When I was asked to talk about an inspiring leader I was frankly nonplussed because I don’t think of people as being inspiring. When I think of what inspires me I think of books, music, theatre and art, for example – things that are constant in what they are.
To me thinking of a person as inspiring is more problematic. People do inspiring things but they are not necessarily inspiring people. We often only know their public persona not the face behind the mask.
People can act in a truly inspirational way, rising to a challenge in the spur of the moment, like the 3 women who went to the aid of the fallen soldier the other day. And then there are those who do inspiring things as part of their everyday lives.
When I started to think along these lines, about the people I admire, I realised that a lot of them have a trait in common that I really do find inspiring – they are people who rise in adversity – who have succeeded despite the odds being stacked against them. People who face adversity every day of their lives, often throughout their whole life, but overcome it through sheer determination and the will to succeed.
I was lucky enough to have tickets for the Paralympics’ athletics last year and watched Oscar Pistorius and the other blade runners compete. It was truly inspiring! An inspiring act but I’m not sure that any of us would think of Pistorius as an inspiring person just now! I have long been a fan and admirer of Stevie Wonder. Here is a musician who has influenced a generation of other musicians. Blind since birth, one of six children raised by a single mother in Detroit, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist developed into one of the most creative musical figures of the late 20th century – truly an inspiration. As indeed was his fellow blind musician – Ray Charles.
Stephen Hawking is another person I admire. A theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21 and given a life expectancy of two years by doctors. After a lifetime of exceptional academic contributions, last year, 49 years after his diagnosis, we saw Stephen Hawking take a key role in the Paralympics opening ceremony, narrating the Enlightenment segment. His sheer determination and will-power to overcome his disabilities is truly inspirational.
These really are the people who I admire. Inspiring people? I don’t know. Doing truly inspiring things? 100% yes. Influential? Without a doubt!
Susie Norton is the Leadership Foundation’s marketing and communications manager.