Lady Bird Johnson: A Lesson in LeadershipCulture
Mar 28, 2022
When I was asked to write about women in leadership for Women’s History Month, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Do I write about the challenges faced by women in leadership; not only getting there, but also staying there? Or should I write about the ever allusive work-life balance that many working women struggle with? What about the ongoing lack of women in leadership roles throughout industries, on Boards, and in C-suite roles? Pay inequities? There is so much to this topic it is hard to know where to begin.
Then I had the opportunity last week to visit an exhibit on Lady Bird Johnson with my 16-year-old daughter. I’m not sure many people realize the importance of Lady Bird in Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. At a time when many females did not have educational opportunities beyond secondary schooling, Lady Bird graduated at the top of her class and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in history and a second degree in journalism. It was Lady Bird who funded LBJ’s first political campaign for U.S. Congress. Then in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lady Bird had the foresight to invest in a small radio and TV station in Austin, Texas, held under their company LBJ Holding. Lady Bird served as the President of the holding company.
Due in large part to Lady Bird’s astute business mind, her initial $41,000 investment went on to earn the Johnson’s more than $150 million dollars. While in the White House, Lady Bird is most known for her work involving highway beautification and other environmental causes. In fact, she was the first president’s wife to actively support legislation. Lady Bird became a trusted advisor and confidant for LBJ; some would say, more so than any of his other advisors. Lady Bird was not shy about sharing her thoughts on various programs and initiatives her husband was considering; things like civil rights, voting rights, immigration laws, and clean air to name a few.
Although I did not set out for this to be a history lesson, it is worth noting that Lady Bird accomplished all of this at a time when many women were relegated to the home. Certainly, there weren’t many women making a name for themselves in business, education, science or politics, or if they were, you didn’t hear about it. That makes Lady Bird’s accomplishments all the more impressive.
Perhaps what struck me most during my time in the exhibit was my daughter’s reaction to everything. She did not realize how difficult it was for women during this time to have a voice, and why that made Lady Bird’s accomplishments all the more impactful. During my daughter’s lifetime, she has grown up thinking women can do anything they set their minds to, and does not realize the ongoing challenges many women face who are in positions of influence in organizations still dominated in large part by men.
For centuries, women in leadership have been held to a different standard. We had to work harder, be smarter, and go above and beyond to prove we were worthy of being there. We were unicorns; often met with resistance, resentment and doubt. Over the years, I have been blessed to work with women who were outwardly confident in their abilities and ideas and made no apologies for their contributions. I say thank you to these women who served as role models, provided advice, support and guidance. Because of them, I made a promise decades ago that if I was ever in a position to empower and influence other female professionals the way they had with me, I would.
This month, as we honor the women who have made an impact in so many lives, remember: You are enough. You have as much, if not more, to offer. And you should not be afraid to offer your opinions, insights and ideas. It is our diversity of experience and thought that make us stronger individuals and benefits to our organizations. It is important that as women we continue to put ourselves out there despite the risks, so that the next generation has a smoother journey.
We would all do well to heed Lady Bird’s advice: “In closing, may I give you this advice: Use your heads. Follow your hearts. And, above all, respect your own ideas. Do not be afraid to trust yourselves. Do not dismiss your own thoughts just because they are yours.”