Although “Little Women” was written more than a century ago, its themes—societal expectations, fairness, love, loss, gender equity, class divisions, upward mobility and opportunity—are all still relevant today. And with the most recent remake of the “Little Women” film, director Greta Gerwig has brought these themes to light in a beautiful, fun and relatable way.
In the film, the protagonist, Jo, is a writer, a dreamer and a lover of education and self-worth. Her story is full of love, adventure, drama, imagination and occasional struggles. Jo is determined but the problem with her determination is that in the 19th century, women weren’t afforded as many professional opportunities as men, nor were members of the middle or lower class. Jo had to work twice as hard for what she wanted. Below are some qualities Jo exhibited in the film that are excellent (and apparently timeless) leadership qualities:
- Vulnerability: Being vulnerable doesn’t immediately seem like a top leadership quality but let me tell you, it worked for Jo. She is vulnerable and fearless. Something I love about Jo, which is somewhat unique to her as a female protagonist, is how real she was. She had flaws and she made mistakes but I think that’s part of her vulnerability. And honestly, vulnerability is also working for many leaders out there. Think of some of the most successful companies, they started with a risk—a scary and unknown idea—and took a huge leap to put it out there. They were brave, much like our beloved Jo. Brené Brown has some amazing ideas around vulnerability and how it is more than just a feminine quality, it is an exceptionally important leadership quality. Jo displays her vulnerability in a raw and elegant way.
- Determination: Jo is nothing if not determined. She could also be called stubborn but the good kind of stubborn because when it is for the right reasons, sticking to your guns can be a very useful leadership tool. Seeing something through to completion is a skill most of us lack and determination could be the key to success. Author and researcher Angela Duckworth has a great book and TedTalk about grit. Grit is the notion that we get back up and dust off our knees after falling down. Grit is resilience. Grit is necessary in today’s world and was necessary in Jo’s world too.
- Honesty: Jo doesn’t hold back. She says what she feels and thinks. She is direct. Even when emotions are involved, like in her relationship with Laurie, she is direct about how she feels. She is fearless and caring, which makes her directness better received. In Kim Scott’s book, “Radical Candor,” she says when we care personally and challenge directly, we get radical candor, which is the best type of feedback. Being direct can be difficult at times but both parties benefit. The speaker gets to the point and says exactly what she means while the receiver hears the direct feedback straight from the appropriate source. Often, receivers of direct feedback may not know how to react in the moment but almost always appreciate the directness in retrospect.
Ashley Sodaro works in Daniels Executive Education where leadership qualities are taught weekly via their custom and public programs. For more information about Exec Ed, including how to be a better leader, check out their website.