Monday, July 11, 2011

First Lady of Change

Absolute identity with one's cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership.  Woodrow Wilson

Betty Ford's passing had me reflecting on the leadership of First Ladies.

How is it that Betty Ford was so tremendously successful in changing the way Americans think, talk and act on cancer and addictions?  And yet had no large impact on other issues for which she was very outspoken - marijuana, premarital sex, equal rights amendment.

While Laura and Barbara Bush's advocacy for literacy and education, Michelle Obama's efforts towards childhood obesity, Rosalynn Carter's mental health agenda, Pat Nixon's volunteerism push, and Nancy Reagen's 'just say no', all helped their causes, they just didn't have the game changing impact of Betty Ford.

Then there is Hilary Clinton and healthcare reform.  Stepping well beyond advocacy and directly into the legislative process, she failed to deliver change.

So what made Betty Ford special, different, a person who created change?

Her honest and personal identification with breast cancer, alcoholism and drug addiction provided her credibility.  The other First Ladies had their passion and I can't imagine why anyone would question their devotion to their goals, but there is something deep inside of people that is triggered by a Betty Ford advocating from personal experience.

Sure, Betty Ford had to be First Lady to drive the change but, just as importantly, she had to be a cancer survivor, an alcoholic and a drug addict in order that it could BE different today.

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