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Women of Wisdom: Quotes on Leadership

These past months have put me in a state of dismal disappointment in the leadership skills of our national representatives—from the White House to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Whichever side of the isle folks are on, bickering and blaming have been the only produce from weeks and weeks of so-called debate. Self-interest and dogma seem to have replaced the criteria of what’s best for the people—all the people, not some of the people. The elite have benefited while the middle class, the poor, the elderly and the disabled have suffered.

With Women’s Equality Day coming up, my mind harkened back to the incredible women who led the way for equal rights for women, both in the USA and Great Britain. I wondered what they had to say about the leaders of their day, and what the women of historical, even ancient times, from other nations, had to say about theirs. As you will see in the selection that follows, every age has had its share of disappointments in the powers that be. Yet there have been great leaders among us, throughout time. What does it take to be a leader? I think that is answered by the last quotation in this edition of “Women of Wisdom,” which was spoken in a speech by my dear friend, the late Susan J. Herman: “I define leadership as having three parts: first is seeing what needs to be done to make things better or seeing a problem that needs fixing; second is having the vision, the skill, and the wherewithal to change the system; and third is the most important task of mobilizing the energy of others to organize and act in ways to achieve that vision.” A more excellent guidepost for supporting and developing future leaders, I cannot imagine.

Women On Leadership

Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.
Margaret Wheatley (1941- ), American social scientist, systems manager, educator, author. From "The Unplanned" (pp. 17-23), Noetic Sciences Review, Spring 1996

Leave the fishing-rod, Great General, to us sovereigns of Pharos and Canopus. Your game is cities and kings and continents.
Cleopatra VII (69 B.C.E.-30 C.E.), Egyptian queen. From Cleopatra of Egypt by Philip W. Sergeant; Remark to Marc Antony, Quoted in Ch. 9

"What the world needs," he said, "is not a Joan of Arc, the kind of woman who allows herself to be burned on the cross. That's just a bourgeois invention meant to frighten little girls into staying home. What we require is a real female military social leader."
"But that" -- I smiled at him -- "is just impossible. Women are tied to husband and children. Women are constructed to be penetrated; a sword or a gun in their hands is a joke or a mistake. They are open holes in which things are poured. Occasionally, it's true, a woman can become a volcano, but that's about it."
Anne Roiphe (1935- ), American novelist. From "Out of Week Two," Up the Sandbox!, 1970

Professional intellectuals are the voice of a culture and are, therefore, its leaders, its integrators and its bodyguards.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982), Russian-American novelist, philosopher, screenwriter; devised philosophy of "objectivism". From For the New Intellectual, 1961

The more princes abstain from touching the wealth of their people, the greater will be their resources in the wants of the state.
Aelia Pulcheria (399-454), Byzantine scholar, empress saint; canonized by the Greek Orthodox Church. Quoted in Biography of Distinguished Women by Sarah Josepha Hale, 1876

Being consistent meant not departing from convictions already formulated; being a leader meant making other persons accept these convictions. It was a narrow track, and a one-way, but a person might travel a considerable distance on it. A number of dictators have.
Jessamyn West (1902-1984) American novelist. From To See the Dream, Ch. 7, 1956

And the propensity of weak and empty people to follow a leader into the darkness from which there is no return is still flourishing, as ever.
Mary McGrory (1918-2004) American Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. From "Holocaust Museum holds appalling relevance today," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Op-Ed, 27 April 1993

...the discontent of the people is more dangerous to a monarch than all the might of his enemies on the battlefield.
Isabella d' Este (1474-1530), Italian noble, art patron. From letter to her husband (Milan, February 1495), Quoted in Beatrice d'Este by Julia Cartwright, 1899

Perhaps the seeds of false-refinement, immorality, and vanity, have ever been shed by the great. Weak, artificial beings, raised above the common wants and defections of their race, in a premature and unnatural manner, undermine the very foundation of virtue, and spread corruption through the whole mass of society!
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), English feminist, author. From Introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792

He is a leader of darkness and death... You can see his cowardice. Moi* is playing a game alone. He is player and referee.
Charity Kaluki Ngilu (1952- ), Kenyan politician; MP. Quoted in "Kenya's First Woman President?" by Andrea Useem, Ms. (New York), November/December 1997. * Ref. Daniel arap Moi, president of Kenya (1978-2002).

[Margaret] Thatcher had just become prime minister; there was talk about whether it was an advance to have a woman prime minister if it was someone with policies like hers: She may be a woman but she isn't a sister, she may be a sister but she isn't a comrade.
Caryl Churchill (1938- ), English playwright; winner of three Obies and the Society of West End Theatre Award, 1988. From "Caryl Churchill," Interviews with Contemporary Women by Kathleen Betsko and Rachel Koenig, 1987

The quality of his [F. D. Roosevelt]* being one with his people, of having no artificial or natural barriers between him and them, made it possible for him to be a leader without ever being or thinking of being a dictator.
Frances Perkins (1882-1965), American government official, writer; U.S. Secretary of Labor, 1933-44; chair, U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1946-53; first woman in U.S. Cabinet. From The Roosevelt I Knew, Ch. 7, 1946.

He is dead, who was the buckler of our tribe.
Al-Khansa (600-670), Middle Eastern poet. From "For Her Brother," St. 3, E. Powys Mathers, tr., The Penguin Book of Women Poets, Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe and Kathleen Weaver, eds, 1978

There is no man more dangerous, in a position of power, than he who refuses to accept as a working truth the idea that all a man does should make for rightness and soundness, that even the fixing of a tariff rate must be moral.
Ida Tarbell (1857-1944), American historian, biographer, editor. From The Tariff in Our Times, Ch. 12, 1906

We never had him* physically to share that love he exudes so much of. I knew when I married him that I married the struggle, the liberation of my people.
Winnie Mandela (1934- ), South African political activist and leader, social worker. From Part of My Soul Went With Him, "Life With Him Was Always a Life Without Him," Anne Benjamin, ed., 1984. * Ref. Nelson Mandela, South African political and civil rights leader.

The secret of a leader lies in the tests he has faced over the whole course of his life and the habit of action he develops in meeting those tests.
Gail Sheehy (1937- ), American social critic, writer. From "Looking for Mikhail Gorbachev," Gorbachev, 1991

For, what is a family without a steward, a ship without a pilot, a flock without a shepherd, a body without a head, the same, I think, is a kingdom without the health and safety of a good monarch.
Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603), English monarch. From Letter to King Edward VI (c.1551), The Sayings of Queen Elizabeth, Frederick Chamberlain, ed., 1923

...ardent, intelligent, sweet, sensitive, cultivated, erudite. These are the adjectives of praise in an androgynous world. Those who consider them epithets of shame or folly ought not to be trusted with leadership, for they will be men hot for power and revenge, certain of right and wrong.
Carolyn G. Heilbrun (1926-2003), American social critic, novelist, educator. From Pt. III, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny, Pt. III, 1973

The shaman/priest/artist/teacher/leader does not operate for the sole benefit of herself and her kind but for the benefit of the people at large and of the universe and its patterns, as becomes what she perceives as fitting into place, into her sense of natural justice.
Judy Grahn (1940- ), American poet, feminist. From "Modern Lesbian Sex Domains: Flaming without Burning," Another Mother Tongue, 1984

If you have a sense of purpose and a sense of direction, I believe people will follow you. Democracy isn't just about deducing what the people want. Democracy is leading the people as well.
Margaret Thatcher (1935- ), English chemist, attorney, political leader; prime minister of Britain, 1979-1990; first woman to head a major government in modern Europe; took up lifetime seat in House of Lords, 1992, Quoted in Twentieth-Century Women Political Leaders by Claire Price-Groff, 1998

Would women leaders wield power differently? Would they be more humane? Would they perhaps even usher in some gleaming, renascent era? And would men accept them? Now that we have this veritable club of women leaders across the globe -- ruling, scheming, changing the rules and the world -- we can begin to answer those questions. But the answers are no simpler than the questions themselves.
Georgia Anne Geyer (1935- ), American columnist, author, educator. From "Are Women Leaders Wielding Power Differently Than Men?" Seattle Times, 14 May 1989

The urgent need today is to develop and support leaders on every level of government who are independent of the bossism of every political machine -- the big-city machine, the liberal Democrat machine, and the Republican kingmaker machine.
Phyllis Schlafly (1934- ), American political activist, author. From Safe -- Not Sorry, Ch. 9, 1967

Strength, the American way, is not manifested by threats of criminal prosecution or police state methods. Leadership is not manifested by coercion, even against the resented. Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any methods.
Margaret Chase Smith (1887-1995), American politician; U.S. Congresswoman (R-Maine), 1940-49; U.S. Senator (R-Maine), 1949-73; first woman elected to both U.S. House and Senate; longest serving woman in Senate history. From Address, National Republican Women's Conference Banquet, 16 April 1962

No philosophy, my son; it is of no use to an emperor.
Agrippina the Younger (14-59 C.E.), Roman royalty; mother of Nero. Quoted in Ch. 8, The Great Empress, A Portrait by Maximilian Schele de Vere, 1870

You have to look at leadership through the eyes of the followers and you have to live the message. What I have learned is that people become motivated when you guide them to the source of their own power and when you make heroes out of employees who personify what you want to see in the organization.
Anita Roddick (1942-2007), English entrepreneur. From Body and Soul, Ch. 10, 1991.

For my grandmother* really had the gift of conducting the affairs of state. She knew so well how to organize and administer that she was capable of governing not only the Roman Empire but also every other kingdom under the sun.
Anna Comnena (1083-1153), Byzantine historian; world's first female historian. From Alexiad, The Writings of Medieval Women, vol. 14, M. Thiebaux, tr. and ed., 1987. * Ref. Anna Dalassena, Byzantine Empress.

The politicians think that I have not included enough of them; the nonpoliticians think that I have gone back to the old ways; and the mass public groups think I have forgotten them.
Corazon Aquino (1933- ), Philippine political leader; Philippine president, 1986-92. From Interview with Sandra Burton, Quoted in Time (New York), 10 March 1986

A leader who doesn't hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.
Golda Meir (1898-1978), Russian-American-Israeli politician; Israel's first minister of labor, 1949-56; foreign minister, 1956-66 and prime minister, 1969-74. Quoted in As Good as Golda, Israel and Mary Shenker, eds. 1970

We are being governed by the dregs of the nation -- and their brutality is so capricious that no one can feel certain that he will be safe tomorrow.
Iris Origo (1902-1988) English-Italian writer. From War in Val d'Orcia, 1947

I sat on the grass and listened to the speakers [28 August 1963, the March on Washington], to discover we had "dreamers" instead of leaders leading us. Just about every one of them stood up there dreaming. Martin Luther King went on and on talking about his dream. I sat there thinking that in Canton {Mississippi] we never had time to sleep, much less dream.
Anne Moody (1940- ), American civil rights activist, writer. From Coming of Age in Mississippi, 1968

. . . we will no longer be led only by that half of the population whose socialization, through toys, games, values and expectations, sanctions violence as the final assertion of manhood, synonymous with nationhood.
Wilma Scott Heide (1921-1985), American sociologist, nurse, feminist; 3rd president of NOW, 1971-74. Quoted in NOW* Official Biography, 1971

Defeat in itself was part and parcel of the great gambling game of politics. A man who could not accept it and try again was not of the stuff of which leaders are made.
Agnes Sligh Turnbull (1888-1982), American novelist. From The Golden Journey, Ch. 12, 1955

Spiritual leadership should remain spiritual leadership and the temporal power should not become too important in any Church.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), American humanitarian, lecturer, government official; U.S. delegate to United Nations, 1945-53, 1961; United Nations Prize, 1968; wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. From Letter to Cardinal Francis Spellman (23 July 1949), Quoted in Eleanor: The Years Alone by Joseph P. Lash, 1972.

It's sort of easy to make a challenge. It's very hard to put the full fate of your government behind the challenge and make it happen. That's real leadership.
Jody Williams (1950- ), American peace activist; founding coordinator, International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), 1992; ICBL was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, 1998. From "A Global Ban On Landmines," Address, Treaty Signing Conference, Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997

The mouthpieces of the so-called public opinion; those men, who by high-sounding formulas had so impressed the densely ignorant masses . . . They had neither sufficient moral force nor experience necessary to build up a new system. Their mental store was limited to theories, often excellent but inapplicable to reality.
Maria, Grand Duchess of Russia (1890-1958), Russian duchess. From Education of a Princess, Ch. 8, 1930

MARIA. Today the cap of liberty's toss'd up --
Tomorrow torn and given to the winds,
And all their leaders, by the fickle throng
Are sacrific'd by violence, or fraud.
Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1758), American poet, playwright, historian. From The Ladies of Castile, Act II, Sc. 4, 1790

O there are tears for him, *
O there are cheers for him-
Liberty's champion, Cid of the West.
Edna Dean Proctor (1829-1923), American poet. From "Cid of the West", n.d. *Ref. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909).

there is a new game I must tell you of
It's called Catch The Leader Lying
(And knowing your sense of the absurd
you will enjoy this)
Nikki Giovanni (1943- ), American poet, educator. From "Poem for Black Boys," St. 5, Black Feeling/Black Talk/Black Judgment, 1970

You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go.
Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), American politician, peace activist, social worker, suffragist; U.S. Congresswoman (R-Montana), 1917-1919 and 1941-1943; first woman elected to U.S. Congress or to any national government; cofounder, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1918; NOW Susan B. Anthony Hall of Fame, 1972; only person in Congressional history to vote against U.S. entry into World Wars I and II. From Prologue (c.1941), Quoted in Jeannette Rankin: First Lady in Congress by Hannah Josephson, 1974

And they shall know that in the ordering
Of every world to come the law shall read
That he who dares be lawless wears the wing

Of bird and prophet and his light shall lead
On through the darkness to eventual light,
To undiscovered wealth, to newer need . . .
Zoë Akins (1886-1958), American poet, playwright, screenwriter; Pulitzer, 1935. From "The Anarchist, III," Sts. 15-16, The Hills Grow Smaller, 1937

. . . we may well be the ones Proverbs warns when it reminds us: "Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks the truth." The point is clear: If the people speak and the king doesn't listen, there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something is wrong with the people.
Joan Chittister (1936- ), American nun, peace activist, author; founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality. From "Is there anything left that matters?" National Catholic Reporter, 27 May 2003

The really expert riders of horses let the horse know immediately who is in control, but then they guide the horse with loose reins and very seldom use the spurs. So it was with our chief [William Rehnquist]. He guided us with loose reins and used the spurs only rarely to get us up to speed with our work.
Sandra Day O'Connor (1930- ), American justice, attorney; first woman to serve on U.S. Supreme Court, 1981-2006; from "Rehnquist mourners praise 'a life well lived," Cox News Service, 8 September 2005

Leadership that brings peace is far more courageous than the one which opens fire and goes for war.
Asthma Jehangir (1952- ), Pakistani human rights activist, attorney; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Commission on Human Rights, 2004-; UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. From "Asma Jahangir, The pocket protector," by Tim McGirk, Time (New York), 28 April 2003

But political charisma alone has produced profound consequences in this century. Gandhi, Roosevelt, Hitler, and Castro were only four examples of political leaders whose charismatic hold over millions of followers gave them leverage to transform and transcend their times and countries.
Ann Ruth Willner (1939?- ), American political scientist. From The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership, Ch. 1, 1984 rev.

America is a country ready to be taken-in fact, longing to be taken-by political leaders ready to restore democracy and trust to the political process.
Arianna Huffington (1950- ), Greek-American syndicated columnist, public figure; founder, The Huffington Post. From "The Quest for Leaders," How to Overthrow the Government, 2000

Is there a better quality in a leader than humility when he might soon be granted enormous power to do good for his country and the world--or harm?
Jane Fletcher Geniesse (1936- ), American biographer, columnist, novelist. From "Why Obama," www.largeheartedboy.com, 8 August 2008

Any natural distribution of kinds of creatures on the earth includes five percent of those called pathfinders, pioneers, or elites. They have a penetrating glance, and the capability to push societies forward. This special trait is not limited to human societies... it is also found among animals, birds, and even tiny insects... The existence of this five percent is inescapable; it plays a real part among the members [of the group to which it belongs] in the continuation of the life of every species, and in dealing with the challenges that these groups face from time to time...Where are the pathfinders of the Arab peoples, and where are their elites? Why have the Arab peoples become herds and rabble? Where is someone to direct them and drive the train of revival forward?
Wajeha al-Huwaider (1971?- ), Saudi poet, human rights activist, journalist. From "The Vital Pathfinding Arab Elite is Persecuted and Cannot Advance Arab Society,” MiddleEastTransparent.com, 15 July 2006

The moral authority of leaders is an essential ingredient to human security. Our attitudes will determine whether we are able to resolve conflict. It requires real listening and a readiness to consider new ways. And if we are to be a bridge, we have to be willing to be walked on.
Florence Mpaayei (1960), Kenyan peace activist, administrator; Ex. Dir., Nairobi Peace Initiative. From Remarks, Caux Forum (Switzerland), July 2008

In times, such as these, we the people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to work for the common good, for the public happiness, the well-being of the nation and the world, knowing that our individual well-being depends upon a world in which liberty and justice prevail.
Sharon E. Watkins (1954?- ), American minister. From Sermon, "Harmonies of Liberty" (Washington National Cathedral), 21 January 2009

I define leadership as having three parts: first is seeing what needs to be done to make things better or seeing a problem that needs fixing; second is having the vision, the skill, and the wherewithal to change the system; and third is the most important task of mobilizing the energy of others to organize and act in ways to achieve that vision.
Susan J. Herman (1942-2009), Keynote speech, "Leadership, the Holocaust, Genocide, and Education," Hildebrandt Award Presentation, Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College (NH), 20 April 2009

Elaine Bernstein Partnow is an author, actor, quotologist, editor, and public speaker especially noted for her living history portrayals of notable women and for the nationally acclaimed book The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years. Elaine has brought some of her dozens of portrayals of fabulous women to tens of thousands of women, men and children internationally at more than 500 venues. A member of SAG and AEA, she’s written, produced and acted in her own one-woman show, Hear Us Roar, A Woman’s Connection; and was commissioned to write and perform Hispanic Women Speak. She has a screenplay and two novels under her belt along with 16 published books and she continues to write fiction and nonfiction as well as work as an editor and writing coach. You can find out more about Elaine and contact her at her websites: www.TheQuotableWoman.com and www.EditingByElaine.info.

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