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Ken Adelman

Ken Adelman

Posted: July 14, 2010 07:37 PM

Bard Blog: 'Women of Will,' Shakespeare and George Steinbrenner

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The death of George Steinbrenner brings to mind -- my mind, oddly enough -- how Shakespeare created such outstanding leaders as Steinbrenner. But, even more oddly, he put many of them in skirts.

The "Women of Will" are the Bard's most amazing leaders. Amazing as this was so unusual at the time.

Granted, Elizabeth was on the throne then, and she was an amazing woman -- who spoke a half a dozen languages, wrote music, loved plays (most of all, thankfully, Shakespeare's) and protected the theatres from the Puritans' assault.

But these were exceptions. Women in Shakespeare's era mostly lived hard lives and were dissed by husbands and writers. The women portrayed by other playwrights then, even wonderful ones like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, were no more than stick figures.

Some commentators were even worse. The "humanist" Erasmus claimed it was not feminine to be intellectual. And the esteemed Martin Luther concluded in 1531 -- only a few decades before Shakespeare -- "Women ought to stay home. The way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house, and bear and raise children." God only knows what a "fundament" is, but apparently it does a lot of different things.

Shakespeare was unique. He portrayed lovely, wily and determined women -- every bit as much leaders as Steinbrenner in our era.

Take that amazing character of Portia in Merchant of Venice. She realized, like him, that passion trumps leadership rules. Consultants, including us in "Movers & Shakespeares," as well as professors of leadership, present excellent rules of leadership. Though they haven't changed much since Shakespeare's time, they still work well for most wannabe leaders.

Yet, as the unstoppable Portia says, "The brain may devise laws for the blood" -- as do all PowerPoint presenters of leadership development -- "but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree."

Steinbrenner had a passion to win. His "hot temper" leapt over any "cold degree" of leadership do's and don'ts.

That passion led him to throw money galore to get what he wanted -- the pennant and World Series year after year, decade after decade. Again, that's just like Portia (though not on the baseball part). When told it may take the exorbitant sum of 3,000 ducats to save Antonio, her betrothal's best friend, Portia doesn't bat even one of her glamorous eyelids. Instead -- like Steinbrenner did when he spotted raw baseball talent he wanted for himself -- Portia exclaims, "What! No more? Pay six thousand. Or double six thousand. And then treble that!"

By chance, or good luck, those of you in New York City can now see this display of raw determination in Central Park's staging of The Merchant of Venice -- featuring Lily Rabe as Portia and Al Pacino as Shylock -- mere miles from the Stadium where Steinbrenner's beloved Yankees won year after year, under his passionate leadership.