Three women leaders

Captain’s Blog – Stardate 060409

 I was going to write about the serious business of leadership theory this week but three great female leaders have captured my attention.  It can’t have escaped many people’s notice that the Obama wagon rolled into London town last week for the G20 economic talks.  So far, so economics. 

 What grabbed my notice was a tidal wave of attention on the impact of Michelle Obama as a leader in her own right.  I saw the news showing her visit to a London school and the positive impact her words had on young girls – of all colour – who see her as a positive role model.  Then I received an email from my daughter, Faith, who’s been working as Wardrobe Mistress to the innovative ballet company Ballet Black.  This small, up and coming ballet company, born 20th April 2000, was invited to perform in front of Michelle Obama, the rest of the cast of Presidential and Prime Ministerial WAGs, plus the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling and the hostess, Sarah Brown. 

 Faith’s excitement and pride was a tsunami of delight – and demonstrates the power of a positive leader.  Just as the young people at a London school had told their parents and twittered their friends to create a street-full of attention, it also shows how great leadership has a positive impact.  Each one of those classroom pupils now has their own personal “Yes, we can” attitude, just as my daughter knows that there are no barriers to greatness, only those in our own minds. Faith’s determination to succeed is a leadership quality in itself.

 To illustrate leadership further, let’s look at one female leader in this story, Cassa Pancho, the Director of Ballet Black.   Born to Trinidadian and British parent, Cassa founded Ballet Black specifically to provide role models to aspiring black and Asian dancers.  From a small school in Shepherds Bush, London, The company is now based at the Royal Opera House.  That’s some journey: six miles as the crow flies, and a million in terms of crossing the class and cultural barriers on the way..  It’s been my privilege to watch Cassa strive to achieve recognition for its work, and to secure funding -which is never guaranteed.

 Cassa has three key leadership qualities which amply illustrate my points about the serious business of leadership – she has vision – “to provide role models for aspiring black and Asian dancers” – and she’s stuck to it for as long as I’ve known her and seen the company perform.  Cassa has high standards – the Royal Opera House don’t let any old dancers into their dressing rooms – regardless of cultural background or ethnicity, these dancers have to perform at world class levels.  And Cassa has great people skills: she’s worked hard to convince people of her vision, such that they have aligned themselves around it and she’s gained their practical support. A couple of years ago I received a letter from Darcy Bussell committing to gaining more exposure for the work of Ballet Black -that’s the quality of support that Cassa achieves.


the Forton leadership model

the Forton leadership model

So here’s my serious point about leadership – from men or women, regardless of cultural background.  We can write reams about leadership – there’s one new leadership book printed every three days apparently – but you can summarise what it takes in a few key words.

 Leadership is about personal success and enabling others to be successful – look at Cassa – this is more than just about her dreams – it’s the dream of every young dancer who loves ballet, regardless of the colour of their skin.  It’s about more than the team or the company – leadership is also about society – Cassa has challenged society to think differently about talent. 

 Cassa exemplifies my ‘3Ps of Leadership’:  Purpose, Performance and People,  and the ‘3 Rs’; being relentless with purpose, ruthless with performance and gracious with people. Being gracious – the last R – is about enabling people to be resourceful.  Cassa hasn’t just had to be resourceful herself, and find the resources to grow the ballet company, she’s empowered each dancer to be resourceful, to do what it takes to follow their dream.  As Michelle Obama pointed out to 100 young people last week: it’s not necessarily going to be easy but we can do it.

Go see the Ballet Black website at

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About Helen

Helen is a qualified Leadership Coach and Chartered Marketer - the CEO of a leadership development consultancy operating globally and offering research, consulting, training and leadership coaching services. "Growing leaders using inspirational and practical tools"

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