Ideas

Taking Control: The Art of Leadership

What makes a good leader — someone with the ability to get others to follow, sometimes into the unknown? Shakespeare had something to say about all that. Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, two fantastically successful military leaders, both stumble and fall catastrophically when it comes to political leadership. So, being a leader seems to depend somewhat on context. Or is leadership, then, perhaps more of an art?
Former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. Leadership, it turns out, has nothing to do with gender or skin colour. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen to the full episode53:59

What makes a good leader — someone with the ability to get others to follow, sometimes into the unknown? Shakespeare had something to say about all that. Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, two fantastically successful military leaders, both stumble and fall catastrophically when it comes to political leadership. So, being a leader seems to depend somewhat on context. Or is leadership, then, perhaps more of an art?

And what about men vs. women as leaders?

Since the dawn of time, men have generally worn the pants — as CEO's, world leaders. Power, authority and influence have not been distributed equally in society; gendered stereotypes and sexist attitudes have played a large role in the absence of women leaders. Many of the arguments in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, ring true. Women are considered bossy when they are aggressive while men are praised for the same behaviours.

But Sandberg's 'lean in' philosophy has been quite controversial in the big discussion about women in the workplace and in leadership roles. Her solution to the problem of gender disparity and sexism in the workplace is for women to sit at the table, accepting the institutional structures created by men and then attempting to change things from the inside.

What could possibly go wrong with that philosophy? As Michelle Obama recently put it, "That whole, 'So you can have it all.' Nope, not at the same time, that's a lie. And it's not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn't work all the time."

From the Stratford Festival, a discussion of all this and more with three successful (women) leaders: Chief Ava Hill from the Six Nations, Anita Gaffney, Executive Director of the Stratford Festival, and Samantha Nutt, founder and Executive Director of War Child Canada.

Highlights from the discussion

Samantha Nutt, founder and Executive Director of War Child Canada. 1:03

Chief Ava Hill on Vision 

"My goal has always been to try and make things better for everybody for people in our community because I want a healthy and safe community and that's my long term vision and I'm and I'm going to do whatever I can to try and do that. I've never been in there trying to get votes to get re-elected. I've never said I'm going to do this or that I hope you'll re-elect me. I'm doing this because I want to make my community better." — Chief Ava Hill 

Chief Ava Hill did not aspire to power. She worked in administrative positions before becoming Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River. She saw what wasn't working in her community and had a vision for what she wanted to see improved. She has been working to do so ever since. The commitment to public service is what drives her; good communication, transparency and feedback from the community are all vital components of her leadership role .  

Dr. Samantha Nutt on Empathy

"The sort of socialization that goes along with girls, I think it does engender a certain amount of emphasis on on empathy, on trying to sort of understand someone else's perspective or not relying on physical strength but emotional and intellectual strength. I think that that is a gift for a lot of women in leadership roles, our capacity to to understand things from different perspectives to navigate different egos to build that kind of consensus. And I think that the more we can work with our children to bring those kinds of lessons in empathy and understanding in global awareness that that will only create better leaders for the future." – Dr. Samantha Nutt

While Samantha Nutt wants to avoid gender essentialism, she does believe that women are more frequently socialized to possess traits like empathy that are important leadership traits for men and women alike. 

Anita Gaffney on Confidence 

"When I first started at the festival I don't think I spoke for the first five years. I mean people would be like so surprised when they would hear me speak later because I was just a silent person in the corner observing everything. I would have never thought I'd be in this. It's as I've said before this is a position I dare not dream of."– Anita Gaffney 

All three women spoke about being shy and less confident when they were younger. They would have never predicted that they would possess the leadership roles they are working in today. Women are not often socialized to picture themselves as leaders. Each of the speakers spoke about having to change. They had to overcome fears of public speaking, of voicing their opinions, of criticism. They had to push themselves to build confidence in their abilities.
 



**This episode was produced by Margaret Reid and Philip Coulter. 

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