I think it safe to say that when we contemplate great leadership, in general, our thoughts tend to drift toward industry and government leaders, people who speak eloquently, act boldly and inspire in a larger-than-life kind of way.
More and more though, I also think that many of us are expanding our vision of what it is to be a leader, to include people who, on first thought, might not fit into that traditional view.
I think Barbara Ann Scott was one such leader. Ms Scott recently died at the age of 84 leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment and a gentle reminder that being nice does not preclude us from doing great things and inspiring others to do the same.
She was born in Ottawa in 1928 and from the age of seven, trained to be a world-class figure skater. It is said that she gave up many of the pursuits of a typical young girl to pursue her dream. And, in 1948 was rewarded for her focus and hard work when she earned a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. It was also in that year that a proud and admiring country bestowed upon her the title “Canada’s Sweetheart”.
Barbara Ann Scott stopped skating professionally after her marriage in 1955 and went to live in the United States. But she never forgot her roots, making many trips back to the skating club in Ottawa that had trained her so many years before.
Skate Canada President, Benoit Lavoie is quoted as saying, “Every time she attended our events, she inspired our skaters and encouraged them to pursue their dreams”
If you were to listen to her speak, Barbara Ann Scott would not strike you as a particular force to be reckoned with. Her voice was soft, almost childlike, but based on her accomplishments, her resolve carried with it the strength and maturity that some twice her size and three times as loud would be hard pressed to match.
As leaders, here are a few things I think we might draw from Ms Scott’s example:
Boldness comes in many forms ~ I have been guilty of equating boldness with aggression but more recently am learning that leaders can be very bold when it comes to giving voice to their values, goals, and purpose without having to shout. Leaders like Barbara Ann Scott boldly do and then let their actions speak for them.
Adaptability and focus are essential tools of leadership, no matter what the undertaking ~ In 1948, the Olympic skating rink was outdoors. This meant that the chances of the ice surface being ideal were not that good. When it came time for Barbara Ann to deliver her performance, some rough patches were noted on the ice that challenged her ability to skate the program she had rehearsed. So, at the last minute, and without fanfare, she changed the program to accommodate the conditions.
It’s quite possible to lead and be nice at the same time~ Barbara Ann Scott accomplished many things in her life. She and her husband raised show horses. She made television commercials, authored two books and even ran a beauty salon. No matter what her prevailing passion, she was well known for being accessible to others, freely giving her time and energy so they might feel encouraged to keep going after whatever it was that inspired them.
Humility really is a big deal ~ While Barbara Ann was highly lauded and well regarded, each time she made an appearance, she never failed to express her gratitude for the opportunities presented to her and doubtless never left a room without inspiring someone to be just like her.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?