Is it an innate trait within us or a skill that’s learned over time? Is it a carefully calculated risk or merely a happy accident? The answer is yes. All of the above.

True leaders emerge in various ways from various walks of life with various hopes, dreams, styles and personalities. And yet, there are qualities which all leaders possess: a true sense of self, passion, dedication and fearlessness. To celebrate the potential for leaders to emerge around every corner, we bring you a post saluting just a few of our favorites. Thank you for inspiring us.


Nora Ephron: The Uncompromising Leader

I’ve always loved Nora Ephron for When Harry Met Sally. She practically defined the Romantic Comedy genre with that film. She also wrote You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia. Before movies, Nora made a career as a prolific journalist writing critically and revealingly about the circles in which she travelled – from the feminist movement of the 1970s to the powerful wives of Washington D.C. politicians and personas (she was married to Carl Bernstein post-Watergate) to her own colleagues in the media.

She was fearless and smart enough to write about her own kind in a way that belied the eager admiration she felt towards her subjects. Often times that hopeful sentiment curdled into stark truths and uneasy admissions. After reading her articles, many of her subjects viewed her as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But that she was so well-loved and grieved upon her sudden death last year shows the power of uncompromised truth – and not just truth with a capital “T,” but truth as she saw it and spoke it. She was admired and respected, even though she had not always been kind.

Nora’s life was her work, and to become a part of it was to become complicit; to agree to be material for her work. That is a dangerous contract, and yet so many powerful, important and famous people knowingly entered into it because they trusted her truth and her worldview; because they trusted her. She was fearless but not ruthless, she was honest, but not cruel and she was successful without compromising herself.


Jimmy Buffett: The Happy-Go-Lucky Leader

As odd as it sounds, a few months ago Jimmy Buffett became a hero of mine. I find that these days, people spend a lot of time striving – really pushing to make things happen, or even forcing them to. And our society lauds that. We reward people who have overcome the odds, but only after they have worked extremely hard to get there; only if they have pushed past every possible weakness. We rarely laud those who go with the flow, do what they love and let things unfold as they will.

About his work, Jimmy Buffett says, “I still consider it a summer job. So, I try to maintain that summer job as long as I can. But it’s exciting to be able to have the opportunity to do things I always dreamed of as a kid.” Buffett didn’t aim to be famous; he just aimed to do what he loved and those around him saw the value in it and were drawn to his songs and his way of looking at the world. Take a moment to consider creativity. Which attitude or state of being is more conducive to creation? Striving, arranging or forcing the given elements into place will never be. On the other hand, listen to Jimmy Buffett’s advice: “If you go with your instincts and keep your humor, creativity follows. With luck, success comes, too.” When too many of us are apt to look at our faces in the mirrors and see age, hard work, or our own failings, Jimmy says, “Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have been.” That’s the way we should aim to work – with joy, love and gratitude. Take a page out of his book. Smile.


Ellen DeGeneres: The Selfless Leader

While comedy and gay rights are both wonderful things and likely associations when one speaks the name “Ellen DeGeneres,” they are not the reasons why I admire this comedian, TV personality and humanitarian. I see Ellen DeGeneres as an admirable leader in the sense that she’s widely respected and loved, honest about who she is and wants to be, selective when it comes to the brands she endorses and a true advocate for the talents of our generation and those to follow.

She began as a stand-up comedian, widened her fan base through her talk show, truly became a household name when she openly admitted to being gay, suffered the trials and tribulations associated with doing so, then bounced back and in recent years has only grown in popularity. Ellen is funny, charismatic, lighthearted and charming. People love her because she’s entertaining, but also because she’s genuine. The fact that she stands up for what she believes in and stays true to herself is inspiring. It’s easy to conform and to get sucked into all the negativity in the world, so her honesty is especially beautiful.

One of the most inspiring traits Ellen possesses is the importance she places in helping others to grow and prosper. You’ve seen six-year-old piano prodigy Tsung Tsung and adorable and multi-talented Sophia Grace and Rosie. When Ellen sees a spark within someone, she goes out of her way to ignite that flame and help them skyrocket to superstardom. To have the ability to recognize the strengths in others and help them to grow into the leader they can be is a strength in and of itself that all true leaders possess. Through helping others, you help yourself.


What leaders do you admire, and why? Share with us your favorite leaders in the comments section.

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