See another section in Articles & Speeches

Leading the Way

Excerpted from LEADING THE WAY by Marianne Schnall, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright � 2019 by Marianne Schnall. All rights reserved.

There are Many Ways to Be a Leader and Enact Change

There are multiple levels of leadership. Your leadership in your own family, your community, how you lead your life, how you present yourself in the world as one who is willing to use what you have to give to others. That to me is the defining meaning of what it takes to be a leader. — OPRAH WINFREY

Despite the tumultuous and concerning times we have been living through in this country, something positive has emerged: a heightened and unprecedented level of civic engagement and activism. Not only are more women running for office, but they are also using their voices as advocates for change in all kinds of ways—marching in historic numbers, voting, sharing their stories, contacting their representatives, donating to and volunteering for causes they believe in. Women are advocating for change to address problems ranging from climate change to gun violence to sexual harassment, racism, immigrant rights, economic inequality, and a host of other serious issues facing our country.

All of our voices matter, and we each have something powerful and unique to offer—even speaking out against a sexist or racist comment is a form of leadership. We can all be agents of change and experience the rewards of being a part of a hopeful, positive movement to create a better world.

Stay engaged at whatever level—it doesn’t have to be elected office. There are many ways to be a leader. —ARIANNA HUFFINGTON

Not everybody needs to run for office. Some people need to be better advocates in their neighborhood. Some people need to be better advocates when it comes to fixing up schools and keeping the community thriving. Some people need to be better advocates in terms of the environment. So there are many ways to serve and many ways that we can fulfill our role as citizens of the United States of America. —DONNA BRAZILE



You know the little saying, “Think globally, act locally”? No, act locally first, see that you make a difference, then you dare to think globally. —JANE GOODALL

A study found that the autonomous feminist movements are the key to changing violence against women. This is a study that’s been conducted over four decades in seventy countries, and it revealed that the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.

I’ve always felt the best way to make change is to work with the grassroots and to focus locally where you are in your own community…There’s plenty to do everywhere. When people say they don’t know how to direct their energy, I want to say, “Walk outside.” People are suffering everywhere—people looking for work and needing health care, people desperate to talk and tell their story. The world changes from the ground up. —EVE ENSLER

Activism, traditionally, is easier to do when it seems like something that doesn’t affect you directly. That’s why people get so outraged by the Taliban, but don’t get so outraged by the conditions in Brownsville, New York. I mean, people are so much more willing to care when it’s farther away, in part because it seems much more desperate, but in part because you don’t have to assume responsibility if it’s happening so far away. It’s a problem they can just help to “solve” without having to take responsibility. And I think that you actually have more effect and impact if you look at your own life and your own community and you start to make change in very minute ways there—and that, collectively, can add up to something much bigger. —AMY RICHARDS

Change is like a house: you can’t build it from the top down, only from the bottom up. Whatever small change we make will be like a pebble in a pond. It will reverberate outward and it will also be fun. We’re meant to be active and contribute to the world. What’s the alternative? Just sitting there and wondering, “Oh, if I had just done this, maybe…” I’ve learned one thing: no matter how hard it is to do it, it’s harder not to do it. Then you’re stuck with wondering, “What if I had said…? What if I had done…?” —GLORIA STEINEM

I don’t think it matters who you are, where you come from, or where you want to make your impact. You can make your impact on your neighborhood block. You can make your impact on your local school board. You can make your impact on any issue that you think is important. But the promise is, because you think it’s important, it is important. Women’s views and their values are important, and as they communicate their views and values, they will change outcomes. And it could be as local as their block, or as important as a national debate. It’s important to be a voice for the cause that you’re fighting for. I think all of us can use our voices to be as powerful as they can be, on any issue that we think is important. —KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND


If we all do what little we can, collectively we can make a difference. There are very many little things that we all can do. And even though we think that a particular action at an individual level may be very small, just imagine if it is repeated several million times. —WANGARI MAATHAI

Gandhi was correct: you have to be the change you want to see in the world. And it changes with one person at a time. —OPRAH WINFREY

If we all give up hope and do nothing, then indeed there is no hope. It will be helped by all of us taking action of some sort. Cumulatively, our small decisions, choices, and actions make a very big difference. —JANE GOODALL

There are so many things that you can do. Look in the mirror and think about this: you’ve been commissioned to figure out how you, one person, can make a difference. Take on the responsibility of giving it some thought. Think of one thing, ten things, a hundred things, whatever it is. And then get the information out there. What do you have that is your personal power? —DR. SYLVIA EARLE

Whatever you care about, you can make a difference. You really can. Don’t ever underestimate yourself. Do not underestimate the human spirit. —BILLIE JEAN KING

People think that if they can’t wave their magic wand and change the whole world for the better overnight, there’s no point. I want people to understand that it’s all of the work that all of us do in different areas [that] makes the world a better place. No one person, no one issue, is the key to changing everything. And if we all contribute in our own way, even a couple of hours a month of volunteering meaningfully, how awesome would the world be? —JODY WILLIAMS

Every time we have moved the arc of the moral universe, that very long arc in our nation’s history, it’s been because of ordinary people who got involved and decided to do extraordinary things. —VALERIE JARRETT


I got excited about [the Worldwide Orphans Foundation] because I saw the good work up close…Like any social cause, you just meet some people who are doing some things, and you realize, “Ah! These forty children are different than they were a year ago, and these 250 will be different if I do this fundraiser, and maybe by the year’s end, 1,800 children will have this,” and it suddenly becomes a real thing and not this giant idea that you wish could get better. It was nice to be reminded of the rest of the world. I think there’s nothing wrong with giving your time and energy and money for very selfish reasons. If it makes you feel good, great. Just being outside of yourself…just to have a human connection that means something—again, it’s a selfish feeling—it makes you feel good. There’s nothing wrong with that. —AMY POEHLER

I see a lot of people really wanting to do positive things in the world. And I feel that it’s like a new generation. . . . I think volunteering is the most fun thing—it can be really amazing and rewarding and meaningful. Sometimes I feel like it’s more for me. I mean, I’m not really helping them anywhere near as much as they are helping me. It completely broadens my view of the world. —NATALIE PORTMAN

Giving, loving, caring, empathy, and compassion, going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others—this is the only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing. —ARIANNA HUFFINGTON

If [people] choose to get involved, they will be blown away by how joyful it actually is and how much fun it really is, and if they put their brains and their energy and their money behind something, they really can contribute to changing the world. And I believe that not just for somebody who’s wealthy, but for somebody who volunteers in their local community and gives their time, too. There are a lot of benefits to giving back, time or resources, in either case. —MELINDA GATES


Don’t agonize—organize. Just get out there and make the difference. —NANCY PELOSI

I never said, “Ooh, I want to be an activist.” I just found that the more I spoke my truth, the more activist I became. I am constantly amazed at how courageous and radical speaking the truth is. The most activist thing you can do is just speak the truth and search for the truth and just follow that trail, and it will come to you. Believe me, the universe will hand it to you. —MELISSA ETHERIDGE

I think that now more than ever there are so many ways to get involved, especially if you’re talking about politics or trying to change things. There are so many ways to just have a voice—to blog about things, to talk about things. People now have so much more access to information and spreading information. So this is the best time I can imagine ever to have a cause that you believe in and to really talk about it and to spread your message. It’s amazing the power that everybody has to have a voice now. So to take that into consideration—that everybody who has access to a computer has the same power of voice [as] anybody else—it’s really incredible. —MARGARET CHO

Our role is to dream a better world and to work courageously to make that dream possible. —ISABEL ALLENDE

Take the tools and the skills and the resources of every kind that you have and go out, find something that you know is not fair, is not just, and begin to change it. In whatever way you know, in whatever way is appropriate for you, but don’t ignore it. Don’t think it’s somebody else’s job to change it. Confront it in your own way, and make it your job to make change. —ANITA HILL

Excerpted from LEADING THE WAY by Marianne Schnall, published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright � 2019 by Marianne Schnall. All rights reserved.


Marianne Schnall is a widely published journalist and interviewer whose articles and interviews with well-known individuals such as Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Carter, and many more, appear in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Forbes, CNN.com, Refinery29, Huffington Post, Women's Media Center, and many others. She is also the founder and executive director of Feminist.com and founder of What Will It Take Movements, a media and event platform that engages women everywhere to advance in all levels of leadership and take action.

She is the author of What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership & Power. Her new books include Leading the Way: Inspiring Words for Women on How to Live and Lead with Courage, Confidence, and Authenticity, and Dare to Be You: Inspirational Advice for Girls on Finding Your Voice, Leading Fearlessly, and Making a Difference.

You can find out more about her work and writings at www.marianneschnall.com.

home | what's new | resources | ask amy | news | activism | anti -violence
events | marketplace | about us | e -mail us | join our mailing list

©1995 - 2019 Feminist.com All rights reserved.