Leadership

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee defines what it means to be a true leader

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee speaks about 'The Role of Women at the Front Lines of Peace Building' during a Visionary Women Salon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 5, 2015
Sarah Hummert | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee speaks about 'The Role of Women at the Front Lines of Peace Building' during a Visionary Women Salon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 5, 2015

There are many ways to define what being a leader is, but for one recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize it is someone who journeys with his or her people — and who takes a stand when others won't.

"Leaders are the ones who will stand up and speak when no-one else is willing to speak up," Leymah Gbowee, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, told an audience Thursday.

"People who will take a step back and say, 'Though I'm sleeping in a comfortable bed, but I'm not comfortable until someone else out there is comfortable.' And for me, that is what I see leadership to be."

Speaking at the Women in the World summit in New York City, Gbowee told attendees that a leader wasn't someone who is negative, or bullies people into submission or is divisive.

Activist Leymah Gbowee (L) and journalist Norah O'Donnell speak onstage during the 2018 Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center on April 12, 2018 in New York City.
ANGELA WEISS | AFP | Getty Images
Activist Leymah Gbowee (L) and journalist Norah O'Donnell speak onstage during the 2018 Women In The World Summit at Lincoln Center on April 12, 2018 in New York City.

In 2011, Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment in leading a women's peace movement that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War.

Gbowee was behind the mobilization of an interreligious coalition named the "Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace" movement, which helped encourage women to take part in nonviolent protests and more in order to promote peace in the region. Gbowee went on to found Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which provides leadership and education opportunities across the continent.

"Leaders are the ones who will stand up and speak when no-one else is willing to speak up." -Leymah Gbowee, Activist

During her talk in New York, Gbowee reflected upon the movement in Liberia and how it was successful and fought for change.

"When I worked with the women, one of the things that I realized made our movement successful is that I showed up first, and I was the last to leave. In places and spaces where they did not expect me to show up, I came there. I understood the struggle," she said. "I was in the forefront of the marches, even when the guns were in front of us."

"A leader is that person who really and truly decides, 'We're doing this and we will never rest until we see it come to an end,'" she added.

Joint winners Yemeni journalist Tawakul Karman, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hold up their prizes at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony at Oslo City Hall on December 10, 2011
Ragnar Singsaas | WireImage | Getty Images
Joint winners Yemeni journalist Tawakul Karman, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hold up their prizes at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony at Oslo City Hall on December 10, 2011

Gbowee said that during her travels she had seen women inside and outside of the U.S. show what true leadership is, because "a leader is that person who is selfless."

During her speech, the activist pointed out that great leadership had been seen by the groups taking activism outside and onto the streets, drawing attention in particular to the young students who survived February's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

"When the adults are still speaking politics, there's a group of brave young people who refuse to sit behind their computers and use pseudonyms," she said.

"I have so much respect for the Parkland children, because while they are using social media, they are telling their leaders that 'We're bringing it back home to you.' And that's what activism is about. And that's what doing a revolution is about. And that's what making change is about."

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