Tell the truth. Commit to “It’s all of us.”
This week, the author and human rights activist Nadia Murad — a survivor of horrific sexual, social, and psychological abuse suffered after she was kidnapped in 2014 by operatives of the so-called Islamic State — was named one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
After enduring three months of torture, Murad escaped her captors and eventually founded Nadia’s Initiative, a group dedicated to “helping women and children victimized by genocide, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.” She wants to track down ISIS leaders and put them on trial for human rights violations. She has been named a special UN Ambassador for the Dignity of for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. In announcing the award, the Nobel committee cited Murad for putting her “own personal security at risk by courageously combatting war crimes and securing justice for victims.” That’s a diplomatic way of saying that the articles and books Murad writes, the speeches she gives, and the justice she seeks, all make extremists want to kill her. She tells the truth anyway, on behalf of the thousands of victims of human trafficking in Iraq, and the hundreds of thousands worldwide. She has emerged as their leader – their voice.
So: What this woman is doing is courageous. It is true leadership. And yes, it is accountable leadership. I share Murad’s story with you today not just because it is inspiring on a human level – although it certainly is that – but because I want you to notice that two of the specific commitments Murad has championed, since her escape from hell on earth in 2014, are absolutely critical for accountable leadership in any realm. Those two commitments are: “I tell the truth” and to “It’s all of us.”
Accountable leaders tell the truth. Murad has spoken the truth about a difficult subject … and the world has started to listen. This is a consistent trait of all accountable leaders: Telling it like it is. Whenever we work with an organization, we always find that if people in that organization are not being accountable, it’s because the leader isn’t being accountable. Accountable always starts with that leader, and very often the first major change that needs to happen is the leader needs to make a personal commitment to telling the truth. The truth may hurt, but it is the truth. To an accountable leader, telling the truth is a non-negotiable precondition for heading up any worthwhile mission. Once the truth is on the table. leadership can make changes. If leadership gets better at telling the truth, the team will get better … not the other way around. Everything rises and falls on leadership’s ability to speak the truth.
Accountable leaders commit to “It’s all of us.” Murad has emerged as a fighter on behalf of those who have been subjected to the very worst that human nature has to offer. She has turned that global group of survivors into a community of activists. She has inspired and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people … and empowered them to take actions that they otherwise would never have taken. This is another trait of accountable leadership: They make people feel like they belong, like they are part of a team. People know when they are a part of the whole. They know when the leader sees them as an integral part of this whole. When people feel like an important part of the team, they empower themselves. They come to believe that they can do anything. This thinking impacts the work they take on, the challenges they are willing to face, and the risks they will take. People will get closer to fulfilling their true potential when they have a leader who lets them know, at a very deep level, that they are a part of a community. When that happens, people and teams achieve things they never would have tried otherwise.
The Nobel Committee got this one absolutely right. This week, I celebrate Nadia Murad for her personal courage … and for the example she sets for all of us as an accountable leader.