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9 Inspirational Leadership Lessons From Kamala Harris

The trailblazing California senator and 2020 presidential candidate offers wise words we can all learn from.

California senator Kamala Harris — who announced her highly anticipated campaign for the presidency on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — is no stranger to making waves and breaking barriers, as California’s first female attorney general, and the first one of African American and South Asian descent.

As the campaign news cycle picks up speed, it’s worth revisiting the life and career lessons Harris has shared about the importance of having a strong network of friends, prioritizing family time, and gaining the confidence to talk about your own achievements. Read on for inspiration.

On work-life integration

“[My work is] so much a part of me. I think about my job all the time, not in a way that is burdensome but in a way that asks, ‘How can I do good?’ I’m also blessed to do work that I really enjoy doing. But honestly, the time that I most covet is time with my family. People who work for me know that family comes first. And I’m fortunate to have a family that is very supportive of the work I do, so I don’t have to live two separate lives.”

Harper’s Bazaar, 2011

On owning your accomplishments

“I was raised in a way that one does not talk about themselves or their feelings. One is expected to do good work, but it’s not about you, it’s not about your feelings. It’s about the thing that needs to get done. And so there was a certain level of discomfort for me about talking about my feelings as associated with those moments. It was an effort for me to speak such things. But I thought it was important to just give insight into how I was actually feeling. Just add a layer of depth to those moments.”

The Cut, 2019

On the importance of friends

“Surround yourself with really good friends. Have people around you who cheer you on, and applaud you, and support you, and are honest with you, and tell you, you know, when your breath stinks.”

Good Morning America via Twitter, 2019

On the mental demands of running for elected office

“Running for office is similar to being a trial lawyer in a very long trial. It requires adrenaline and stamina; it requires being in shape mentally and emotionally. It’s a marathon.”

The Daily Beast, 2010

On championing women and families 

“Here’s the truth people need to understand: To tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century, we must empower women and families. If we do not lift up women and families, everyone will fall short.”

— National Partnership for Women and Families gala, 2017

On grief

“When one has the unfortunate experience of suffering a great loss, things become very clear to you. Meaning you have a certain clarity about what’s important and what’s not. And there was a clarity that came out of my grief and the loss of my mother. About how I saw the world and what my role should be in the world.”

The Cut, 2019

On making your own mark

“If anyone ever gets in your way and tells you to not follow your dreams — be it because of your age, gender, what you look like or where you come from — don’t listen. Do not be burdened by what has been when you can create what should be.”

Commencement speech, University of California Hastings College of the Law, 2018

On responsible decision-making

“I’m a career prosecutor. I have been trained, and my experience over decades, is to make decisions after a review of the evidence and the facts. And not to jump up with grand gestures before I’ve done that. Some might interpret that as being cautious. I would tell you that’s just responsible.”

New York Times, 2015

On paving the way for future barrier-breakers

“My mother had a saying: ‘You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.’”

San Francisco Gate, 2009

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