The Life of Malala and Her Leadership Style as an Aspirational Leader

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The Life of Malala and Her Leadership Style as an Aspirational Leader

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Table of Contents

  • Malala – the story
  • Malala – The leader, the inspiration
  • The Qualities of a great Leader
  • Working for a cause
  • Conclusion

Malala – the story

The sun rose with its full glamour and prestige spreading its bright and shinning rays on the valley. It was another day and I was on my way back from school when suddenly, the bus came to a halt. The bearded men (Taliban) stopped, entering the bus asking about me. The next few minutes were a blur, he fired his gun thrice and one hit me in the head.

This is the story of Malala, a young girl born on 12th July 1997, in Mingora city, Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala was the first born and the only girl with two siblings. Born to Ziauddin Yousafzai (father), teacher and owner of a small school and Tor Pekai (mother) house wife.

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She was born in a place which was constantly under the threat of the Taliban (an Islamic extremist) and a culture where girls and women were confined to cooking, giving birth, caring for the men; brothers, father and husband, with little thought given to the social development of women in terms of education or working for a living.

The political and socio-economic instability under which Malala was born was such that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were competing for greater power. Prior to this, the country was governed by the first military President by General Zia – Ul – Haqq (who had over thrown the earlier Prime Minister Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto – father of Benazir Butto) in a coup. With military governance, a new form of islamization was introduced leading to restricted rights for women and girls. Moreover, as a result of the sacking of a democratic government, the United States had withdrawn aid to Pakistan. With the withdrawal of foreign aid, the economic problems had worsened. Adding to this, Afghanistan had been invaded by Russia, causing many Afghani nationals to flee into Pakistan for shelter. From here on a new group of young men who had Sufi Mohammed to fight the Russian emerged. They were later to become the notorious and dreaded Talibans (terrorists). These young men were trained in warfare, and had very little to look forward to in term of work upon their return to Pakistan after their fight to help defend Afghanistan’s border, eventually became a threat to civil society in the area, under the guise of islamization (Lamb, 2013).

With all of this going on during the birth of Malala, it is safe to say that Malala was born into a socially, economically and politically volatile country. Although her parents tried to shield her from the dangers and the restrictions that surrounded her Malala constantly felt the need to share her story. She started writing anonymously under the pen name ‘Gul Makai’ for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2009.

Malala has a loving family, who supported her in following her will to seek any level of education that she desired, despite the cultural and environmental norms around her. Malala’s father himself had been well educated and held a master’s degree in English Language, wishing the same level of education for his children. Her father encouraged her, to write for the BBC and she became a blogger for BBC in 2009,which led to exposing the activities of Taliban in Swat. In September 2008, she gave a talk titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education” in Peshwar, Pakistan. Threats and the attack from Taliban did not deter her, she was determined to tell her story and get the rights for young girls that they deserved.

Malala attended Khushal School founded by her father. In Year 9, soon after Malala’s identity was revealed, she became the target by Taliban for her activism and advocacy for the girl child education. She was shot in head and was battling for her life. The severity of her injury necessitated her being flown to a hospital in Rawalpindi, from where she was transferred to Birmingham, England still in coma for further care in a hospital specialised in the treatment of military injures. She regained consciousness on 3rd January 2013.

The shooting gained a lot of popularity and met with world-wide condemnation and protests in Pakistan. Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesperson for the Talibans claimed responsibility for the attack.

Her persistence earned her the Nobel Prize at 17 years old in 2014, making her the youngest recipient so far, along with many other awards and titles. To name a few, Malala was also awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize, Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize, while also being named as one of the most influential people by Times Magazine in year 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Her assassination attempt led to the signing by two million people of the Right to Education Campaign, which helped to ratify the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan. Islamic Clerics in Pakistan were also not left out of the outcry, as they issued a fatwa against the Talibans and insisted that the shooting has no religious justification.

Shortly after the attempt on her life (nine months later), she spoke at the United Nations on 12th July 2013, her 16th birthday “to a group of 500 youths” (Biography Online, 2018). At this speech, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared 12th July ‘Malala Day’. In her speech, she reiterated her desire to continue in her advocacy for women’s right to education and pleaded with world leaders to “act against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism” (Anon, 2018). A petition was launched in her name on 15th October 2015, by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, with the slogan “I am Malala”. The petition was centred on education and stopping discrimination against the girl child.

She was awarded the European Union Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on 10th October 2013. She was appointed “UN Messenger of Peace to promote girls’ education… it is the highest honour given by the UN for an initial period of two years” (Anon, 2018). She also has an honorary Canadian citizenship given to her in April 2017 and is the sixth person and youngest person to receive such an honour.

Malala has authored two books ‘I am Malala’ in 2013 and a picture book titled Malala’s Magic Pencil in 2017. I am Malala became an international best seller. She was a scriptwriter in the film titled ‘Girl Rising’, which was recently released. A documentary about her life titled ‘He named me Malala’ was shortlisted for Oscar in 2015. She was listed as one of the most influential people globally in 2013, 2014 and 2015 by Time magazine. She travelled to Pakistan for the first time after her shooting in 2012 on 29th March 2018 on a four day visit.

Since her discharge from hospital, Malala continues to live in the United Kingdom and enrolled in Edgbaston High School in 2013 and graduated in 2017. She is currently a student of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford England. She funded a non-profit organisation called Malala Fund.

Malala – The leader, the inspiration

Malala from a young age has stood up for promoting the education for girls and women empowerment. Though she was born and raised in an environment that believed otherwise, while also being victim for her beliefs; she was set to bring about change. She strived and worked hard, reaching to whichever platform she could in order to stand up for what she believed and bring the change she desired.

Malala is a leader, not to an organization or a cooperation with employees working under her; but she is a leader for women and young girls like herself around the world. Inspiring others to stand along with her battling against the people like her attackers and changing the minds of the people in the society. With the power of her words, Malala has spoken at many stands; contributing to her vision little by little and continues to do so until she accomplishes the change she set out to make.

Leaders like Malala can be categorized as:

  • Transformational,
  • Charismatic,
  • Visionary
  • Servant Leader.

Transformational leaders are the leaders that inspire people who then follow them in return with faith and respect. They have a clear mission which they convey. (Hamad, 2015). Transformational leaders like Malala, have a charismatic personality and leadership quality within them. This charisma shines and comes into light during times of crises or under situations where there is a need for change. Malala can be most certainly identified as a transformational and charismatic leader. Despite being still very young, Malala has outshined many other leaders by bringing the change she set out to. She inspired many by her story, interviews by connecting to others at an emotional level and most importantly with her determination for creating the change in lives of other girls and women.

Malala as the Visionary Leader, who inspire others with the commitment and promise to their set vision. Rather than command others, the visionary leaders like Malala, appeals to the group by convincing them of that, the seemingly unattainable can be achieved (Smolenyak & Majumdar, 1992). Visionary leaders like Malala are long-term thinkers and think about the future ahead of them; making efforts and finding opportunities to accomplish something from their lives while also inspiring others. Malala Yousafzai, portrays all the characteristics of a visionary leader. With being shot in the head, to spending months in coma, she still survived and stood up stronger than ever showing the world a ray of hope. She inspired herself and others, and most importantly did not stop at anything to achieve her vision. (VISIONARY LEADER - MALALA , 2016)

The servant leader. The inner feeling of a servant leader comes internally, to serve others and to serve first. For servant leaders, others (or the followers) are treated as the top most priority at the top of the pyramid, while the leader comes last. You aim to serve others to the best of your capacity, so that one day they can be the servant leaders like yourself for others (Mertel & Brill, 2015). As seen with selfless efforts of Malala who stands to serve others day in and day out. She has set her life goal to provide young girls and women with the right to education which they deserve, so that they themselves can also stand up for themselves and be a leader to others.

The Qualities of a great Leader

Malala exhibits the qualities of great leaders while also showing how she is a perfect fit of the above theories. Malala is a brave and compassionate young girl, who is humble and supportive and never gives up. Malala has a clear vision and goal which she is focused on achieving. The young activist is an inspiration, motivating others to step forward and stand by her to contribute to her vision. Furthermore, Malala believes in sharing her story and the story of others, in order to connect to her followers while also giving them something they can relate to. She uses the power of her words, through inspirational speeches, interviews, blog posts, etc. to effectively communicate and spread her views and beliefs. She is a role model to many girls who have been victimized by similar circumstances, giving them courage and light to follow. Her determination, helps her followers to believe in her and her vision. Most importantly, Malala believes that ideas, values and beliefs cannot be forced, commanded or enforced upon others. It takes passion and persuasion to achieve, which has acted well on her side leading her to have the large number of followers that she has today.

Working for a cause

Coinciding with Malala’s vision, in 2013 the young activist co – founded a charity organization called the “Malala Fund”, to help young girls and children in disadvantaged communities. Malala’s foundation helps these children to getting safe quality high school education that they require. Malala’s fund broke down barriers that had been preventing more than 130m from all around the world from receiving education.

The fund operates in countries like Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syrian countries while constantly working on expanding her horizon. The focus being on communities that are suffering from poverty, war or gender discrimination. For the charity organization Malala believed in investing on education, telling the stories of others and channelling collective action in order to make girls education a true priority. (Malala Fund, n.d.)


Malala’s leadership story is phenomena. At a very young age, she achieved what most people would never be able to achieve in their lifetime. Her situation on the triangle of leadership, which has to do with her environment was very hostile and not conducive for any meaningful achievement, but she strived against all odds. She was not deterred by the threat to her life and was willing to pay the ultimate prize if necessary.

As a leader, she has a vision and was ready to accomplice her goal. She became a one-man army against the Talibans, through non-violence and advocacy for the rights of women to education and campaigned for others to follow her lead. Her peaceful style was easy for others to follow, so her followers were willing to follow her lead.

Her story exemplifies the 3 sides of the leadership triangle with every side being equal to the other. Whatever happens on a side of the triangle equally influences and affects the other sides. No leader can be successful and effective without followers or an examination of the situation under which they lead.

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