A Transformational Speech, A Humbling Lesson

Russell L. Ackoff describes a Transformational Leader as one who can facilitate the formulation of an inspiring vision even if it is unattainable. 
Hinda Mizrahi gave such a transformational speech in New York, on Sunday, February 10, 2013 before 1,000 people attending a benefit for OHEL, an organization serving people with disabilities, where I am fortunate to be a part.

Robert and Hinda Mizrahi were honored with OHEL’s Children’s Advocacy Award at the Annual Gala.

Hinda, the oldest of 11 siblings, 4 of whom have a developmental disability, described life as it was growing up 30 years ago.  People, she said, viewed her genes as “blemished”.  She said she chose to share her story because “Everyone has a story.” She hoped to enlighten others so they would not feel ashamed of having a sibling with a disability, or a child with a disability, or themselves having a disability – because after all, who amongst us is perfect? 

Hinda riveted the audience. Watching her in person and surrounded by 6 jumbo monitors, no one stirred.  I sat next to Hinda as she delivered this speech that she had written months earlier and had changed only a word or two since that time.  We’ve all heard many speeches given by many people.  It isn’t only that Hinda’s speech was flawless, articulate, remarkable, it was delivered with the passion of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream and the eloquence of Abba Eben, the former Israel Ambassador to the United Nations.

“We learned in our home, that when a sibling with a disability starts singing on a busy street on a rainy day in April, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about…” There was nothing any sibling could do to embarrass us because we experienced early on that being different still offers something unique to our family …  and probably most importantly,  I learned the true meaning of love.” 

Ackoff states, “A vision is a state that is considered to be considerably more desirable than the current state.”  Hinda Mizrahi’s vision is a state whereby you meet someone who looks funny or acts funny and whose mental capacity is different, yet he or she will transform you and inspire you so that you will become special.

We each strive in our own way to make a difference in other people’s lives whether it be our spouse, children, parents, family, friends, co-workers. Some of us get lucky and may have several such moments in life.  Others are never sure if such inspiring moments ever take place.

A popular ad for the New York Lottery is “Hey, you never know.”  Could anyone have anticipated that evening that a 15-minute speech could so penetrate their soul? That it could transform their views on stigma?  That they could understand so clearly, “There but for the grace of G-d…”  

Yet, it seemed as if everyone in the audience was just a visitor in Hinda’s living room as she was speaking to her parents.  She honored them saying that they are “the true owners of this story, a small story of young children which became a grand story of young adults.”   

She spoke about her siblings with a disability whom she loves, is proud of and wouldn’t change for anything in the world.  These are siblings she will never be ashamed of.  And certainly never to be described by anyone as damaged. Hers is a story to tell the world of the wonderful, caring, loving parents she has and the lessons she learned.  How many of us take such public moments to tell our parents how much we love them and the life lessons they have taught us.

Russell Ackoff’s definition of Transformational Leaders is a classic description, which we all know as guiding, encouraging, and facilitating others.  Yet, a true transformational leader begins by transforming himself. 

That evening, Hinda Mizrahi transformed herself; she transcended her own family experience and humbly taught 1,000 people to view disabilities, at least for one evening, in a new light.   She achieved Ackoff’s formulation of an inspired vision, even if for some, it is unattainable. 

Take a moment and watch Hinda’s remarkable speech. You will be more than inspired.


About the Author
David Mandel is Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York