Lead from Your Heart Like Betty White

Jan 11, 2022 | Executive Coaching

“I’ve never been one to stand outside and criticize.  I’d rather get inside and see what’s going on, see how I can help.”
Betty White to AARP, 2011


It may feel like gilding the lily, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Betty White.

Who else could posthumously inspire a social media movement like #BettyWhiteChallenge?

On Monday, January 17 – Betty’s 100th birthday – you are challenged to make a $5 donation to a local animal shelter or animal rescue in her memory.

Depending upon when you first saw her, Betty might always be Sue Ann Nivens (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Rose Nylund (The Golden Girls), or Elka Ostrovsky (Hot in Cleveland) in your mind. Those were three of her longest-running roles, for which she won 5 Emmy® Awards for Lead Actress or Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.

The roles changed over her 8 decades on American television, but Betty was always true to herself and stuck with her convictions. In her personal life, she was a champion for animal rights.

“I have the utmost respect for her,” says Christine Benninger, CEO and president of Guide Dogs for the Blind. “She’s one of the few people I’ve met in this world who truly comes from a place of love in all things that she does.”

I can personally attest to the fact that Betty lived modestly so that the creatures she cherished could live comfortably. My family and I took a 41-day road trip out west a couple of years ago. Our itinerary included the homes of Hollywood stars and Betty’s Brentwood neighborhood in West LA. While the 90049 zip code boasts houses in the tens-of-millions price range, hers was the most nondescript 2500 square foot tan rancher on the block. Rather than investing money into real estate, Betty poured her riches into causes that mattered to her, making “very generous gifts” of donated time and money.

While she played many characters on screen, Betty White must be lauded as the epitome of convivial leadership.

After a 2010 Facebook petition to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live, in her opening monologue, she said, “I’m here tonight because you wanted me to be. I just want to say I feel so loved. Thank you.”

That’s one of the reasons everyone loves her…and leaders like her. It wasn’t that she needed the SNL job or was vying to land it. She wasn’t doing it for the money, ego, or title. Betty was just sharing her giftedness – something she was very good at doing – to lift people’s spirits and to help other people optimize. She always tried to “see how [she] could help.”

If you want to have a conversation about “bringing your whole self to work,” let’s begin with Betty White.

Betty passed away on New Years Eve, a few weeks shy of the century mark, and America feels cheated. Hers is one birthday celebration we would have all loved to attend.  You still can by taking the Betty White Challenge.

If the old saying is true that “all dogs go to heaven,” then Betty White is in no shortage of friends today.

Good bye, dear one. Say hello to Allen for us all.