Whether watching the GA girls step up to the podium to run one of our all-school assemblies or, on a broader scale, listening to the news regarding the upcoming elections, this year's community theme of leadership seems particularly relevant for Greenwich Academy. I recently read an article on the newly-released book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Drawing on research of four presidents who navigated periods of national turmoil—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson—the author theorizes that there are four distinct styles of leadership: "transformative, crisis management, turnaround, and visionary." Her book offers a case study approach on the management styles of these four leaders, and as the featured topic of the September/October issue of the Harvard Business Review, it's a worthwhile read. I've already ordered the book and look forward to tackling it.
In the experience of our GA girls, facing a crisis of national proportions is unlikely. However, in reading advance excerpts from Goodwin's book, what struck me was that the importance of leadership extends beyond singular public decisions into the daily process of decision-making and interactions with others. In President Lincoln's case, he was particularly mindful of the importance of nurturing relationships. Taking the time to compliment members of his team, recruiting those to work with him whose opinions were diametrically opposed to his, and writing letters when angry that he never sent, were just some of the strategies he employed to build a loyal, honest, and effective team. Having the courage to engage and promote those of differing views struck me as a skill that is much needed today and requires confidence borne of integrity and true comfort in one's skin.
I well recall the daily conversations I had with my late father to seek his counsel. Whenever I was tempted to describe my frustration with those whose views might differ from my own he would respond with: "They are making you a better person than any one of your admirers!" That would always bring my self-indulgent rant to an abrupt halt! No stranger to conflict in his professional life, my dad was one who was deeply humble and clear to his core on his convictions—part of that Greatest Generation we all hold up as leaders and role models.
As we consider different aspects of leadership this year, the idea of how we manage conflict in our lives is compelling to me. Conventional stereotypes say that girls and women can be conflict averse, even "pleasers." All of our strengths cut both ways and leaning into relationships is certainly a strength I witness every day at GA. But that doesn't preclude honesty, constructive criticism, and healthy disagreement when the goal, particularly in a community of achievers, is to be our best selves. Our motto is Toward the Building of Character, and it's not a defined destination but rather, an aspirational process. In this spirit, let's embrace the process of becoming the leaders we admire, and in doing so, model those same qualities for the GA girls. Onward!