Quiet Leadership

By Glynnis Rengger

This was the year of leadership behind the scenes.  To be sure there wasn’t anything impressive about the leaders in the headlines!  Almost depressing for someone committed to helping develop better leaders – you know the kind I mean – optimistic leaders with great character and judgement who can inspire others to create a better and more prosperous future for all.  We seemed to end up with a new reality – where bullies thrive. Where deception wins. Where women are less valued. Where diversity is a threat. Where transparency and collaboration are under siege. Where fear trumps optimism. Where the “little man” is expendable. Where the very nature of progress as we think about it, is in question.


Fortunately, I was brought back from the brink of despair this past weekend.  Labelled a “200” celebration I joined an intimate group of Henry and Marcia’s friends on Saturday night to celebrate – get this – his 80th birthday (on the actual day), her 70th (that same year) and 50 years of marriage. 


So, what does 200 good years’ look like?


It shows up with two individuals, totally respectful of each other, who continue to realize and stretch their own potential completely even into their 70’s and 80’s.  She becoming a tenured professor in her 60’s while travelling the world in search of amazing new theatrical talent; he completing a Creative Writing course to write his unique memoirs (four to six hours a day dedicated to this endeavor) while running one of the more successful Bay Street legal practices in Toronto.


Two hundred good years show up as two people – who say the other is not just the light of my life but is my life! The perfect gestalt – he, the lawyer, travelling from festival to festival around the globe as the husband of Marcia – to the point where respected friends in the industry are saying if they aren’t there it must be a B-festival. And she laughing about his declaration that he should make all the BIG decisions and she the SMALL decisions and his recent admission that luckily there just weren’t any BIG decisions that had to be taken over the past 50 years.


Two hundred good years means there were tough times too! Here is a couple who solicited the advice of their Rabbi, their family, their friends, their adversaries as they tried to make sense of things as their particular life challenges unfolded.


It’s not just that I am impressed by the fact that they raised four great sons after emigrating from South Africa. It’s not just that I am impressed that they never forgot the struggle in South Africa, of which they are the unsung heroes and continued their contribution in so many different ways from Canada.  It’s not just that I am impressed that Henry honored his commitment to his father who had never shared the horror of his past, to find out what happened to the family.  His and Marcia’s surprising and serendipitous stories traipsing around Lithuania and Estonia discovering the truth, will find their way into the archives of history.  His only remaining relative on his father’s side was at the party on Saturday night. It’s not just that I am impressed that the deep sorrows they endured as a family have left them stronger and more resilient.


No, it’s that fascination I have with Quiet Leadership – where great things happen at grassroots. Marcia and Henry are the quintessential Quiet Leaders!  Two individuals that by any account are hugely successful – financially, professionally, community, globally.  But who are they on a day to day basis? Humble – grateful –vital – generous – skillful – concerned – connected.  And despite their crazy schedules are always available for things that matter.


They epitomize the kind of leader we hope to help develop – concern for their communities’ well-being, eager to contribute and bring skills and expertise to making this happen, able to mobilize others to support their endeavors and an acute understanding that it takes a village!


Henry and Marcia realized their own potential and continued to support each other over a lifetime doing this.  They built on the possibilities created through their coalition – a uniqueness made possible only through their ability to realize and capitalize on their differences.   They recognized and mobilized their village – family, friends, spiritual advisors, colleagues, and others. They gave generously both financially and personally to things that mattered to them. They succeeded, failed, and learned, and passed along their learnings to those around them.


I am so grateful to have these inspiring and passionate people in my life. They make me want to do more, give more and be a better person.  And there isn’t much more you can ask for in your own leadership journey.