Leadership lessons from Maya Angelou

By Darlene Slaughter on June 6, 2014

As we mourn the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou we also celebrate her life, her contributions, and the wisdom she shared with the world. She was a poet, author, teacher, historian, activist, leader and mentor who taught us what it means to live and lead with your heart in every facet of life.

While I never met her personally, I have been in her presence and experienced the light and love she gave to the world firsthand. I’m also lucky enough to know several diversity officers who knew and respected her deeply.

What was so moving to me about Maya Angelou, and I believe to most people, was her authenticity. And it was her authenticity, along with the wisdom she shared, that made her such an endearing leader. She was often the voice of reason in a world that’s sometimes full of unreasonableness. As leaders, we can all learn from someone who stood up for what she believed in with grace, dignity, and courage.

And perhaps the best way to celebrate her life is to honor the legacy of ideas she left. Nothing has guided my philosophy of leadership more than the first quote listed. But there are lessons and inspiration in all of these quotes and many others:

“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.”

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”

Leaders will always be responsible for hard numbers such as sales, profits, and market share. Maya Angelou reminds us that leading with authenticity, courage, and heart makes it all worthwhile. She will be missed.

We all have a favorite Maya Angelou quote. What’s yours?

Slaughter_DarleneDarlene Slaughter is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. She leads the continued development of Linkage’s Inclusive Leadership and Advancing Women Leaders practice areas. She also serves as Institute Chair for Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to joining Linkage, Darlene was a Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Fannie Mae. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Posted in Blog, Inclusive Leadership

About Darlene Slaughter

Darlene Slaughter is a former Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Fannie Mae.
15 comments on “Leadership lessons from Maya Angelou
  1. Dr. Terry White says:

    From being comes all we do. Dr. Terry

    • Darlene says:

      Dr. Terry I love that – “from being comes all we do”, so profound. It more could just be. Thank you for your comment.

  2. exoligu says:

    “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

    • Darlene says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s amazing how the quotes and statements of Maya Angelou has touched us all.

  3. Jodi Day says:

    Yes!!…she will be quite a loss to society Ms. Slaughter.

    Ms. Angelou was very inspirational for me, especially during the early adult years of my 20s…in growing up with very little productive leadership within my family….she provided the effective leadership that I needed and starved for & still use her leadership encouragement words today (in my 40s!)…I will always be thankful for Ms. Angelou’s writings & wisdom. We were so lucky to have her within our lifetime.

    My favorite quote of hers is:
    “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.”
    ~ Maya Angelou

  4. Darlene says:

    So true Jodi. I am currently teaching a workshop on how to become an Effective Coach and at the end of the day when you are coaching someone, it’s all about how you make them feel.

    Thank you for sharing your favorite quote! I love this!


  5. Enjoyed these inspiring insights! Thanks for sharing.

    • Darlene says:


      Thank you for being out there and supporting the blogs. It is refreshing to see what is meaningful, inspirational, and insightful to others.

  6. Suzanne says:

    She was such a talented, insightful human being. I am glad we can still hear her voice in her poetry and novels.

  7. JUDY GRAY says:

    With that being said, as soon as I get back to work, I am going to start my work. My work in fulfilling my dreams and destiny in school and work and Spiritual growth and development of other languages and traveling. Thank you Jesus but thay my sisters Dr. Angelou and Dr. Slaughter.

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