Notorious RBG: 10 Leadership Lessons
She’s relevant, hip, influential and inspiration for tattoos.
At 85, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as Notorious RBG, is possibly the world’s best known and most powerful advocate for gender parity and the rights of women in the workplace and the world.
Recently Ginsburg “became only the 16th judge to receive The Friendly Medal for contributions to the law,” according to Politico.“Chief Justice John Roberts presented the award, saying the associate justice ‘makes all of us better at our common calling.’ Only 14 others have received the award since it was first presented in 1987.”
Millions have recently seen the movie, “RBG” a documentary on the life of the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The box office total for “RBG” is nearly $4 million, very high for a documentary.
Here are 10 lessons in leadership for all women taken from “RBG.”
1. Honor all aspects of your professional, family and personal life. Married for more than 50 years and together 63 years with Marty Ginsburg, and the mother of Jane and James, RBG began Harvard Law School with a 14-month-old baby girl. She explained that she had to get home from school to relieve the babysitter at 4 o’clock. “Playing with my daughter gave me respite and made me more sane,” she says. Her husband was also battling cancer at the time, and she cared for him and also helped him with his studies at Harvard Law, where he was a student a year ahead of her. “I learned how to burn the candle at both ends,” she says.
2. Display no anger. Though her mother died right before her high school graduation when RBG was 17, she says her mother taught her to avoid “useless emotion” such as anger. You can’t win an argument by yelling, she says. Her calm demeanor has helped her deliver scores of dissenting opinions in deliberate and thoughtful tones, allowing for conversations to begin and not end.
3. Understand the weight of representation. Attending Cornell University in 1950 when the ratio of men to women students was 4:1, and later at Harvard, where 2 percent of the 1957 law school class were women, RBG says, “We were constantly on display. I felt you were failing not just for yourself, but for all women.” She attended a dean’s dinner at Harvard for the women in the class who were asked, “What are you doing taking a seat that could be occupied by men?” She then made a promise to herself to excel and succeeded in making Law Review, an honor for the top 25 students academically.
4. Create your own options. She had to leave Harvard to complete her law degree at Columbia University in New York, because her husband was hired by a New York law firm. In 1959, RBG says, “No law firm would employ me. Being a woman was an impediment. Men are the breadwinners that counted.” She was told by all of them that firms do not hire women. So she used her skills to become a law professor at Rutgers University in 1963, teaching a course in gender and the law. Her notoriety and research led her to the first of many cases on gender heard before the Supreme Court.
5. Find time to exercise. The 85-year-old has a personal trainer and does daily pushups, planks and lifts weights—sometimes asking for heavier weights. Having survived two separate bouts of cancer, RBG pays attention to her health and workout routines and says she feels energized and ready to go after a workout.
6. Seed change step by step. “I seized the moment to change American society,” RBG says. “I wanted to build the idea of women’s equality step by step. It was like knitting a sweater.” She adds that she did feel like a “kindergarten teacher in those days,” because policymakers and others in power in the law and society did not see discrimination against women as a problem. Her motivation, as a mother and later a grandmother, she says, was, “I would think how I would like the world to be for your daughters or your granddaughters.”
7. Compartmentalize opposition. RBG made sincere friendships with other justices, such as conservative Antonin Scalia, based not on viewpoints, but on shared humanity. Looking instead to shared interests, RBG remains cordial, though firm, in her opinions, but never makes personal attacks or judgments.
8. Wear the shirt of your convictions. Known for her ornamental collars, RBG has significant and iconic jeweled, lace and decorative collars she wears over her robe, memorable for what they represent. She takes care in displaying her pride in the gestures. This aligns with Leadership Power Tool #6 created by Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead. “What are your core values? What’s your vision? How can you make it happen? Stand in your power and realize your intentions,” Feldt says, and “wear the shirt of your convictions.”
9. Be grateful. “What has happened to me could only happen in American,” says RBG, whose parents were immigrants and did not have a chance at higher education. Growing up she says she always “loved to do the things boys did,” and was lucky at Cornell to meet her life partner, Marty. She calls her late husband, who died in 2010, “The most fortunate thing that happened to me.” In the film, it is Marty Ginsburg who lobbied for her appointment as a SCOTUS justice.
10. Understand and utilize your power to change systems. Called a center of power in the Supreme Court, and an icon speaking truth to power about the ideals of women’s equality, RBG says her moves have been deliberate. She began at an early age to be independent, fend for herself and use her skills for the legal protection of the rights of women and for women to be treated fairly in American society. “I wanted to be active in the law,” she says. “I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam.”
Recently Ginsburg “became only the 16th judge to receive The Friendly Medal for contributions to the law,” according to Politico. “Chief Justice John Roberts presented the award, saying the associate justice ‘makes all of us better at our common calling.’ Only 14 others have received the award since it was first presented in 1987.”
That is why she is Notorious.