• 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*

On Advocating for Others


In this chapter we will explore what it means to be an advocate for others, how one finds oneself in this role and the complex motivations that go into it. We will read Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, a play about the AIDS epidemic in the gay community in New York in the early 1980s. Larry Kramer died this past may at age 84. You may read his obituary to get a sense for how much his own leadership in life paralleled that of Ned Weeks, the protagonist in The Normal Heart. Special thanks to Claudia Filos for recommending this work for this leadership class!


How do we figure out how other people see us? What are the behaviors and traits of a person who is good at recognizing how others see them?

Reflect on three times in your life you’ve chosen to take a chance by speak up about a problem that you feel is a problem with your organization, your community, or  the world more generally. How did it go? Were you well-received? Did your speech change anything? To what extent was your speech timely, relevant, clearly, and compelling? Was there any discrepancy between how you felt the speech went and how it was received?

In your opinion how true are the following statements about you?

  • I generally have a better sense of right and wrong than those around me.
  • I am generally more willing to stand up and fight for what’s right than those around me.
  • I am as critical of others as I am of myself.

Now read The Normal Heart and consider the main character, Ned Weeks’, strengths and weaknesses as someone who speaks up about the AIDS epidemic.

Key Passages + Discussion

Passage One (Scene One, pp. 15-18): When Dr. Brookner tells Ned that a “big mouth” is a cure for AIDS

Emma: Who are you?

Ned: I’m Ned Weeks. I spoke with you on the phone after the Times article.

Emma: You’re the writer fellow who’s scared. I’m scared, too. I hear you’ve got a big mouth.

Ned: Is big mouth a symptom?

Emma: No, a cure. Come on in and take your clothes off.

Ned: I only came to ask some questions.

Emma: You’re gay, aren’t you? Take your clothes off.

Ned: Dr. Brookner, what’s happening?

Emma: I don’t know.

Ned: In just a couple of minutes you told two people I know something. The article said there isn’t any cure.

Emma: Not even any good clues yet. All I know is this disease is the most insidious killer I’ve ever seen or studied or heard about. And I think we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg. And I’m afraid it’s on the rampage. I’m frightened nobody important is going to give a damn because it seems to be happening mostly to gay men. Who cares if a faggot dies? Does it occur to you to do anything about it. Personally?

Ned: Me?

Emma: Somebody’s got to do something.

Ned: Wouldn’t it be better coming from you?

Emma: Doctors are extremely conservative; they try to stay out of anything that smells political, and this smells. Bad. As soon as you start screaming you get treated like a nut case. Maybe you know that. And then you’re ostracized and rendered worthless, just when you need cooperation most.

Emma: So where is this big mouth I hear you’ve got?

Ned: I have more of a bad temper than a big mouth.

Emma: Nothing wrong with that. Plenty to get angry about. Health is a political issue. Everyone’s entitled to good medical care. If you’re not getting it, you’ve got to fight for it. 

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Dr. Linda Laubenstein (1947-1992) is the character on whom Dr. Brookner is based (https://www.lifescitrc.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=3606).

Passage Two (Scene One, p. 18): When Ned complains about the low agency of the members of the gay community (perhaps still trying to distance himself from the taint)

Ned: There aren’t any organizations strong enough to be useful, no. Dr. Brookner, nobody with a brain gets involved in gay politics. It’s filled with the great unwashed radicals of any counterculture. That’s why there aren’t any leaders the majority will follow. Anyway, you’re talking to the wrong person. What I think it politically incorrect.

Emma: Why?

Ned: Gay is good to that crowd, no matter what. There’s no room for criticism, looking at ourselves critically. 

Emma: What’s your main criticism?

Ned: I hate how we play victim, when many of us, most of us, don’t have to.

Emma: Then you’re exactly what’s needed now.

Ned: Nobody ever listens. We’re not exactly a bunch that knows how to play follow the leader.

Emma: Maybe they’re just waiting for somebody to lead them.

Ned: We are. What group isn’t?

Emma: You can get dressed. I can’t find what I’m looking for.

Ned: Needed? Needed for what? What is it exactly you’re trying to get me to do?

Emma: Tell gay men to stop having sex. 

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Three (Scene Eleven, p. 75): When Mickey explains the tragedy of the ideal of promiscuity

Mickey (to Ned): I’ve spent fifteen years of my life fighting for our right to be free and make love whenever, wherever…And you’re telling me that all those years of what being gay stood for is wrong — and I’m a murderer. We have been so oppressed! Don’t you remember how it was? Can’t you see how important it is for us to love openly, without hiding and without guilt? We were a bunch of funny-looking fellows who grew up in sheer misery and one day fell into the orgy rooms and we thought we’d found heaven. And we would teach the world how wonderful heaven can be. We would lead the way. We would be good for something new. Can’t you see that? Can’t you?

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Four (Scene Thirteen, p. 85): Ned is kicked out of the AIDS activist organization

Bruce (reading the letter from the board removing Ned from the organization): The board wanted me to read you this letter. “We are circulating this letter widely among people of judgment and good sense in our community. We take this action to try to combat your damage, wrought, so far as we can see, by your having no scruples whatsoever. You are on a colossal ego trip we must curtail. To manipulate fear, as you have done repeatedly in your ‘merchandising’ of this epidemic, is to us the gesture of barbarism. To exploit deaths of gay men, as you have done in publications all over America, is to us an act of inexcusable vandalism. And to attempt to justify your bursts of outrageous temper as ‘part of what it means to be Jewish’ is past our comprehending. And, after years of liberation, you have helped make sex dirty again for us — terrible and forbidden. We are more angry at you than ever in our lives toward anyone. We think you want to lead us all. Well, we do not want you to. In accordance with our by-laws as drawn up by Weeks, Frankel, Levinstein, Mr. Ned Weeks is hereby removed as a director. We beg that you leave us quietly and not destroy us and what good work we manage despite your disapproval. In closing, please know we always welcome your input, advice, and help.”

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Five (Scene 13, p. 85-86): When Ned identifies himself as part of a group of highly distinguished gay men and mentions Alan Turing

Ned: I belong to a culture that includes Proust, Henry James, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Tennessee Williams, Byron, E. M. Forster, Lorca, Auden, Francis Bacon, James Baldwin, Harry Stack Sullivan, John Maynard Keynes, Dag Hammarskjold…These are not invisible men. Poor Bruce. Poor frightened Bruce. Once upon a time you wanted to be a soldier. Bruce, did you know that an openly gay Englishman was as responsible as any man for winning the Second World War? His name was Alan Turing and he cracked the Germans’ Enigma code so the Allies knew in advance what the Nazis were going to do — and when the war was over he committed suicide he was so hounded for being gay. Why don’t they teach any of this in the schools? If they did, maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself and maybe you wouldn’t be so terrified of who you are. The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual. 

Listen to the audio commentary to this passage:

Passage Six (Scene Sixteen, p. 92): When Felix on his deathbed tells Ned to forgive himself more

Felix: Don’t lose that anger. Just have a little more patience and forgiveness. For yourself as well.

Passage Seven (Scene Sixteen, p. 93): Final Scene, Saying Goodbye to Felix

Ned: Why didn’t I fight harder! Why didn’t I picket the White House, all by myself if nobody would come. Or go on a hunger strike. I forgot to tell him something. Felix, when they invited me to Gay Week at Yale, they had a dance…In my old college dining hall, just across the campus from that tiny freshman room where I tried to kill myself because I thought I was the only gay man in the world — they had a dance. Felix, there were six hundred young men and women there. Smart, exceptional young men and women. 

Listen to the audio commentary to the previous two passages:

Watch the video of the final scene, with Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks and Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright, and compare it to the play.

Plotting Your Leadership Development

Part One: Ned’s limitations

Make a list of the behaviors or character traits that you believe get in the way of Ned Weeks being an effective advocate for the needs of others. Consider whether you agree that these behaviors work against him:

  • Ned does not always seem to care about the feelings of others especially when he feels that he is right.
  • Ned thinks less of others who don’t fight for causes as strongly as he does.
  • Ned expects too much of himself.
  • Ned is afraid of being–or seeming–weak. Or, to put it another way, Ned does not seem comfortable with his status as an outsider/gay man.
  • Ned cannot work with those he does not respect.
  • Ned does not seem to be very aware of how he comes across to other people.

What are the traits and behaviors that can get in the way of you being a better advocate for others? How many of these traits and behaviors of Ned do you see in yourself? Identify one or two of these traits that you feel you could improve upon and announce either to a group or privately to a trusted friend your intention and your plan to work on these traits. If necessary, ask them to give you advice or at least hold you accountable.

Finally, what have been the issues in life you have cared about most so far and have even advocated for? How did you come to care about these issues? Do you feel satisfied in your advocacy at this point? Are there any decisions you could make right now, in order to become a better advocate or get behind a better cause? Which of the following statements best characterize how you see yourself?

  • I believe that I could be a good advocate for a cause but I don’t know what my cause is yet.
  • I care deeply about a lot of issues but I find it difficult to advocate for them.
  • I feel that I am supporting important causes with all of my talents and energy.
  • I don’t feel much like an advocate right now and I don’t have any causes. I’m still working on me.

Part Two: Ned’s Name

We have already seen at least one instant where declaring one’s own name, fully and proudly, is connected to leadership, namely, when Binti declares her full name to Okwu in her attempts to defend her right to speak to the Meduse. We will see other instances of “name declaration” elsewhere in the course. For now, there are at least two interesting things about Ned’s name. His last name is Weeks, which seems to hint at his biggest fear, which he confesses to Felix, namely, that he is weak. The second interesting thing is that Ned’s real first name is Alexander, which probably makes many people think of Alexander the Great, perhaps the most famous conqueror/commander ever to live. So, Ned’s birth name is Alexander Weeks, seemingly someone who is in tension between strong leadership and weakness. It is telling that in the final scene of the play, when Dr. Brookner is marrying Ned and Felix, she refers to Ned as “Ned”, but Felix corrects her and calls him “Alexander,” seemingly an attempt to activate Ned’s true leadership potential (is Felix a better mentor than Dr. Brookner?).* As you reflect on Ned’s name in the play, consider your own relation to your name:

  1. Do you like your name? Have you always liked your name?
  2. Does your name sound to you like the name of someone who shows leadership often and well? What does a leadership name need to sound like?
  3. Have you ever gone by a different name, maybe your middle name or a nickname? Did that different name affect your leadership, either how you saw yourself or how you know/imagined how others saw you?
  4. Do you enjoy telling people your name?
  5. What would you like people to think of when they hear your name?
  6. Have you ever felt embarrassed, ashamed, or self-conscious about your name?
  7. What is the difference between your first name vs. your full name in terms of leadership?
  8. If it were customary for everyone to choose their own name once they turned eighteen, what name would you choose?

*I wish to thank Selam Getu for sharing this observation with our class.