The Power of Many and the Power of One

I was YouTube surfing the other day.  I’m not sure what I was looking for…just looking.  In the midst of the plethora of films on offer, I came across two that made me think about what it takes to make a difference.  So, in acknowledgement that March is Women’s History Month in the United States and Europe, (in Canada and India, we reserve October for this acknowledgement), I offer two stories of women who found and exercised their considerable courage and used it to fight for something they believed in.

The first story illustrates The Power of Many, of bringing people together to create something that would likely not have happened otherwise.  It is a story about women who built a daunting solidarity fused by a common purpose. That purpose was to end civil war in Liberia and create a safe place for children to live and grow.

It began with six women, Leymah Gbowee, Etweda “Sugars” Cooper, Vaiba Flomo, Asatu Bah Kenneth, Etty Weah and Janet Johnson Bryant. Together, these women created a groundswell of support for their cause until there were thousands of women working together in protest against a bloody and merciless civil war that spilled the blood of countless innocents.

Here is the short trailer to the movie, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, made about this tremendous accomplishment:

These very brave and very determined women showed the world how to make change and bring about peace through peaceful means even in the face Charles Taylor’s brutal regime.

The second story illustrates the Power of One. This is the story of Violette Szabo, a young woman who went from selling perfume at the Bon Marche in London to serving as an agent in Britain’s Secret Operations Executive (SOE) during WWII. During her initial training, the instructors were reportedly concerned about her ability to carry out her mission suggesting that she had no initiative and needed constant guidance.  But, Violette was to prove her worth a hundredfold.  Parachuting into France in 1944 with the goal of determining the status of the Resistance there, she successfully completed her mission and returned to embark on another.

She could have chosen another, safer path.  She could have stayed in England to raise her small daughter, Tanya.  But, she must have seen a greater purpose for her life and a greater way to secure her daughter’s future.  Ultimately, she was shot in front of a firing squad at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany at the age of twenty-three.

Violette Szabo was posthumously awarded Britain’s George Cross and France’s Croix du Guerre, for bravery. In 1958, a movie was made of her life entitled Carve Her Name With Pride.  Here is a clip:

So, what, you may ask is the bottom line here?  Well, this is what comes up for me.

  • Leadership does not always show itself in expected places
  • We all have what it takes to be a leader in something and it’s usually something about which we are impassioned.
  • Leadership and courage are inextricably linked.
  • We find our strength when we most need it.
  • Whether we are one or many, it is possible to make a difference.

What do you think? What would you add? What do these stories say to you?



Filed under building awareness, Leadership, Leading Change, Learning, motivating & Inspiring

4 responses to “The Power of Many and the Power of One

  1. Hi Gwyn,
    I really enjoyed this post. So glad you took it in this direction. We miss a HUGE piece of the world when we focus leadership only in the arena of business. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most of the significant changes in culture occur from unexpected leadership – outside of the business world.
    There’s an extraordinary untold story of bravery and altruism in the ranks of women fighting for dignity and justice in every corner of the world. I don’t say that to the exclusion of many fine men who have also displayed great leadership in just causes throughout history, but because the story of women in the place of their cultural context, is so unique.
    Yes, I think it does courage, sometimes great courage, to be a real leader.
    There is much to learn by looking in the wider world more deeply to understand the real meaning of leadership.
    Here’s to Violette Szabo and the 6 women from the Power of Many who everyday throughout history, laregely unseen and unknown, change the axis of the earth – even just a tiny bit.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Louise,
      When I first began this post, I was a bit concerned that I might be going a bit far afield from my usual focus, that is, leadership in organizations. But, sometimes I feel the need to go wider or perhaps higher to take in a larger perspective, one that allows me to think about how some of the learning from it can be distilled into useful insights about leadership on the ground.
      Thank you for deftly picking up my intent here and for making that connection in your comment. It has added much value to the post.:-)

  2. Your post made me think of this famous quote: “Never doubt the power of a small group of committed people to make a difference. In fact it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

    I echo Loiuse’s sentiment as well that “There is much to learn by looking in the wider world more deeply to understand the real meaning of leadership.”

    Your summary points were spot on. Thanks for the giant dose of inspiration!

  3. Gwyn Teatro

    Susan, I love the Margaret Mead quote. When there is so much over which we can opt to feel powerless , it is a good reminder about the power of the ‘few’ as well as the ‘many’ and the ‘one’.
    Thanks for adding your own powerful voice here.

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