Three Leadership Lessons from Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams

“I’ve had opportunities to soar in leadership, and I’ve crashed and burned and over the years,” says Stacey Abrams, political leader, voting rights activist, entrepreneur, and three-time New York Times best-selling author.

Along the way, she adds, she kept careful notes about the experiences, which led to her identification of three core lessons for leaders. Here they are:

  1. Embrace your ambition.
  2. I believe in embracing ambition and saying to myself and others if they ask, “Here’s what I can do and here’s why,” because ambition is not a bad thing. Ambition is a growth opportunity. Ambition says that more is possible, and you want to be part of it. So, we’ve got to not only lean into ambition, we’ve got to embrace it. We have to chase it. We have to believe it, and we have to believe that it is our right.
  3. When we refuse ambition, when we relegate ourselves to the smallest corners or the lowest rung, we tell ourselves that we’re not worthy. But what’s more concerning to me is that we’re telling others who look to us that they shouldn’t aspire either. And I can’t imagine a world where we tell young women that aspiration is wrong.
  4. Aspiration gets us to the places we need to be and where we want to go, and ambition is the fuel that gets us there. So, your first job and your first call to action as a leader is to embrace your ambition.
  1. Be honest and befriend your fears.
  2. Sometimes we don’t embrace ambition because we’re afraid of what it might yield or, worse, what it won’t yield. So we tell ourselves stories that we just don’t want to try, because it’s not right for us or it’s not the right time. But the reality is that’s fear talking.
  3. Now, some people will tell you to be fearless, that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Well, the last one is very true because fear is very real, and it’s an important motivator. It’s also an important caution. But rather than letting fears stop us or force us into a different direction, I look to get to know mine. I take them to lunch because I want to know why I’m afraid. What are the consequences of my fear? Then, once I deconstruct it and understand it, it doesn’t mean fear disappears; it just means I now know how to navigate it.
  1. Celebrate your failures.
  2. Celebrating failure isn’t about celebrating not being good. It’s about celebrating that you’ve tried something. You may not have been the right person, and it may not have been the right time. You may not have gotten the results you wanted. But celebrating failure means we celebrate the ambition and the fear overcome in the attempt, and sometimes the attempt is what really matters.

Stacey Abrams spoke at the 2021 Massachusetts Conference for Women. This article is based on her talk.