Summary List Placement
In November 2018, Stacey Abrams lost her bid for Georgia governor despite winning more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. The defeat didn’t faze her.
At 2 a.m. following election night, Abrams came to the podium with the composure and eloquence of a natural orator. Her message was clear: The election had been a dysfunctional example of voter suppression. Her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, had attempted to prevent tens of thousands of voters from casting their ballots. She would not concede.
“Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that,” Abrams said. “In Georgia, civil rights has always been an act of will and a battle for our souls.”
In the two years since that election, Abrams has launched grassroots organizations and mobilized activism in spite of the challenges she faced, and hasn’t given up on her bid for governor. This year, she was able to energize voters in support of another long-held dream: turning Georgia blue in the presidential election. And Abrams’ powerful organizing bears parallels to another political ascent: In 1992, voter turnout in Chicago changed the landscape of Illinois politics, driven by the efforts of one Barack Obama.
She lost, but she didn’t stop
Two years after the governor race, Abrams’s voter protection initiative, Fair Fight, registered 800,000 new voters in Georgia for the 2020 presidential elections. Many of the new voters were young people and people of color, who are often most vulnerable to voter suppression. Thanks largely to her leadership, Georgia turned blue for the presidential election for the first time since 1992.
Along the way, Abrams formed multiple organizations designed to empower voters and create social change. In 2019, she launched Fair Count, a nonprofit designed to ensure that the 2020 census provided accurate information, as well as the Southern Economic Advancement Project, which aims to build equity and economic empowerment in the South.
The politician and activist has also written two books on activism and leadership and intends to run again for governor in 2022, allies of Abrams told the Daily Beast. Abrams was reportedly in consideration for president-elect Joe Biden’s vice president pick, and told FiveThirtyEight that she has plans to run for president in the next 20 years.
Abrams is a model for civic leadership, yet her approach contrasts drastically from the traits most of us are primed to associate with conventional leadership. She’s a self-proclaimed introvert, she’s vulnerable, and she speaks openly about her personal challenges alongside her triumphs.
Abrams is resilient
Abrams says she is working in a political system that disadvantages women of color.
“There are a lot of people organizing themselves to make sure I land at the wrong destination,” Abrams said at a 2018 fundraiser in Atlanta. “There are folks who don’t think it’s time for a black woman to be governor of any state, let alone a state in the Deep South. But there’s no wrong time for a black woman to be in charge.”
All 82 previous governors in Georgia have been white men. Abrams was the first Black woman to be a major party nominee for governor in the United States.
Her advice to women is to not hold back when you have a goal.
“Do not edit your desires,” she told Forbes. “We are entitled to ambition. We are entitled to success. We are entitled to failure. And any moment of compromise on those three things starts to weaken who we are.”
She has followed this principle throughout her life. Abrams grew up in a low-income family. As a young adult, her own income went toward providing financial support to her family and paying off college debt, causing her to fall behind on taxes. Black Americans in the US are more likely to have kin in need of financial support, and therefore more likely to have to support their families throughout young adulthood.
But she hasn’t relented. On her 18th birthday, Abrams registered to vote and set up a table on her Spelman College campus with a clipboard and pen, helping others to do the same. That same year, she made a spreadsheet of life goals: at the time, to become mayor of Atlanta and write a novel. The goals have shifted in the 25 years since, but Abrams still uses the same spreadsheet to keep track of her ambitions.
If anything, her struggles have informed her perspective on policy and made her more relatable to her supporters, who describe her as “authentic.”
“There’s something about the commonness of my story that resonates,” Abrams told Vogue in 2019.
Though she’s faced her share of setbacks, Abrams is still fighting to achieve her own vision of justice — and Georgia’s flip in the 2020 election was proof of how her constant striving has paid off.
“I try to do things and have been successful — and not successful — but because I’ve gone beyond what I was told was normal for my community or normal for me, I’ve been able to have extraordinary opportunities,” Abrams told Forbes.
Abrams is an introvert
Abrams openly describes herself as an introvert. She previously told The Washington Post that she’s not naturally outspoken and prefers to be alone. Outisde of the campaign stage, she enjoys her time at home, writing romance novels or watching what she calls “an inordinate amount of television,” from the cooking competition show “Chopped” to sitcoms like “Community.”
We’re not primed to expect introversion from our leaders. Timothy A. Judge, a management professor at Notre Dame, wrote in an email to the New York Times that “introversion is a liability for all types of leadership, including political leadership.” According to Judge, “extroversion is a social trait,” and that allows leaders to be more successful in educational and work contexts.
Judge’s assessment falls in line with commonly held ideals about what a successful politician should look like: outgoing, bold, and quick to speak.
Abrams’ introversion is something she leans into. She uses it to her advantage, and said that her introverted qualities allow her to spend time listening to voters and hearing their stories.
Abrams exudes a calm energy when speaking. She gathers her thoughts and chooses precise words when she makes public appearances, and doesn’t shy away from answering questions with nuanced answers. She has been described as “a careful, prepared speaker with a bookish quality” — a trait that can appeal to voters at a time when politics seem divisive and emotionally charged.
And despite self-identifying as a proud introvert, Abrams isn’t timid. As former classmate and current New York Times reporter Emily Bazelon told the Cut, when they were at Yale Law School together, Abrams was the only other woman in her class who would regularly raise her hand to speak.
“She was the person we all thought had a future in politics,” Bazelon said. “Her magnetism and ability were that evident.”
Abrams is vulnerable
Right now, as the US faces a deadly pandemic, recession, and a racial justice reckoning, confident bravado may lead to more harm than good. The country could use a measure of vulnerability.
Social scientist Brene Brown calls this type of leadership “power to” and “power with.” President-elect Joe Biden exemplifies this type of vulnerable approach to leadership and it’s one of his greatest strengths, Brown said.
Abrams has modeled a similar type of vulnerability. She is quick to acknowledge the role of uncertainty and fear in navigating today’s world, and has said that it’s normal, even healthy, to acknowledge these things.
Abrams has also gone public about how personal struggles in her life inform her political convictions. For example, she’s spoken about her brother’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and eventual prison conviction, and how his experience inspired her to fight for prison reform.
A less authentic leader might sweep these raw and often taboo experiences under the rug, but Abrams put them out into the open for public knowledge — an act that brings her to a more relatable, human level.
“For a lot of us, confidence is borne of tragedy and disappointment, and the realization that we can still do more; it’s borne of resilience,” Abrams told Forbes. She continued, “The most important leaders are those who are trying to get us somewhere; who are not simply trying to preserve the status quo or aggrandize or aggregate power for themselves.”