Quick. Who was your earliest role model?
If you are a female between the ages of 8 and 88, Nancy Drew may be at the top of your list. The irrepressible girl detective turns 80 this year and her influence spans generations, reaching into classrooms, boardrooms — even the U.S. Supreme Court, as acclaimed by Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayer in this New York Times story.
I was a Nancy afficionado from the moment I saw the line-up of adventurous titles and cover illustrations on a library bookshelf. That was the ticket for me! Until we had a driver’s license or racy roadster of our own, Nancy was the conduit to whisk us away, imagination-wise, from the parental oversight of our quiet girlhood lives. She was a person of her own making and renown, not a mere appendage to her family. She was a force! The way to be!
What leadership qualities did Nancy exhibit that so many aspired to emulate? To me, she was a study in contrast and balance. The complete candidate, as we say in executive search, for success in whatever she sought to achieve.
Stand Out/Fit In – Nancy was distinctive in her accomplishments in comparison to her peer group. She had a reputation and track record of success. Yet, she was well-rounded with good social skills. She fit into the culture of her youth — with female buddies and [swoon] a handsome boyfriend from Emerson College, the ever loyal Ned Nickerson. She represents the classic High Potential talent that organizations covet for succession planning and future leadership ranks!
Assertive/Polite — Nancy was poised and polished. She was unfailingly polite in her dealings with all levels of people. Yet, she was assertive and no fool when comandeering resources to solve a case or embark on a chase. Through Nancy, we observed the the perfect blend of ease and personal power.
Intuitive/Logical — Nancy did not take things at face value. She could sense when things were not quite right. And she investigated her instincts. Yet, she was not whimsical or irrational. She had an underbearing of process and logic. Exactly the type of person you want next to you in the trenches of battle.
Fearless/Self-Preservation – Nancy was a study in bravery. She was fit-like-a-glove comfortable slipping into new and unfamiliar environments. She trailed the bad guys with wile and a vengeance — sometimes getting tripped up, gagged and bound. But she knew when she was hemmed into a corner — or a cave — or a hidden staircase. She laid low and drew on all of her brainpower — as well as hints left behind for her allies to track her down. She was smart enough to know when she needed help.
Creative/Practical — Nancy was the original out-of-the-box thinker for many of us. She discerned things differently than others in her company. She was resourceful in laying out a plan. Yet, what she conceived was inherently executable. Stretching — but within reach.
Hands-on/Delegating — Nancy could take matters into her own hands, but she know how to engage others to assist and join her in an initiative. She drew on the strengths and skills of her friends Bess and George, compensating for their foibles and areas where they fell short. She could recruit complete strangers to participate in the mission — with role-playing, delaying tactics and specific mandates.
Tough/Feminine — Nancy was a force to be reckoned with. But she was not shrill or mean — unless, of course, you were the perp being pursued. She was all girl in her appearance. The titian hair, pert figure, stylish wardrobe. For those of us breaking gender barriers in the work world, she showed that you didn’t have to act like a man to do a job previously manned by a man.
What other admirable traits did Nancy embody?
High moral character – sense of right and wrong
Strong work ethic
No wonder she has sustained as a top role model for generations!
Disclosure: When I became divorced at age 30 after a first marriage, I decided to change my name. Nancy Kuehn was pronounced keen, but no one ever got it right and I was in public relations, listed on hundreds of news releases. It didn’t make sense to revert to a 3-syllable maiden name that was also difficult to pronounce. Why not do a little tweak and go phonetic? Nancy Keen sounded too cutesy…like Sally Smile or Mary Merry. So I added the e in honor of Carolyn Keene, the author name of my girlhood idol. Voila! A business name with special meaning that has sustained ever since.
May 14, 2010