We are about midway through Women’s History Month 2011, and I find it difficult to honor this important month this year without a quick wax on Wonder Woman and what both her creator(s) and her narrative can tell us about growing a new crop of effective leaders.
For those who aren’t familiar with her story, Wonder Woman was the brainchild of William Moulton Marston and modeled in equal parts after his fiery feminist psychologist wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their partner, Olivia Byrne. (Yes, that’s right, William and Elizabeth had a consensual polyamorous relationship for most of their life). The two Marstons, (Elizabeth, by the way, was denied admittance to Harvard grad because she was a woman but was able to obtain her PhD at Boston University), are responsible for creating the systolic blood pressure test, the precursor to the polygraph test. They envisioned a day where people would use it for personal use to help them be more honest and open in their communication and relationships with themselves and others. Not too surprisingly, given this backstory, the Marstons and Byrne saw Wonder Woman as a superhero who slayed evil with love and, when necessary, used her lasso of truth on the deceitful.
While the Marstons would undoubtedly be horrified by how innocents have been sent to prison and to death row based on the unreliable results of their little invention, I suspect they would be pleased by Wonder Woman’s reemergence as a feminist icon. Most importantly, I’d like to believe that they would be most interested in seeing men and women apply the following principles to their workplace, community, government, and family leadership.
1. Exercise transparency with those you are leading.
2. Use love and empathy to inspire action and commitment to mutually beneficial goals.
3. Hold others accountable to their vision of success. (Sometimes that means a little tough love, aka, a lasso slap in the tushie.)
4. Just as it’s important to know when to “step up” to leadership, particularly for women and minorities who have often not had a place at the table, it’s important to know when to “step down” (or submit)… both to move forward and to give others a chance to lead.
5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. People respect those who can laugh at themselves and get out of their own way.
As people throughout the world are demanding a new kind of leadership, one that I believes gets to the very heart of what the Marstons sought to create, I can think of no better role model than Wonder Woman. How can you embrace Wonder Woman’s core values in your leadership style? Whether you are seeking to lead up, down, or across, how can you ensure that your legacy is one you can be proud of?