Learning about one’s self is an essential step in becoming an authentic leader. What role did self-awareness play in sally helgesen’s story of leadership?

Case 9.1


page235image26481152

Am i really a Leader?

sally helgesen was born in the small Midwestern town of saint Cloud, Minnesota. her mother was a housewife who later taught english, and her father was a college professor of speech. After attending a local state college, where she majored in english and comparative religion, sally spread her wings and moved to new york, inspired by the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

sally found work as a writer, first in advertising and then as an assistant to a columnist at the then-influential Village Voice. she contributed free- lance articles to magazines such as Harper’s, Glamour, Vogue, Fortune, and Inside Sports. she also returned to school, completing a degree in classics at hunter College and taking language courses at the city gradu- ate center in preparation for a Phd in comparative religion. she envi- sioned herself as a college professor, but also enjoyed freelancing. she felt a strong dichotomy within her, part quiet scholar and part footloose dreamer. The conflict bothered her, and she wondered how she would resolve it. Choosing to be a writer—actually declaring herself to be one— seemed scary, grandiose, and fraudulent.

Then one day, while walking on a new york side street in the rain, sally saw an adventuresome black cat running beside her. it reminded her of holly Golightly’s cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, an emblem in the movie for holly’s dreamy temperament and rootlessness. it made her realize how much the freedom and independence offered by her “temporary” career as a writer suited her temperament. sally told the cat she was a writer—she’d never been able to say the words before—and decided she was going to commit to full-time writing, at least for a time. When she saw the opportunity to cover a prominent murder trial in Fort Worth, Texas, she took it.

While covering the trial, sally became intrigued with the culture of Texas, and decided she wanted to write a book on the role of independent oil producers in shaping the region. doing so required a huge expenditure of time and money, and for almost a year sally lived out of the trunk of her car, staying with friends in remote regions all over Texas. it was lonely and hard and exhilarating, but sally was determined to see the project through. When the book, Wildcatters (1981), was published, it achieved little recognition, but sally felt an enormous increase in confidence and commitment as a result of having finished the book. it strengthened her conviction that, for better or worse, she was a writer.

sally moved back to new york and continued to write articles and search around for another book. she also began writing speeches for the Ceo at a Fortune 500 company. she loved the work, and particularly enjoyed being an observer of office politics, even though she did not perceive

herself to be a part of them. sally viewed her role as being an “outsider looking in,” an observer of the culture. she sometimes felt like an actor in a play about an office, but this detachment made her feel professional rather than fraudulent.

As a speechwriter, sally spent a lot of time interviewing people in the companies she worked for. doing so made her realize that men and women often approach their work in fundamentally different ways. she also became convinced that many of the skills and attitudes women brought to their work were increasingly appropriate for the ways in which organizations were changing, and that women had certain advan- tages as a result. she also noticed that the unique perspectives of women were seldom valued by Ceos or other organizational leaders, who could have benefited if they had better understood and been more attentive to what women had to offer.

These observations inspired sally to write another book. in 1988, she signed a contract with a major publisher to write a book on what women had to contribute to organizations. Until then, almost everything written about women at work focused on how they needed to change and adapt. sally felt strongly that if women were encouraged to emphasize the negative, they would miss a historic opportunity to help lead organ- izations in a time of change. The time was right for this message, and The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership (1990) became very successful, topping a number of best-seller charts and remaining steadily in print for nearly 20 years. The book’s prominence resulted in numerous speaking and consulting opportunities, and sally began traveling the world delivering seminars and working with a variety of clients.

This acclaim and visibility were somewhat daunting to sally. While she recognized the value of her book, she also knew that she was not a social scientist with a body of theoretical data on women’s issues. she saw her- self as an author rather than an expert, and the old questions about fraudulence that she had dealt with in her early years in new york began to reassert themselves in a different form. Was she really being authentic? Could she take on the mantle of leadership and all it entailed? in short, she wondered if she could be the leader that people seemed to expect.

The path sally took to answer these questions was simply to present herself for who she was. she was sally helgesen, an outsider looking in, a skilled and imaginative observer of current issues. For sally, the path to leadership did not manifest itself in a step-by-step process. sally’s leadership began with her own journey of finding herself and accepting her personal authen- ticity. Through this self-awareness, she grew to trust her own expertise as a writer with a keen eye for current trends in organizational life.

sally continues to be an internationally recognized consultant and speaker on contemporary issues, and has published five books. she remains uncertain about whether she will finish her degree in compara- tive religion and become a college professor, but always keeps in mind the career of i. F. stone, an influential political writer in the 1950s and 1960s who went back to school and got an advanced degree in classics at the age of 75.

Questions

1.       
Learningaboutone’sselfisanessentialstepinbecominganauthen- tic leader. What role did self-awareness play in sally helgesen’s story of leadership?

2.       
howwouldyoudescribetheauthenticityofsallyhelgesen’sleadership?

3.       
At the end of the case, sally helgesen is described as taking on the “mantle of leadership.” Was this important for her leadership? how is taking on the mantle of leadership related to a leader’s authentic- ity? does every leader reach a point in his or her career where embrac- ing the leadership role is essential?

Case 9.1


page235image26481152

Am i really a Leader?

sally helgesen was born in the small Midwestern town of saint Cloud, Minnesota. her mother was a housewife who later taught english, and her father was a college professor of speech. After attending a local state college, where she majored in english and comparative religion, sally spread her wings and moved to new york, inspired by the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

sally found work as a writer, first in advertising and then as an assistant to a columnist at the then-influential Village Voice. she contributed free- lance articles to magazines such as Harper’s, Glamour, Vogue, Fortune, and Inside Sports. she also returned to school, completing a degree in classics at hunter College and taking language courses at the city gradu- ate center in preparation for a Phd in comparative religion. she envi- sioned herself as a college professor, but also enjoyed freelancing. she felt a strong dichotomy within her, part quiet scholar and part footloose dreamer. The conflict bothered her, and she wondered how she would resolve it. Choosing to be a writer—actually declaring herself to be one— seemed scary, grandiose, and fraudulent.

Then one day, while walking on a new york side street in the rain, sally saw an adventuresome black cat running beside her. it reminded her of holly Golightly’s cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, an emblem in the movie for holly’s dreamy temperament and rootlessness. it made her realize how much the freedom and independence offered by her “temporary” career as a writer suited her temperament. sally told the cat she was a writer—she’d never been able to say the words before—and decided she was going to commit to full-time writing, at least for a time. When she saw the opportunity to cover a prominent murder trial in Fort Worth, Texas, she took it.

While covering the trial, sally became intrigued with the culture of Texas, and decided she wanted to write a book on the role of independent oil producers in shaping the region. doing so required a huge expenditure of time and money, and for almost a year sally lived out of the trunk of her car, staying with friends in remote regions all over Texas. it was lonely and hard and exhilarating, but sally was determined to see the project through. When the book, Wildcatters (1981), was published, it achieved little recognition, but sally felt an enormous increase in confidence and commitment as a result of having finished the book. it strengthened her conviction that, for better or worse, she was a writer.

sally moved back to new york and continued to write articles and search around for another book. she also began writing speeches for the Ceo at a Fortune 500 company. she loved the work, and particularly enjoyed being an observer of office politics, even though she did not perceive

herself to be a part of them. sally viewed her role as being an “outsider looking in,” an observer of the culture. she sometimes felt like an actor in a play about an office, but this detachment made her feel professional rather than fraudulent.

As a speechwriter, sally spent a lot of time interviewing people in the companies she worked for. doing so made her realize that men and women often approach their work in fundamentally different ways. she also became convinced that many of the skills and attitudes women brought to their work were increasingly appropriate for the ways in which organizations were changing, and that women had certain advan- tages as a result. she also noticed that the unique perspectives of women were seldom valued by Ceos or other organizational leaders, who could have benefited if they had better understood and been more attentive to what women had to offer.

These observations inspired sally to write another book. in 1988, she signed a contract with a major publisher to write a book on what women had to contribute to organizations. Until then, almost everything written about women at work focused on how they needed to change and adapt. sally felt strongly that if women were encouraged to emphasize the negative, they would miss a historic opportunity to help lead organ- izations in a time of change. The time was right for this message, and The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership (1990) became very successful, topping a number of best-seller charts and remaining steadily in print for nearly 20 years. The book’s prominence resulted in numerous speaking and consulting opportunities, and sally began traveling the world delivering seminars and working with a variety of clients.

This acclaim and visibility were somewhat daunting to sally. While she recognized the value of her book, she also knew that she was not a social scientist with a body of theoretical data on women’s issues. she saw her- self as an author rather than an expert, and the old questions about fraudulence that she had dealt with in her early years in new york began to reassert themselves in a different form. Was she really being authentic? Could she take on the mantle of leadership and all it entailed? in short, she wondered if she could be the leader that people seemed to expect.

The path sally took to answer these questions was simply to present herself for who she was. she was sally helgesen, an outsider looking in, a skilled and imaginative observer of current issues. For sally, the path to leadership did not manifest itself in a step-by-step process. sally’s leadership began with her own journey of finding herself and accepting her personal authen- ticity. Through this self-awareness, she grew to trust her own expertise as a writer with a keen eye for current trends in organizational life.

sally continues to be an internationally recognized consultant and speaker on contemporary issues, and has published five books. she remains uncertain about whether she will finish her degree in compara- tive religion and become a college professor, but always keeps in mind the career of i. F. stone, an influential political writer in the 1950s and 1960s who went back to school and got an advanced degree in classics at the age of 75.

Questions

1.       
Learning about one’s self is an essential step in becoming an authentic leader. What role did self-awareness play in sally helgesen’s story of leadership?

2.       
howwouldyoudescribetheauthenticityofsallyhelgesen’sleadership?

3.       
At the end of the case, sally helgesen is described as taking on the “mantle of leadership.” Was this important for her leadership? how is taking on the mantle of leadership related to a leader’s authentic- ity? does every leader reach a point in his or her career where embrac- ing the leadership role is essential?

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