All Leaders Are Men… or so I hear

One of the best parts of my job at the radio station is receiving books in the mail. It’s like Christmas every day when I go in and find a big stack of books from publishers waiting for me below my mailbox. Even the bad ones–and many of them are really bad–are still fun to open because you just never know what will be inside.

The other day I got a book called Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness edited by Walter Isaacson. Being of a historical mind, I thought “great!” And then I opened it and looked at the table of contents. Ugh. Seriously?

George Washington…
Charles Finney…
Ulysses S. Grant…
Herbert Hoover and FDR…
Wendell Willkie…
Robert Kennedy…

And finally the one that I was looking for: Pauli Murray. The ONE token woman who counts as great (not to diminish Murray in any way. She was a champion for civil and human rights and she deserves our attention).  I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I could believe it because it isn’t uncommon to find books heralding our nation’s great men with nary a mention of the other half of the population. But it makes me sad that these books continue to be published, especially from Isaacson who’s previous work I’ve enjoyed.

It’s easy to find male leaders. The position of “leader” has throughout much of our history only been open to men. But that’s taking a very narrow view of leadership. If leadership is only open to those holding a high political office or leading big companies then women and people of color can be hard to find in history. But why is that our definition of leadership?

Where’s Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony? Stanton helped organize that world’s first women’s rights convention. The first convention in the world proclaiming that half of the human race had rights. Anthony worked tirelessly until the day she died speaking and writing and traveling for women’s rights, particularly suffrage. She spoke on stages with armed guards to protect her. Can you imagine? Is that not greatness and leadership?

How about Sojourner Truth? Or Wilma Pearl Mankiller? Dorothea Dix? Frances Perkins? Fannie Lou Hamer? Ida B. Wells? The list goes on and on (and if you want to see more, look at Equal Visibility Everywhere’s list of 100 Great American Women).

I’m not saying the men included in the book are not worthy of attention and consideration for their leadership skills and greatness. I just don’t think another book profiling mostly men–and nearly all white men at that–is the real story of leadership and greatness in this country or any country.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s