When Elizabeth Warren alluded to her Native American heritage during her 2012 run for the Senate, she got some heat for it, including allegations that her heritage had been touted when she was at Harvard Law School. The heat was turned up in 2016 when then-candidate Trump mocked Warren by calling her "Pocahontas." Critics insisted she was lying.
But people forgot that this is the woman who inspired the "Nevertheless, she persisted," meme. This week, Sen. Warren released the results of a DNA test that showed likely Native American ancestry 6-10 generations back. The news didn't change the minds of anyone who doesn't like the Massachusetts lawmaker, but it did set the pundits talking.
It also sent an important message to CEOs, founders, and leaders of any organization:
Either you control the narrative or it controls you.
CNN's Kate Maltby said that Warren had just given her enemies more campaign fodder, while the Cherokee Nation released an outraged statement insisting that the test gave her no claim to tribal membership. The ether buzzed with the question: "Did Liz Warren just sabotage herself?"
Pump the brakes, people. Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no. The big DNA reveal was exactly the kind of move savvy leaders make. Here's why:
She took control of the narrative.
Fair or not, Warren had been on her back foot over the whole Native American issue, but acting like she was above the fray didn't do much to protect her brand. Releasing the DNA results turned the tables and made her foes react to her. Don't assume issues will go away on their own. Confront them head on aggressively so that people have to deal with you on your terms, not theirs.
She established herself as a fighter.
Leaders don't back down when they believe they're right. They face the pressure and counterpunch, putting the other guy on the defensive. Don't surrender to pressure from competitors. Remember, if other guy seems desperate to get you to give up without a fight, it's probably because he knows he'll lose that fight.
She started a conversation.
Leaders don't just give commands. They enlighten. Thanks to Warren's move, people are talking about what ethnic heritage is, what constitutes it and what it means. That's good. Don't just tell your people what to do. Get them thinking about how to make your industry better, more sustainable, more efficient, etc.
She used jujitsu.
Jujitsu redirects an opponent's energy and uses it against him. By answering the the outrageous accusations against her with facts, Warren made her adversaries look foolish. Win. Be mindful of the attacks being leveled at your or your company and ask, "How can I use that to my advantage?"
She climbed back to "top of mind."
The senator had been out of the headlines for a while, but now she's at the top of them. That's smart, because when people start talking about you, they will also learn about you and sometimes, listen to you. Speak up and let your voice be heard, especially about important, if controversial, subjects.