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  • smshige3

Humble leadership

How do you teach leadership that is grounded in humility and service? We know authentic, compassionate leadership when we see someone practicing it. Isabel Stenzel Byrnes--social worker, grief counselor, author, patient advocate, public speaker, bagpiper, and athlete--often visits my classes at her alma mater Stanford to share her story of living with grace and ask us to share our stories of loss, grief, and joy. Students often say it is a highlight of their education that moves them to lead their lives in creative and courageous ways. They express how grateful they are to be reminded that they are not alone in this journey of life. They overflow with gratitude for the love she gives and the gift and privilege of sharing space and time with such a gentle soul.

Here's a letter of thanks one student wrote.

"Dear Isa

Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude for your compassion, strength, and poignant words. You are such a gifted speaker with so much heart and grace. I walked away from class feeling grounded, empowered, and hopeful.

I am in touch with the fact that death and grief are inevitable in this life, but I can trust that I will grow and create art through it all and can and will find strength and beauty in the world around me.

It was so beautiful how you held space for all of us with so much kindness, mindfulness, and presence when we shared deep and vulnerable parts of ourselves.

Your TEDx talk also resonated so deeply with me. Your powerful words led me to compassionately reflect on the parts of myself that I have lost to illness and have grieved in the past and currently grieve. My grief comes in waves. Your TEDx video also spoke to the experience I had this past year losing my best friend Nina to terminal cancer. I felt heard and seen by her words."

Meeting another member of the Stanford community who has navigated disability whilst being at Stanford inspired me to have hope that I could do the same. I feel much more empowered to reach out for support when I need it. I feel hopeful. I feel strong.

Words really can't sufficiently capture my profound gratitude or my transformative experience listening to you.


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