Great Leaders

This discussion was held in one of those bizarre ‘team building’ style training sessions that everybody has to go through these days. It related to the concept of leadership: examples of ‘great leaders’, characteristics that those leaders shared, and, from that, the traits necessary for a person to lead effectively.
So, with seven of us – three white men, two black men and two women of indeterminate origin (myself and one other) – pooling ideas, the following names came up.

Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, John Maxwell (one of the men’s personal idol, or so it seemed), Malcolm X, George Bush, Mahatma Ghandi and Hitler.

Only one woman came up before I demanded the inclusion of at least one more token female name, and that woman….

…was not Margaret Thatcher
…was not Indira Ghandi
…was not Mother Theresa

It was, in fact, Princess Diana.

And it got worse. Because on the list of traits that we felt great leaders shared were the usual things – honour, integrity, strong personal beliefs, inspiring trust, good communicators etc – but for her, the one woman in the entire list?


Oh, for fucks’ sake.
Really? Does it have to be this way? Me cutting you into very small slices and telling the Prince that you walked over a very sharp cattle grid in a very heavy hat?
(to misuse and probably misquote Blackadder)

I have some fairly major problems with this.

For one thing, she wasn’t a leader. Yes, she seemed to be a good, charitable person. The two are not related. And as far as I am aware, compassion has never been an essential trait of a leader. It would be nice if it were, but it would also be nice if we lived in Happyland where nobody was ever mean to each other. I don’t think it’ll happen, somehow.
And for another, I, as a young, well read, opinionated feminist, couldn’t think of more than two or three examples of great female leaders.

What is wrong with the world? I can’t seriously believe that there are no more than a handful of great female leaders. And if I accept that as fact, then I have to wonder why I don’t know of them.

So I come to the conclusion that I was never taught. And I never thought to ask, because through school, I came to accept that history was and is predominantly about the doings of men; that the role of women through the ages has been unseen, undocumented, unrewarded.

I would like to research this. It may have already been done, but fuck it, I’ll reinvent the wheel if I have to.
I’m going to be gallivanting around blogland asking for people’s opinions. And I’m advertising it here, of course.

Please, if anybody can think of any great female leaders – and I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I mean real leaders, not just women who smile and wave – let me know. If I can, I’ll post up a big list.

I really, really want it to be a big list.


13 Comments on “Great Leaders”

  1. Sam says:

    in the news recently the fitsrt female prime minister of argentina orsomewhere the name etc escapes me but i see what you mean, and how modern do u wanna go, boudica was a hell of a lady.

  2. tcupnewt says:

    Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Elisabeth I and my personal favourites Anne Bonney, Mary Reade and Cheng I Sao.

    Funnily enough I’m having problems thinking of contemporary leaders…

  3. Fannie says:

    At least they didn’t talk about Princess Di’s looks as though that made a woman a great leader.

    Hmmmm…..women leaders, women leaders…. I don’t know what your definition of “leader” is…

    For some reason, Katherine Switzer comes to my mind as a “leader.” She was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She entered using her initials at a time when the marathon was only open to men. During the race, officials tried to physically remove her from the race. Yet, she completed it. That’s leadership to me, anyway 🙂

  4. Alan says:

    Angela Merkel seems to be doing a fairly good job on the international stage of late, although history will be the judge I guess.

    Also would Queen Victoria count? I don’t know much detail about her life, but she seems to be the symbol of a bygone era a lot of people like to reminisce about! (And also the ruler of the British Empire at the height of ‘classic’ imperialism!)

  5. Helen says:

    Hmm…everyone I was going to say has already gone… That can’t be a good thing. I’ll try and have a think…

  6. Kirsten says:

    Abbess Hilda of Whitby
    Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia
    Leoba, Abbess of Bischofsheim in Mainz
    Aethelthryth, founder of the monastery at Ely
    Queen Emma
    Queen Bathild

    Medieval women count, right?

  7. Kirsten says:

    Also, Helen, I’m shocked you didn’t think of any of those! *tut*

    Also, Isabella of Castille.

  8. Kirsten says:

    Millicent Garrett Fawcett
    Emmeline Pankhurst

  9. Alan says:

    Got another good 20th century one: Golda Meir – 4th Israeli prime minister.

  10. Helen says:

    I think it says something about my learning that I didn’t actually know many of the Anglo-Saxon (not medieval!) women. Aethelflaed of Mercia I did, Queen Emma also, though I didn’t learn much about her. *sigh* Stupid sources. And stupid ‘political’ paper which apparently rules out the existence of most women.

  11. Helen says:

    Also it occurs to me that some of those women were medieval. But more were Anglo-Saxon! Not that this is any way relevant to anything in the world ever. Shut up Helen.

  12. Kirsten says:

    I didn’t think medieval and Anglo-Saxon were mutually exclusive. One’s a time period, the other’s an ethnic/national identity.
    I suppose Anglo-Saxon is sometimes used as a time descriptor as well, but if so, when do you draw the line between the two?

  13. Kirsten says:

    Also Wikipedia says medieval is from 5th century, and I don’t think any of those women are earlier than that.

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