A Brave Leader: The Success of Rosa Parks Leadership
Refusing to give up your seat on the bus; a seemingly trivial decision in the goings-on of everyday life. Maybe one would be considered rude, or irritate others – but beyond that, the effects of the refusal would seem relatively insignificant. How is it then, that refusing to give up her a seat is exactly what Rosa Parks is most well-known for? Well, at the time and place where Rosa Parks was riding the bus, there were segregation laws that reserved the front of the bus for white citizens, and the back for black citizens. Rosa Parks was black, and when asked to stand to make room for a white man, she refused, tired of having to give in. This resulted in her arrest. Being that she was also a member of organizations which were trying to fight for civil rights, she had support from her community and was bailed out that night. This also sparked ‘bus boycotts’ where large numbers of people from the black community would boycott the public transit. Persevering through threats, violence, and the legal system, Rosa Parks held strong in her convictions. Less than a year after her initial arrest, bus segregation was ruled as unconstitutional by the supreme court – a victory for both the black community and the population at large. As a result of her persistence, Rosa Parks is known by many as “the mother of the civil rights movement”. Even after her efforts to help end bus segregation, she continued to fight for and support a variety of civil rights causes. Near the end of her life, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (the highest honour that a civilian can receive in the United States). When she passed on, she was the first woman in US history to lie in state at the capitol. Who would have thought that one woman would refuse to give in or give up, and subsequently change the world as they knew it?
Rosa Parks’ leadership style and traits are very effective, and ones that may be wise for others to emulate. Throughout her life, she exemplified diligence, persistence, and determination. Even in the face of great trials – like being arrested and threatened – she held true to her beliefs. She never gave up, and continued to fight for her cause, despite it being risky for her to do so. Her initiative was distinctly clear, as not only was she a member of many groups advocating for improvements in civil rights, she went against the grain and refused to societal rules which she considered arbitrary and unconstitutional. She didn’t wait for others to refuse, she made the decision to do so on her own, and held firm in her decision, despite the risks and ramifications. Her leadership style was mainly democratic. She didn’t view others as subordinate to herself, and worked with others, guiding them and inspiring them to do their part in furthering the civil rights cause. Though it took a lot of dedication and energy on her part, it seems evident now that it was worthwhile.
It is clear that the actions of Rosa Parks made a drastic impact on the way the world worked. Based on her actions and successes as a leader, one key strength she demonstrated was having high levels of emotional intelligence (as defined by Goleman, 1995). Most specifically, she displayed strength in the area of self-regulation. Self-regulation primarily involves remaining in control and distanced one’s emotions, taking initiative, and being personally accountable and trustworthy. Analyzing her refusal and its aftermath, we can see that she remained self-regulated in her behaviour. The refusal itself demonstrated initiative, and dealing with the legal system and ramifications of her actions demonstrated accountability. Her consistency in behaviour and speech demonstrated sincerity, and intention – that she was trustworthy. Through the whole process, there is no documentation of her becoming emotionally volatile or lashing out, which leads us to believe that she remained self-regulated. All three of these concepts are key in assuming a leadership role and being effective. Without initiative, nothing gets started, and therefore, nothing gets done. Without being trustworthy and accountable, it is difficult to maintain or gather a following. And without a following, you wouldn’t be a leader – because leadership is essentially about a relationship. Remaining emotionally level and in control is also important, as making rational and productive decisions depends on an individual focusing the facts, and being informed by but not overwhelmed by emotion. Without being level and controlled emotionally, the likelihood that decisions made could have negative impacts increases. Having strong self-regulation skills was a key player in the success of Rosa Park’s leadership efforts. After all, if she didn’t take the initiative and refuse to give up her seat – none of the subsequent events would’ve played out. Someone had to do something first, otherwise nothing would have changed, and we would still be living in a world with public transit segregated by race.
Personally, I know that I have a tendency to become emotional volatile and lack self-regulation. I tend to procrastinate and become overwhelmed by my emotions. Had I been in Rosa’s place, I likely would’ve reacted differently. Unless I was feeling particularly stubborn, I likely would’ve just given up my seat. If I hadn’t however, when confronted by law enforcement I would probably fall-apart emotionally and start crying. My reaction is much different compared to Rosa’s for multiple reasons. Mostly though because struggle with emotional regulation, and don’t like standing out unless something really goes against my values bluntly. If I see violence or potentially harmful behaviour, I typically will step in. Though in hindsight, we can all understand the negative impact of segregation on public transit [in terms of civil rights], I’m sure that many individuals would’ve viewed it as trivial and irritating. Considering that the bus segregation itself was not a blatant act of violence, many individuals would have and did simply give up their seats. Rosa saw the big picture, held strong in her convictions, and fought, non-violently, for civil rights. believe that what Rosa did was brilliant, and exponentially more effective than what I likely would have done, had I been in her position.
Another key aspect of Rosa Park’s leadership success was her social networking. Prior to the incident on the bus, Rosa was involved with organizations that were comprised of like minded individuals who were working to further the civil rights movement. As an active member, she made connections with numerous individuals and became well known by her community as a whole. Not only does networking foster self esteem and positive emotion – it also provides individuals with social resources to rely on when times are difficult. Rosa’s network was so strong that word got out quickly and another prominent member of her organization was able to bail her out of jail the same day she got arrested. Had she not had a strong social network, it is likely that she would have been immobilized, in custody for much longer. Her networking also allowed for her to build a positive reputation – one of integrity and credibility. This positive reputation was key in her ability to be a reliable plaintiff in court. Had she not had much of a reputation, or worse – had a negative reputation, it is unlikely that she would be a good candidate for challenging the segregation laws in the legal system. It is evident that social networking was a major contributing factor in Rosa Parks’ success, and also in her ability to deal with any challenges that came along the way. Had I been in Rosa Parks’ situation, I probably would have fared much worse. Though I maintain a good reputation with the majority of the individuals who do know me, I do not have strong relationships with many people. I tend to be more introverted and prefer spending time alone. Thus, I probably wouldn’t have been bailed out as quickly, resulting in me being stuck in custody, with limited influence. Rosa’s social networks were evidently strong enough for her to develop high levels of self-efficacy and self-esteem. She was strongly convicted in her cause, and remained stable. Without social support, it would have been much more challenging to remain emotionally healthy, and have such a broad impact. After all, you need at least one person to follow you – in order for you to be considered a leader.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially – Rosa Parks was persistent. As aforementioned, she never gave up. Despite being arrested and threatened with violence, she never stopped working for her cause. Let’s not forget the unmentioned underlying situational factors that Rosa had to face on a daily basis. She was black, and a woman. Obviously, with the segregation, racism was still prominent, and something people of colour encountered everywhere they went – not only on the bus, but with their interactions with educational facilities, libraries, and even with which water fountains there were able to use. Racism was rampant, and broadly accepted. This makes her courage to stand up for her cause even more evident. It would have been easy for her to back down and be agreeable, following the crowd; but she didn’t. She took risks, and continued to do so even when her life was at stake. She didn’t stop until the bus segregation laws were abolished, and even after this, she continued to work to improve the way people of colour were treated in society. Many people may argue that risking your life for a non-violent cause is foolish, but I would propose that unfortunately, it is often necessary. Obviously, it depends on personal values and priorities. However, someone has to take initiative for changes to be made, and there are some people in the world who will use and threaten violence if your stance challenges their own.
So yes, Rosa Parks was risking her life. Many of us, myself included, would cower under the same circumstances. Changing our opinions to mimic the majority, even when it goes against our own deeply-held beliefs. Is this a good option? It depends on what you want. If you care more about reversing an injustice and challenging the status quo, having the courage to take risks is essential. Holding firm in your beliefs, even in the face of extreme adversity, is essential. Persistence, insistence, commitment, grit. We need courageous leaders like Rosa Parks to inspire change. We need dedicated, committed individuals to lead the way in rectifying injustices. With her leadership style and traits, she inspired change, and banded together with others to work through associated tribulations.
She worked for people, and with people – not over people. Quite obviously, she was an effective leader. Laws were changed as a direct result of her actions. There has been a shift in the general viewpoint of the majority – racism is now viewed as abhorrent, rather than the norm. Without Rosa’s leadership, we might have remained a segregated society. Clearly, her “mother of the civil rights movement” title was well deserved.
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