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  • Writer's pictureUlrika Gustafson PCC LL.M

Leading with Grace and Grit: Lessons from Dolly Parton



A few weeks ago while watching the iconic country music legend Dolly Parton during her NFL halftime show, I started thinking about how inspirational leadership can manifest in diverse and unexpected ways.


Dolly Parton is celebrated for her extraordinary talent but also admired for her unique approach to life and leadership. Known for her boundless optimism, generosity, and unwavering determination, Dolly Parton offers valuable lessons on how to lead with grace and grit. In this article, we will explore the wisdom of Dolly Parton and the leadership principles that she embodies.


The Dolly Parton Approach to Life and Leadership


Dolly Parton's view of life is characterized by a few guiding principles:


  1. Unwavering Optimism:  Dolly's infectious positivity serves as a beacon of hope and resilience. She once said, "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." Her optimism is a testament to her enduring spirit.

  2. Generosity:  Dolly's philanthropic efforts are legendary. She founded the Imagination Library, which provides free books to children, and has supported numerous charitable causes. Her generosity reflects her belief in the importance of giving back.

  3. Authenticity:  Dolly has always stayed true to herself, famously saying, "Find out who you are and do it on purpose." Her authenticity resonates with people from all walks of life.

Leadership Lessons from Dolly Parton


Now, let's delve into the leadership lessons we can glean from Dolly Parton's remarkable life:


1. Be Authentic:

Dolly's authenticity is a hallmark of her leadership. In a world where conformity can be tempting, she reminds us that staying true to ourselves is the key to making a lasting impact. As a leader, embrace your uniqueness and lead with authenticity.


2. Embrace Optimism:

Dolly's unwavering optimism inspires those around her. As a leader, adopting a positive outlook can empower your team to overcome challenges with grace and resilience. Encourage optimism within your organization, and remember that even in difficult times, a rainbow may be just around the corner.


3. Lead with Kindness:

Dolly's acts of kindness and philanthropy demonstrate the profound impact of leading with compassion. Extend kindness to your team members, colleagues, and community. Small acts of generosity can create a ripple effect of positivity.


4. Celebrate Diversity:

Dolly's music transcends genres and reaches a diverse audience. Embrace diversity and inclusivity within your team and organization. Recognize the value of different perspectives and experiences, fostering a culture of acceptance and understanding.


5. Set Bold Goals:

Dolly's journey from a humble upbringing to international stardom is a testament to setting audacious goals. As a leader, encourage your team to dream big and set ambitious objectives. Inspire them to reach for the stars.


6. Stay Resilient:

Dolly's life has been marked by resilience in the face of adversity. Leadership often involves navigating challenges and setbacks. Embrace resilience as a core quality, demonstrating your ability to persevere and bounce back.


7. Lead by Example:

Dolly leads by example in both her philanthropic efforts and her commitment to her craft. As a leader, be a role model for your team. Demonstrate dedication, hard work, and a commitment to the values you uphold.


8. Never Stop Learning:

Dolly's curiosity and love of learning have fueled her lifelong success. Encourage a culture of continuous learning within your organization. Embrace new ideas and innovation to stay relevant and adaptable.


9. Create a Legacy:

Dolly's Imagination Library is a lasting legacy that continues to make a difference in countless lives. Consider the legacy you want to leave as a leader. How can your actions and leadership create a positive and lasting impact?


Dolly Parton's life and leadership offer a remarkable blueprint for leading with grace and grit. By embracing authenticity, optimism, kindness, diversity, bold goals, resilience, leading by example, continuous learning, and the creation of a meaningful legacy, you can lead in a way that reflects the enduring spirit of Dolly herself.


As Dolly once said, "I'm not going to limit myself just because people won't accept the fact that I can do something else." Let her words serve as a reminder that leadership knows no boundaries, and with the right attitude and approach, you can inspire and uplift those around you, just as Dolly has done for generations.




Ulrika Gustafson LL.M PCC is a Certified Executive Coach, former C-suite leader and partner of HAMILTON THERRELL Executive Advisors, an international advisory group of experts in leadership and organizational transformation. She advises CEOs and coaches senior executives on succeeding in demanding environments.

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