Forget Leadership Programs – Where’s the Leadership?

1

I am staggered by the number of universities, associations and institutes that claim to teach “leadership.”

And I am weary of the statistics about the male/female leadership gap, both in the nonprofit sector and in the wider world of business and politics.

But I am even more amazed at the way the “leadership industry” targets its wares by gender. Don’t take my word for it – go to Google and search the keywords “men’s leadership” and “women’s leadership” (using quote marks around both). What did you get? Well, my results were 87,000 hits for men and 1,030,000 for women.

Surprised? I was.

Why are women the target, much more so than men?

Maybe focusing so much on the struggle for leadership parity has sent us down the false path of credentialism.

A quick walk down the street with Google reveals gems like, “We envision a future where women’s leadership advances what matters most: mutual and nurturing relationships, healthy families and communities, and a peaceful, just, and sustainable world—for everybody”, and, “Discover the keys to unlocking the boardroom doors in this program for senior-level women executives”.

Well, which one is it, ladies – creating nurturing relationships or kicking down the doors to the corporate boardroom?

And what good is it doing us? With all of the nonprofit organizations, programs, conferences and webinars out there offering leadership training…really…where are the leaders? Where are the leaders with capital V-vision? Where are the leaders with the ability to bring people together around shared values and common goals? Where are the leaders with the courage and finesse to lead through complex and volatile situations? Where are the leaders we can trust to lead us to a better future?

This is not just true in my world of nonprofit management; it’s true in business and public policy. Again, I ask, where is the leadership?

As a nonprofit executive and a woman, I am naturally concerned with how our sector addresses leadership opportunities for women – but it’s not simply a gender issue.

And I am not saying that leadership training for women is a bad idea or a dead end…it’s not. But what I really care about is how that leadership is put into action…and how personal vision can make a difference in people’s lives.

A few hours spent at the recent induction of 10 remarkable women into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls provided a catalyst for my rethinking of the leadership/parity paradigm. My primary reason for attending the ceremony was to witness the induction of my organization’s founder, Mary Harriman. But I was fascinated by the stories told by other inductees, women like Nancy Brinker, the founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; groundbreaking feminist and Ms. Magazine founder Eleanor Smeal; and Marcia Greenberger, a lawyer whose work has affected virtually every major law of importance to women and girls in the U.S. for more than 40 years.

This is not an attempt to praise these women—their accomplishments speak for themselves. But the common denominator among their varied stories of leadership was the fact that they saw a need…and then acted upon it. Vision. Leadership. Action. In that order.

And this is not to say that there aren’t women – and men – doing remarkable things in the nonprofit sector right now, as witnessed by the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s own “40 Under 40” list of young leaders.

No, my point is, let’s stop spending so much time talking about the struggle for leadership parity, both inside and outside of the nonprofit sector. At the rate we are going, it’s going to take 500 years.

This is not about gender. It’s about servant leadership. It’s about vision. And it’s about action.

Our sector calls out for it.

Susan Danish

 

About the Author: Susan Danish is Executive Director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.

Susan Danish brings more than 20 years of experience in business and nonprofit management to her role as Executive Director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. Prior to joining AJLI in 2003, Susan was the Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Leadership (CWL) at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, which fosters entrepreneurial leadership among women. She is Vice Chair of the National Human Services Assembly, Treasurer of the National Women’s History Museum, a founding member of 1,000 Women for Mentoring and is the International Association for Volunteer Effort’s (IAVE) National Representative for the United States.

 

Before entering the nonprofit sector, Susan gained substantial management and marketing experience at companies and brands as varied as Calvin Klein, the fashion design company; Christie’s, the international auction house; and Express, the 600-store young women’s fashion retail chain, and consumer products giants Procter & Gamble, Playtex and Clairol. Earlier in her career, Susan was President and CEO of her own retail skin care business.

 

She holds a BS degree in Speech from Northwestern University, an MS in Public Relations from Boston University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

 

About author

Avatar

Susan Danish

Susan Danish brings more than 20 years of experience in business and nonprofit management to her role as Executive Director of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. Prior to joining AJLI in 2003, Susan was the Executive Director of the Center for Women's Leadership (CWL) at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, which fosters entrepreneurial leadership among women. She is Vice Chair of the National Human Services Assembly, Treasurer of the National Women’s History Museum, a founding member of 1,000 Women for Mentoring and is the International Association for Volunteer Effort’s (IAVE) National Representative for the United States. Before entering the nonprofit sector, Susan gained substantial management and marketing experience at companies and brands as varied as Calvin Klein, the fashion design company; Christie's, the international auction house; and Express, the 600-store young women's fashion retail chain, and consumer products giants Procter & Gamble, Playtex and Clairol. Earlier in her career, Susan was President and CEO of her own retail skin care business. She holds a BS degree in Speech from Northwestern University, an MS in Public Relations from Boston University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.