The Leadership Lessons Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Taught Us

Leadership lessons learnt from the visionary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [1933-2020] - a visionary, heroine and trailblazer - spent a lifetime persevering in the face of adversity before being appointed a Supreme Court Justice, where she successfully fought against gender discrimination and unified the liberal block of the court.

She is not just a hero to women and girls or a role model for their daughters; she also inspired generations of men and boys and fought to make their lives better.

Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in leadership, shares his thoughts on Ruth’s legacy, her work in diversity and the leadership notes everyone should be taking as a result of her incredible work.

What did you admire most about Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

She was a tzadik, a righteous woman, exemplified by her pragmatism and her humanity.

She had an uncanny ability to engage with people with opposing views without threatening them and still achieving her aim. There are a series of examples of her successfully arguing against the Supreme Court, before becoming a Supreme Court Justice herself. Her ability to convey well-reasoned and argued presentations that educated her peers about things over which they had dominion, but lacked understanding - was nothing short of remarkable.

One of my favourite examples of RBG’s demonstration of humanity is actually her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. Not only did they grow up as outsiders, but they also sat on opposing benches in the Supreme court. We don’t see this often, but she was able to befriend someone with diametrically opposed views to herself. She didn't agree with many of his beliefs yet modelled how to see a human being beyond their beliefs.

She was a hero to women and indeed men, having argued many cases involving sex discrimination, whether against women or men. I could list many examples but these two really stand out to me because of how rare they are today, in organisations and society as a whole.

RBG’s approach to success and fight for justice was rare. What leadership qualities did she emulate that you believe are critical for organisations today?

She demonstrated true professionalism. I come from a military background and so to me, a key element of professionalism is being well-prepared. Ruth never took anything for granted and this was demonstrated by her critical thinking and essentially, arguments that you couldn't really ... argue against. She worked incredibly hard throughout her life despite so many obstacles, both personal and professional. She was dedicated to her cause, and she maintained her humanity throughout. She wasn't driven by her ego but instead, a sense of what was right. I believe that her egoless leadership is really what set her apart from the rest of us, and what leaders of the future need to emulate.

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” What does this mean to you in the context of leadership?

We must have a balance of influence in positions of power. All over the world we are seeing examples of power being collected in very small pockets and as a result, that power is being wielded in destructive ways. When you have very little diversity in leadership, the result is almost inevitably an abuse of power and the onset of dysfunctionality. To me, RBG’s final wish is a plea to continue her work of representing diversity, of carving out space for all voices to be heard and for greater representation in government, in organisations and in society as a whole.  

May you rest in peace, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is for us to continue your legacy and promote inclusion and humility in leadership wherever we can.

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