Reaching the Summit: Leadership Lessons from Historical Greats – Shirley Chisholm

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Leadership is a behavior, not a position, and great leaders don’t just tell people what to do. Great leaders empower people to make decisions that support the goals and vision of a community, a business, or a movement. At Summit, a core element of our executive leadership development is the belief that lessons from great leaders of the past can help shine a light on leadership for the future.

In celebration of Black History Month, today we highlight an amazing leader, Shirley Chisholm. Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first African American woman to make a bid for president of the United States (1972). Ms. Chisholm also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

Shirley taught us that being a leader is about taking the responsibility of guiding, listening, and directing a group of people towards a common goal.

Shirley Chisholm is known for accomplishing many firsts during her political career, but what made her a great leader was her willingness to listen and stand up for those around her. Born in 1924, in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm was engulfed in poverty and segregation. This, along with her father, is what inspired her to work for change in her community.

Chisholm knew that leading the fight for the rights and freedoms of others would require her to make sacrifices and be willing to fail. She was a fierce advocate for women’s rights and promoted the education and welfare of children. For many leaders today, Shirley Chisolm acts as a reminder of all the great things we are capable of obtaining and what skills we must possess to be a great leader.


Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015

Women’s Hall of Fame 1993


“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” – Shirley Chisholm

“Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes…We must replace the old, negative thoughts about our femininity with positive thoughts and positive action affirming it, and more. But we must also remember that we will be breaking with tradition, and so we must prepare ourselves educationally, economically, and psychologically in order that we will be able to accept and bear with the sanctions that society will immediately impose upon us.”    – Shirley Chisholm