• Chapter One. Looking for Leadership Slowly

    We will begin to develop our leadership by looking closely at a portrait of another human face, project some capacities for leadership onto it, and then reflect on our own capacities for this leadership.

  • Chapter Two. Activating Others to Lead: Athena Mentors Telemachus in the *Odyssey*

    We will develop ways both to be--and to find--a better mentor by studying Athena's relationship with Telemachus in the *Odyssey* as she prepares him to take over Odysseus' household.

  • Chapter Three. Becoming a "Master Harmonizer" in Nnedi Okorafor's *Binti*

    We will move beyond activating the potential of individuals to activating the potential of partnerships.

  • Chapter Four. Overcoming Dehumanizing Stereotypes and Reconciling a Nation at War in Aristophanes' *Lysistrata*

    We will continue to explore the challenges that stereotypes pose to leadership and individuals and groups overcome these stereotypes even without support from others.

  • Chapter Five. Recognizing a Bad Mentor and Grappling with Ambition and Greed in Sophocles' *Philoctetes*

    We will delve more deeply into the motivations that help us lead and that get in the way of leading.

  • Chapter Six. Spotting the Bad Mentee in Jorge Luis Borges' "El Muerto"

    We will continue our exploration of leadership motivations and practice developing profiles of personality types that can guide us collaborating (or not) with others..

  • Chapter Seven. How (Not) to Be an Advocate for Others in Larry Kramer's *The Normal Heart*t

    "To speak or not to speak?" is one of the fundamental decisions of leadership. We will ponder this question according to relevance, tone, motivation, clarity, empathy, and timing.

  • Chapter Eight. The Complete Leadership Package? Cyrus the Great in Xenophon's *Education of Cyrus*

    What are the core traits that make up the kind of leadership that best meets the needs of others? Does such a set exist? Where do these traits come from?

  • Chapter Nine. The Requisites of True Leadership according to Ida B. Wells
  • Chapter Ten. Leadership for Tomorrow, Part One: Disney's *Moana*

    We will explore the mentor relationship between Moana and her Gramma Tala as well as the ways Moana becomes a mentor to Maui.

  • Chapter Eleven. Leadership for Tomorrow, Part Two: Ryan Coogler's *The Black Panther*

Becoming a Master Harmonizer


In the first part of our journey through leadership development we thought about what it would mean to activate an individual’s potential and help them realize their possibilities, that is, to mentor them. In this chapter we are going to explore how you might realize the potential partnerships for two or more individuals. Nnedi Okorafor’s novella, Binti (2015), tells the futuristic story of a sixteen-year-old girl from the Himba people of Namibia, who travels through outer space to go to college at Oomza University. Along the way her ship is attacked and she is unexpectedly cast into the role of a “master harmonizer” between the attackers (The Meduse) and the community of her prospective university. We will thus be exploring what it takes to bring about reconciliation, a word whose origin means something like “the act of bringing others back to the meeting.”

The man [or person] who recognizes beneficial partners and can make them desire one another would, it seems to me, be able to make cities into friends and to forge useful marriages, and would be very valuable for cities and citizens to have as a friend or an ally. (Socrates in Xenophon’s Symposium 4.64.3–8)


Inside or Outside?

Step One: Spend twenty minutes sketching an example of leadership by someone you would consider an “insider”. Consider first for what makes this person an insider. For example, being an insider might mean being the child of someone of influence, like the owner of a business, which might make that person an insider to inherit the business or it might increase the likelihood that others in the business will listen to that person’s ideas. Being an insider might mean being of a certain gender, age, sexual orientation, or cultural background because any of these identities might increase the changes that you will have authority, influence, or deference conferred upon you in an organization or at a meeting. Attaining a degree or earning some kind of distinction (like winning a national or international prize) might confer insider status on someone in the sense that they are likely to be respected and familiar. 

Step Two: Now spend twenty minutes sketching someone engaging in leadership whom you consider an “outsider,” that is, someone who may lack traditional status, distinction, familiarity, or an official leadership role.

Step Three: What do you consider to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an outsider compared to an insider? Specifically, what are the leadership behaviors you would expect an outsider to be able to perform well or not? For reference, consider our list of common leadership behaviors.

Step Four: What are three examples of division (strife, mutual hostility) that currently bother you, either in the people deal with on a day-to-day basis or in the world more generally? What opportunities do you yourself have to bring about reconciliation in these situations? In what three ways could you become better at bringing about reconciliation and identifying beneficial partnerships for others?

Step Five: Now read Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti and create a description for yourself of what it is that Binti does (or is) that enables her to become a “master harmonizer.” Make note of specific passages that you think are key to understanding her in this leadership role.

Key Passages + Discussion

Passage One (Page 17)

The transporter shivered in the sand and I held my breath. Tiny, flat, and black as a prayer stone, it buzzed softly and then slowly rose from the sand. Finally, it produced the baggage-lifting force. I grinned. Now I could make it to the shuttle. I swiped otjize from my forehead with my index finger and knelt down. Then I touched the finger to the sand, grounding the sweet smelling red clay into it. “Thank you,” I whispered. It was a half-mile walk along the dark desert road. With the transporter working, I would make it on time.

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Passage Two (Page 30)

The ship was packed with outward-looking people who loved mathematics, experimenting, learning, reading, inventing, studying, obsessing, revealing. The people on the ship weren’t Himba, but I soon understood that they were still my people. I stood out as Himba, but the commonalities shined brighter. I made friends quickly. And by the second week in space, they were good friends.

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Passage Three (Page 67)

“I…I have an idea!” I shouted. My voice cracked. I pushed forward. “Let me talk to your chief!” I shrieked. I don’t know if it was the delicious fish I’d eaten, shock, hopelessness, or exhaustion. I stood up and stepped to it, my legs shaky and my eyes wild. “Let me…I’m a master harmonizer. That’s why I’m going to Oomza Uni. I am the best of the best, Okwu. I can create harmony anywhere.” I was so out of breath that I was wheezing. I inhaled deeply, seeing stars explode before my eyes. Let me speak for the Meduse. The people in Oomza are academics, so they’ll understand honor and history and symbolism and matters of the body.” I didn’t know any of this for sure. These were only my dreams..and my experiences of those on the ship.

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Passage Four (Pages 70-71)

Then right there, within the ship that brought the death of my friends, the boy I was coming to love, my fellow Oomza Uni human citizens from earth, before the one who had instructed its people to perform moojh-ha ki-biri, also called the “great wave” of death, on my people–still grasping the edan, I prostrated. I pressed my face to the floor. Then I waited.

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Compare Priam supplicating himself before Achilles in hopes of ransoming his son Hektor in Book 24 (493-506) of the Iliad (translation by Richmond Lattimore)

“I have had the noblest | of sons in Troy, but I say not one of them is left to me. | Fifty were my sons, when the sons of the Achaians came here. | Nineteen were born to me from the womb of a single mother, | and other women bore the rest in my palace; and of these | violent Ares broke the strength in the knees of most of them, | but one was left me who guarded my city and people, that one | you killed a few days since as he fought in defence of his country, | Hektor; for whose sake I come now to the ships of the Achaians | to win him back from you, and I bring you gifts beyond number. | Honour then the gods, Achilleus, and take pity upon me | remembering your father, yet I am still more pitiful; | I have gone through what no other mortal on earth has gone through; | I put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my children.”

For more on leadership in the Iliad check out this module on the leadership of Agamemnon.

Passage Five (Page 71)

My people are the creators and builders of astrolabes,” I said. “We use math to create the current within them. The best of us have the gift to bring harmony so delicious that we can make atoms caress each other like lovers. That’s what my sister said.” I blinked as it came to me. “I think that’s why this edan works for me! I found it. In the desert. A wild woman there once told me that it is a piece of old old technology; she called it a ‘god stone’. I didn’t believe her then, but I do now. I’ve had it for eight years, but it only worked for me now.” I pounded my chest. “For me!” On that ship full of you after you’d all done…done that. Let me speak for you, let me speak to them. So no more have to die.”

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Cf. Battlestar Galactica (2004) and the characters who see themselves (erroneously) as agents or instruments of destiny.

Passage Six (Page 92) On why Binti’s hair was turned into tentacles


“Because you had to understand us and it was the only way,” Okwu said.

“And you needed to prove to them that you were truly our ambassador, not prisoner,” the chief said.

Listen to the audio commentary for this passage:

Plotting your leadership development

Which of the following behaviors that Binti shows as a master harmonizer are ones that you feel you need to perform going forward? Do you find these behaviors easy or difficult (make a checklist of each one)? What is your plan for cultivating the ones you need to cultivate?

  • harmonizing, or reconciling, your identity as both an insider and an outsider. Consider: are there sides of yourself that you don’t show to others because you are too embarrassed or afraid to, but if you did show them you would be able to exhibit more effective leadership? Think specifically about your upbringing, education, or personal experiences.
  • seeing technology as in harmony with the spiritual world
  • remaining connected to your origins and being grateful for them
  • parting with the past, undergoing a metaphorical death of your prior self
  • being humble toward those you would lead
  • learning to speak the language of those who are not like you (and who are even hostile to you)
  • becoming more like those who are not like you (and who are even hostile to you)
  • feeling at home when you are away from home
  • longing for somewhere beyond your home
  • restraining strong and otherwise justifiable feelings of anger and outrage when the goal is to achieve harmony and reconciliation
  • tolerating a certain amount of loneliness
  • making friends quickly and deeply based on shared interests, values, and feeling
  • having curiosity about the world in a number of areas
  • striving for glory
  • exercising independent judgment
  • embracing solitude
  • giving vent to pent up emotions at the right time (e.g., sadness, anger, laugther/joy)

Finally, as important as these behaviors are, they likely won’t be effective if others don’t see them in us. Ask someone who knows you well to explain whether they, too, see these behaviors in you. If you are worried that they will be biased and tell you only nice things about yourself, you can ask them to pick between two behaviors at a time, to get a sense for the behaviors that really stand out in you and the ones that are more muted. You could even put these traits into brackets like March Madness and see which one comes out on top. For example, you could say, “Do you see me more as someone who tends to ‘have curiosity about the world in a number of areas’ than as someone who tends to ‘strive for glory’?” Whichever one the person picked would be the “winner” and then you could ask them to do two more. See if the ultimate winner is what you would have said about yourself and try to explain any discrepancy between how you see yourself and others do. Where does this exercise leave you in your potential to become a master harmonizer?

I want to thank Molly Ayn Lewis Jones for introducing me to Binti!

If you would like to read more about the idea of being a leader from the outside, check out this essay on Stacey Abrams and Cyrus II (also with reference to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).