• 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*

Looking for Leadership Slowly

Looking For Leadership Slowly

In this lesson we are going to look slowly and closely at a the portrait of another human face–one you choose to look at based on your own interests. Our approach will be informed by the pedagogy of Slow Looking. (Special thanks to Ashleigh Coren of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.)

Step One: Do a Google image search for the word “portrait” and scroll through the image results until you find a portrait that catches your eye. Make sure it is not a portrait of someone you recognize or even think you recognize because you don’t want to project your knowledge of that person onto your analysis. If you don’t find something interesting by searching for “portrait,” you might narrow it somehow by typing “portrait of an older person.” Once you have selected your portrait, begin by writing down all the details you can see in the image. I recommend that you write by hand and ideally in cursive (here’s some solid thinking on the benefits of doing so, with thanks to Beth Becker Hermes for sharing with me). You might write about things like the direction of the person’s gaze, the angle from which the image is shot, the kind of clothes the person is wearing, the setting (if you can tell it), the length and style of their hair, the features of their expression (for example, their eyes, eyebrows, and mouth). Look at the image again as though for the first time. Zoom in on something that you hadn’t noticed the first time and add to your details.

Step Two: Now spend fifteen minutes writing about your impressions of the character of the person in this portrait. You might want to think in terms of “The Big Five”, that is, does this person seem Open, Conscientious, Extroverted, Agreeable, or Neurotic (OCEAN)? Or you might want to use more evaluative terms, that is, does this person seem honest, courageous, curious, kind, humorous, or trustworthy? What is it about this portrait that gives you this impression? Note: it is important to emphasize that to speculate about an actual person’s character based on a single image or first impression is not at all accurate or constructive. It is part of the pseudoscience of physiognomy. You may read an excellent book about this common human tendency in Alexander Todorov’s Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions (2017; for more about why we tend to project leadership–or not–onto the faces of other humans, check out this article by Mark Van Vugt and Allen Grabo). The purpose of this exercise is not to get to know a random person based on their image, but to get to know ourselves.

Step Three: Now spend fifteen minutes writing about what you imagine the person in this portrait’s motives are or what they seem to want to accomplish in life. What are their values and their vision for the world, as far as you can tell?

Step Four: Finally, if you could recruit this person to address any kind of human problem or crisis–for example, a political conflict, a disagreement among two groups, a natural disaster, a war, or some kind of psychological disorder–what would you recruit them for? What kind of leadership behaviors could you see this person bringing to the problem that would be helpful? (You may find it helpful to review this list of common leadership behaviors as you think about this question.) What challenges of leadership would this person face? Explain your answer to yourself using the evidence you have observed in the portrait.

Step Five: Give your portrait a caption that will remind you how to lead (or not to lead).

Step Six: Now that you have an impression of the kinds of leadership the person in this image might show, look back at your notes and compare and contrast yourself to them: 

  • Could you yourself exhibit the same leadership in the same scenario? 
  • What leadership behaviors would you find challenging or easy?
  • How does your own character compare to the character you imagine in the person in the portrait?
  • Finally, what opportunities for this kind of leadership do you see for yourself in the next week or month? What could you do to overcome any challenges you face in showing this kind of leadership? Would it be good for you to show this leadership? If so, what is stopping you? 

Review: What did you just do?

In this exercise you began to translate your study of leadership into practice. Specifically, you engaged in at least four–hopefully, five–activities. You identified a subject for leadership study (in this case, a portrait), you analyzed it for evidence of how the details of the study related to leadership (character, motives, behaviors, problems); you thought about how these aspects of leadership could be translated to your own leadership; and you evaluated them according to whether they would be good for you to practice. Hopefully, if you decided they would be good to practice, you then began to do so. Identify. Analyze. Translate. Evaluate. Practice. Or I ATE P, an acronym which I credit my students for coming up with :-).

Note that leadership development along these lines requires your whole person. You must actively choose to think about and analyze examples of leadership. You must be creative in your ability to see how a seemingly random example of leadership might be applicable to your own life. You must be prudent and in touch with your values, in order to ensure that any impression you get from your leadership study is right, morally and circumstantially, for you at this moment. Finally, you must have the will and self-knowledge to be not only a critic of leadership but an agent of it. If you find that your agency is lacking, you may want to work to develop a good theory for why that is. How well do you really know yourself? Do you get distracted when you set goals? Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself? Would changing your environment, the people you associate with, your schedule, your habits, or your attitude help you become more efficacious? 

Finally, note that we did not go searching for leadership in the traditional places of power. We did search for a leadership portrait or a portrait of a leader. Instead, we are beginning to realize that leadership could happen anywhere in anyone. Such is the potential we find in studying leadership through the humanities.

[Optional Group Activity: Join a group of friends or colleagues in person or in an online forum to share your reactions to your respective portraits. Note the differences between your approach and that of others. Make a list of all the behaviors that your group intends on cultivating. Identify three questions that your group still has about how exactly to cultivate these behaviors.]

If you are interested in an example of this process, here’s one I (Norman) did.

Plotting Your Leadership Development

Reputation Building

Announce to a friend or group your intention to cultivate a new leadership behavior based on the progress you made from this exercise.

An Optional Deeper Dive: Take a look at this discussion led by Ashleigh Coren of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on caricature and portraiture in Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rix8NdRT68k