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GUEST POST: A Leader Disguised as a Reporter: Nicholas Kristof

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GUEST POST: A Leader Disguised as a Reporter: Nicholas Kristof

About The Author: Christian Firtze, Graduate student at Westminster College pursuing a Master of Schience in Mental Health Counseling


I have a favorite columnist who writes for The New York Times. His name is Nicholas Kristof. He is a brilliant leader disguised as a reporter. I say this because he embodies the very essence of leadership that inspires action. Simon Sinek calls this inspiration towards action, the “why” in his TED TALKS video on: How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Mr. Kristof and his wife Sheryl Wudunn have eloquently identified the “why” by addressing the oppression of women and girls worldwide. Their book, Half the Sky has inspired a movement of the same name (Half the Sky). People that get involved in this movement, like me, believe in what they are working for. They identify with the “why” (social justice) and they are motivated to work for the “what” (fostering it). Mr. Sinek indicates that if a person is driven by internal forces, for instance a passion for social justice, a remarkable commitment level occurs and this combination of passion driven commitment produces unimaginable results (like a fast growing grass roots movement that is making a difference with creative solutions to huge social inequalities).

Over the years, I enjoyed reading Mr. Kristof’s column, but knew little about his work until I was motivated by a particularly moving column he wrote. This column initiated further exploration because it resonated with strong elements of empathy. Having empathy goes beyond compassion or sympathy. Empathy is the synergistic relationship between sharing and understanding another’s experience and emotions, as if they were your own. Empathy is a component of emotional intelligence; which according to Daniel Goleman is an essential trait of leadership. Although Mr. Kristof exemplifies all five facets of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. His empathy and motivation to help others touched my humanity and created a burgeoning interest to learn and do more.

In this pivotal article that inspired me. Mr. Kristof details his experience of helping a little girl while working in India. The story begins with Mr. Kristof discovering a local girl had recently been abducted by a group of men who planned to sell her to a brothel. Mr. Kristof, understanding time was of the essence, mobilized people to help him find her and after some intense searching and truly driven work; the leader disguised as a reporter found the girl and the men that had abducted her. Mr. Kristof and his team were able to intervene. Mr. Kristof was able to garner help from local law enforcement before she was sold to the highest bidder for her virginity. The girl was then reunited with her family. This seemingly perfect ending would be seen as a heroic accomplishment and most people would call it a day. However, as good leaders do, Mr. Kristof could see the big picture or the entire game and with this view, he knew the job was incomplete. More had to be done.

Seeing the big picture is another important aspect of leadership and according to John Kotter great leaders are able to go back and forth between seeing the big picture and participating in the field of action. The girl’s story does not end with a heartwarming reunion, because Mr. Kristof’s ability to see the big picture enable him to understand that placing her back into the same circumstance would most likely push her into the fate he had work so hard to help her evade. Mr. Kristof’s next steps incorporated what Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie call adaptive work. He jump back into action and maintain disciplined attention to create change. He accomplished this through empowering and protecting the voices of leadership from below (the girl’s voice). What did she want out of life? What were her dreams, her talents? First, he listened. She wanted a chance to go to school. Then, honoring the leadership from below he helped inform her family of the value of education. With these simple, yet powerfully culminating elements, his young friend began her journey of developing her voice and talents. This simple yet deliberate action of giving the work back to her and protecting her voice empowered her to win a scholarship.

Mr. Kristof humbly offered to listen and dogmatically exhausted his will in an effort to prevail for another person’s benefit. These elements of enduring greatness are what Jim Collins calls level 5 leadership. Mr. Kristof created successful change, which according to John Kotter is leadership in action and this particular leader’s action has positively and profoundly impacted many lives around the world.


About The Author: Christian Firtze, Graduate student at Westminster College pursuing a Master of Schience in Mental Health Counseling

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About the Author:

Professor and award winning author, world traveler, Mom, thought leader, mentor, friend, and advocate Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. is dedicated to the facilitation of learning and the development of leaders in all walks of life.

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