January 5, 2012


Since writing that a speech is part of the repertoire of being a writer, I want to comment on one I heard via Facebook. A friend had shared a clip that featured the female executive of a large corporation. She was speaking to an audience about why few women had climbed the corporate ladder. I listened with particular interest to her example of how women fail. At a recent gathering of corporate executives, she noted that when the women entered the room they chose to sit on the sidelines and refused the speaker’s invitation to take a seat at the table. This reticence, she surmised, was a mindset that held women back.

After the tape ended, I thought about what she had said — that by refusing the put themselves forward, women put themselves behind. Her observation made me wonder if it was correct to assume that the only way to lead was from the front.

(Courtesy: www.whattoexpect.com)

If leadership is the ability to influence and encourage others to do their best, then who poses a greater example than our parents? Their form of “leadership” is best seen with a toddler as it takes those first steps. Here, the parent leads by standing close behind, observing and making certain no impediment stands in the way of those wobbly attempts. Isn’t helping others to stand on their own a form of leadership?

Perhaps I can be accused of confusing nurturing with leadership. But have I?   Aristotle believed that all the activities of the world were underpinned by an immortal, unchanging being whom he called, the Unmoved Mover. It was that passivity which allowed life to flourish (“Physics, Book 12). To define leadership as taking action and putting oneself forward is too narrow a view. Creating space in which others might act is a form of leadership, too. 

For my part, I think the speaker who exhorted women to sit at the table was short sighted. Where a woman sits is irrelevant. What counts is the culture she creates.