What Leadership Looks Like

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Nancy Lott Henry looks like a leader to me. She didn’t set out to be a leader. She may not think of herself that way, still. When she left the tiny village of Avon Lake, a town not yet a suburb – a town of grapevines and vacation cottages – she wanted to be a missionary nurse. “Maybe I’ll be back in two years,” she told her parents. She’d seen a UNICEF documentary about India, and that’s where she was headed, in 1960.

This summer, she came back to Avon Lake, now very much a suburb.   A few grapevines remain, decorating the entrances of subdivisions with names like “The Vineyards.” She returned to her home church, where she was honored and thanked for her 56 years of service in India…56 years and counting.

When she married an Indian doctor, she faced discrimination. She was no longer allowed to serve under the auspices of the denomination (male missionaries were allowed to marry “natives” and continue service but women were not.) When she became pregnant, people asked if her baby would be born with stripes.

A staff nurse in the United States, she found herself suddenly a nursing superintendent in India. She taught herself, learned from others, and was tireless in her efforts. She initiated a nursing school, developed a community health program and helped to found a community school for the children of the area. She never brags about herself, but sincerely and fondly thanks all of those who helped her along the way. When she visited earlier this month, she said to me, “Kelly, I never would have had such a rewarding life had I stayed in the United States.”

Last weekend, my husband and I saw the movie, “Sully.” As I watched Tom Hanks embody the character of Captain Sullenberger, I kept thinking, “He looks like a leader.” He demonstrated focused courage while making the unorthodox decision to land a plane in the Hudson River. He personally helped each passenger off the plane, checked it and rechecked it even as water was swelling the cabin. He was riddled with anxiety until he received word that each passenger was safe. And in a public hearing, he thanked his crew for their grace under pressure.

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As voters in the United States contemplate the qualities necessary for presidential leadership, I am grateful for these two examples of leadership. Though very different persons and stories, both Nancy Lott Henry and Captain Sullenberger display these character traits of leadership which I highly value: courage, self-sacrifice, and humility (which includes the capacity to acknowledge a mistake and ask for forgiveness.)

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