Who Are Your Hidden Heroes?

| | General Leadership

This morning I read a post by Jenny Flintoft in which she offers a great exercise for reflecting on what our heroes can teach us about our aspirations for ourselves. When doing Jenny’s exercise I immediately put Ada Mazza, my mother-in-law, on my list. Now I know a mother-in-law may seem like a rather unusual choice for a hero, but that would only because you don’t know mine.

Why Are Some Heroes “Hidden”?

If you asked her who the head of the family is she would unequivocally say, Sandy, her husband. He is the oldest living man in a family of Sicilian descent. He has clearly provided so much for the family on many levels so this is not to diminish his role in any way. Yet when we think of heroes, or leaders for that matter, we often think of the person who is out front “leading the charge” or the people with the “highest level” positions of authority.

The people who don’t necessarily show up on our radar are those who choose to stay in the background. Yet they lead and inspire us just the same. We sometimes call them the unsung heroes. I call them “hidden” because you would not see them from a surface level view. They are far too busy making everything else work and, in Ada’s case, everyone else’s life work.

More often that not they do not want to be in the spotlight. Yet they are heroes nonetheless and they provide a tremendous amount of leadership.

An Example of What Our Hidden Heroes Provide?

In Ada’s case she sets the tone for every family gathering and every happening. There is no drama around her, only love and gratitude for what we have. She is the most genuinely and consistently positive person I know. She has a level of energy that defies her years and a brightness of spirit that makes you feel instantly welcomed and known. Perhaps that is because she is truly grateful for every little thing in her life.

For the last 2 years she has been the caregiver to her husband who is now in the last stages of cancer. Every time I am alone with him he remarks on how amazing she is and how lucky he is to have her. She does not waver in her positive attitude and gratitude for every last minute she has and whatever help anyone can offer no matter how small.

At one point the only thing they could do together was watch football games. She went out and got “Football for Dummies” so she could enjoy the games with him. This is just one very small example of the way she thinks and approaches life. She is always at work on how to make the best of every situation and how to make every interaction the best for others. She is even now hard at work on a project to honor Sandy’s father by telling his story as an immigrant to this country.

Do you see that as leadership? I certainly do. She continually sets the example for us all through her words and actions.

Today I want to express my love, admiration and appreciation for Ada, my “hidden” hero. For even just one moment I hope that she can appreciate herself for being the leader that she is in our family.

Who is one of your hidden heroes? I’d love to hear about them. And make sure you tell them, too!


Enter A Comment

prissyperfection   |   30 March 2009   |   Reply

I loved this…and I have to ‘fess up to getting a lump in my throat too.

You are lucky to have such a great role model in your family, not only for you but for your daughter as well.
And I agree, Ada is a real leader because it is entirely possible that she models the behaviours she would like to see in others.

To me, leadership is about influence and that can be done loudly or quietly, overtly or covertly. It has many faces.

My sister Diane is one of my “hidden” heroes. She is the matriarch of her family with three children, seven granddaughters and one great granddaughter. Last year, she went by herself on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and before she went, she learned to swim so that she could snorkle when she got there. She has great stamina and courage and my undying admiration.

Love the post Susan. And thanks for allowing me to take a minute and appreciate my own hero.

Donn Miller-Kermani   |   30 March 2009   |   Reply

My hidden hero is you, Susan Mazza. You are an inspiration through your work and your words. I have been so fortunate to be able to call you my friend but words cannot describe how inspirational you are. When you gave a talk for our Networking for Women on the Random Acts of Leadership, everyone was inspired to get more involved in their community. Your dedication to communicating your message and helping us all to realize our full potential is absolutely amazing. Yet you do it quietly, behind the scenes. You are a motivational speaker and yet you do not come across as a typical motivational speaker. Whenever you give a talk, everyone is motivated to be a better person and to do more.

I thank you for being my hidden hero.

MizFit   |   31 March 2009   |   Reply

my two great aunts.
and as I read this I realized more and MORE that I do not think they know this, Susan.

thank you for the prod to tell them.

off to make 2 phone calls.

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Chuck Musciano   |   31 March 2009   |   Reply


This is a wonderful way to make people think about what really matters. I, too, have strong Italian ancestors whose perseverance and fortitude have put me where I am today. Imagine getting on a boat in 1903 and winding up in Oklahoma to be a coal miner! That kind of strength and determination is so rare these days.

But not gone. My hidden hero? My wife. I know of no stronger person on earth, and if you ever had to pick one person to be by your side no matter what, pick her. She spent ten years as an Industrial Engineer (the first female engineer in a division of 200 men; boy does she have stories!) and then gave it up to stay at home to raise our kids, 17 years ago. She never quits, never stops, never compromises, never gives in. She has focused not only on our family (and put up with me) but has started two PTAs, run countless fundraisers, volunteered in class, you name it, all to the benefit of our children specifically and our community in general.

She knows I feel this way, but if she knew I was typing this, she’d want it taken down, because the last thing she wants is attention. She is truly a role model for any good leader.

Thanks so much for the chance to recognize her!

kathryn   |   31 March 2009   |   Reply

My hidden hero, up until now, is someone very close to me, Kassandra. She is thoughtful, insightful, opinionated, warm, forgiving, and true. Kassandra has provide many helpful reminders in my search quest for grace. She supports me in oh so many ways. She is an old soul and I am fortunate to have her in my life.I called her and told her this after I first read your post Susan.

I will be making a point to tell anyone and everyone I think of as special in some way what that means to me. No more hidden heros for me.

Thank you.

Jerry Roberts   |   01 April 2009   |   Reply

We all have them in our lives.

They’re everywhere.

Single parents, adult caregivers, people who make stray animals their passion, those who have the courage to share their faith openly for the sole purpose of the salvation of another soul, and the list goes on.

Very nice post, Susan. We all need to think more of heroes.

lisahickey   |   01 April 2009   |   Reply

Susan, thank you for the lovely story. Your mother-in-law has certainly inspired *me*. I think, in my own life, there are just so many “hidden” heroes. I have been trying to be more specific lately in telling people exactly how they impact my life. I think it makes such a difference.

Another point that stuck with me in your post is when you point out that your mother-in-law knows “how to make every interaction the best for others.” Oh, what a grand lesson for those of us in Social Media! That will be today’s mantra!

Thanks again.

Colin   |   02 April 2009   |   Reply

Susan – this is a wonderful story which has stuck in my mind for the last 2 days. Something quite rare in this ‘attention economy’. It made me think deeply about my own hidden heroes.

Like Chuck, my wife is someone with whom I have the highest opinion and adore for many reasons. Likewise my mother-in-law.

But, like I said, your post made me think wider and since reading it I have thought carefully about the person who is my Hidden Hero – it is my wife’s Grandmother, her Polish Babcia.

Babcia has the extra elements that I think are essential for leadership, in addition to the core values we all speak of, she has a massive aggregation of distinct qualities, each critical. They include: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, resilience, risk-taking and even still at the age of 80 Passion.

Babcia speaks very few words in English other than “I love you Colin” & ‘tea for two’ she grew up in Poland and at the age of 9 during the war she saw her parents and siblings taken away on a train to a camp & was herself taken away from her family to a German town to work in a factory – 9 years old!! On returning to Poland she was re-united with some of her remaining relatives and married a man that caused her great pain (physically & mentally) – She escaped the clutches of this man, but was considered an ‘outsider’ in a country now torn between strict catholic beliefs and communism. Earning a living by selling vegetables on a street corner to care for her 2 children she was imprisoned for 4 years for being an alleged enemy of communism. Her daughters sent to live with a sister of her former husband.

On being released from prison she steadfastly rebuilt her life and built from the ground a business which became the largest grocer in the town where she lived. Her youngest daughter (my mother-in law) began studying to be a doctor of medicine in a nearby town where she met and became pregnant with a Nigerian doctor (1 of probably 10 colored people in a nation of 36 million). They married and gave birth to my wonderful wife.

Babcia in addition to managing her businesses (which had grown to several stores) took on the mothering of my wife, her grandaughter – a mixed child which further caused her to be shunned from much of society, in fact people refused to buy from her stores because her daughter had married a man of a different skin (the racist stories are deep routed in my wife’s mind).

At the age of 71 Babcia gave up work, yet her verve is astonishing – the love she has for her family, neighbours and people in general is something to behold. The care over feeding us and concern for us such that I have never felt.

When I first met her and looked into her dazzling blue eyes I was mesmerized. Babcia and I would sit for hours unable to communicate in a common spoken language but would laugh out loud as we stumbled through signs and actions.

3 weeks ago Babcia had an emergency operation to remove clots from veins in her throat. Twice on the operating table the surgeons lost her but her strong heart and will responded and today she is doing extremely well and her sense of humour is keeping our spirits strong. She is even speaking about following the diet of my wife and I (vegetarian) so that she can live to see our children grow up (we don’t have any yet).

So Susan you have made me realise just how wonderful it is to have a hidden hero and how I must cherish every day as a blessing to have this remarkable lady in my life.

Thank you


PS my wife Rozalka, also thanks you for sharing this story and making us (me) think carefully about those so close to us.

Henie   |   02 April 2009   |   Reply

Thank you for such a beautiful and compassionate post!

Hands down, my father is my hidden hero…every golden strand I add to our family tapestry is because of his brilliance and love! He taught me how to cultivate and value relationships.

“He who is planted in our hearts is the one we remember forever!” ~Henie~

Tom Volkar / Delightful Work   |   02 April 2009   |   Reply

Beautiful indeed. I also thought of the rocks in my family when I read this. My Dad was a humble working man but he did generosity and care like no other. last father’s day I wrote this brief eulogy to honor him.


Chuck Musciano   |   02 April 2009   |   Reply

Such good responses!

If you want to read an wonderful collection of “Dad” stories, pick up a copy of Wisdom Of Our Fathers by Tim Russert (http://bit.ly/uWg5z). You’ll also want a box of tissues with that. Story after story of quiet, stoic sacrifice and love told by the kids whose lives were shaped by their dads. In this time of broken families and kids abandoned by their fathers, this book reminds us that they are many, many good dads who focused their lives on giving their kids a better shot than they had themselves.

Every father should live his life so that someday his children would write a similar page in a future book.

Susan Mazza   |   02 April 2009   |   Reply

Thank you all for sharing about your hidden heroes. I am truly inspired by your acknowledgments of the amazing people in your lives and grateful that you took the time to acknowledge them here.

For anyone reading this comment I encourage you to go back and read through the comments above because they are so rich.

There is much to be learned about leadership and about acknowledgment from what you have written here. I need a bit more time to distill what I am discovering here.

In the meantime I wanted to let you all know that I am attentively listening to what each of you shared. Will share some further thoughts as I formulate them.

And please do share any insights that you have as well.

Jeremy Nash   |   17 April 2009   |   Reply

Besides this being a beautiful story about Ada, what I’m appreciating is the “hidden” side to this. The age and culture (in the US) we have been living in has had us celebrate too narrow a band of “hero.” Too often, heroes have become synthetic creations of the media. We think of an incredible athlete, or someone who’s made huge gobs of money, or a celebrity whose stories can seem too spun. Yet a story about Ada or Babcia allows us to see the virtues in more everyday people who seem exceptional for their modesty, too. These are people who influence us to live better lives ourselves. These are also people with warts, or who limp, or have bad breath, and who have their flaws, besides. They’re real. And they provide something priceless precisely because they are so real.

dmccleary   |   25 April 2009   |   Reply

Thank you for this insightful post. Sometimes the way we show up in different roles in life is hidden. We all lead in multiple roles, hats, or positions. A mother is probably the person with the most roles. The average mother is leader, manager, teacher, lover, wife, partner, mentor, advisor, coach, counselor, officer, referee, doctor, judge, analyst, friend, daughter, accountant, nurse, negotiator, pharmacist, chef, maid, and chauffer all before lunchtime. Not all of us are blessed with such complexity. But we all play our parts, actresses and actors in a powerful play. Some parts we run toward with joyful abandon; some parts we run from like rats jumping from a sinking ship. Whatever the role, we say our lines. We move on and off the stage. We act; we interact; we switch roles; we wear hats; we put on masks; we change costumes. Certain parts we like to perform better than others. We over-identify and overuse some roles, choosing to be comfortably trapped in a fractured sliver of existence; gravitating to comfort and safety as a defense against the discomfort of living fully. A mother might overuse the caring-pacifier role, a father might be stuck in the fierce-protector role, and a Vice President could constantly gravitate to the reactive-manager role. When our pet-select roles seduce us, magnetize us, and envelope us, we over-identify with that specific part of life. Our intoxication with these identity-magnet bit parts of existence chips away at our wholeness, dilutes our presence in other critical roles, and shatters our fullness. A multitude of varying roles is not a fragmented life. Being less than fully present in any one role is diminishment. Our identity is the compilation of fully living every role that presents itself throughout our lifetime. Our identity is not our action. Our identity is not one role or even a compilation of roles. Our identity is our unique creative process of breathing our full authentic presence into our chosen possibilities.

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