Berkshire Publishing's book intersection of leadership theory, women's history

GREAT BARRINGTON — You had probably heard of Oprah Winfrey before the 2018 Golden Globes. In the unlikely event you hadn't (how cold is it under that rock these days?), she is a 63-year-old entertainer, businesswoman and philanthropist whose impact on popular culture over the past several decades can be measured in billions. At this year's Globes, she gave a rousing speech after accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award, prompting some to speculate that she would be running for president in 2020. Winfrey has denied that she is seeking office, but that hasn't quieted the rumormongers much.

A recent Berkshire Publishing academic title provides a helpful synopsis of Winfrey's rise to prominence. In "Women and Leadership: History, Theories, and Case Studies" (Berkshire Essentials, 2017; $24.95 in paperback), a short essay about Winfrey closes the book's fourth and final part, "The Spectrum of Women's Leadership." The four-page piece offers background information before moving into a broader reflection about the specific elements of her leadership.

"The idea that someone could be actually a really powerful businesswoman, [an] incredibly effective businesswoman, and yet, people could relate to her as a human being with feelings and flaws ... that is powerful," Berkshire Publishing CEO and co-founder Karen Christensen said of Winfrey's leadership at her home office on Monday in Great Barrington.

For example, Winfrey has divulged at different points in her life that she was raped as a child; has used cocaine; and, on a lighter note, has devoured hot-dog buns that were soaked in maple syrup, according to a 1998 Time magazine article the essay's author, Jacob Park, cites.

Park subsequently asserts that Winfrey's leadership style "can best be described as a mosaic, an overlapping blend of principled, reflective, and transforming leadership qualities." Essentially, it is "principled" because she chooses to celebrate those who give to charity, not just the recipients of their donations; "reflective" because of her emphasis on introspection before taking action; and "transforming" because of the ambitious goals she sets — and meets.

Mother Teresa and Billie Jean King are among the other prominent women examined toward the end of a book that lives at the intersection of leadership theory and women's history. The book's third part, "Women in Politics," includes Soong Mei-ling and Eleanor Roosevelt. Christensen hopes Winfrey won't soon be eligible for that list.

"I think different people have different roles in which they can influence society. I mean, that's really the point here. Political leadership is only one kind of leadership, and it has certain requirements, and the last thing we need is another celebrity president," said Christensen, who spoke on women's issues for the U.K. Green Party during Margaret Thatcher's time as prime minister, according to Berkshire Publishing's website.

The book grew out of past projects undertaken by Berkshire Publishing, such as the four-volume "Encyclopedia of Leadership." Georgia Sorensen, George R. Goethals and James MacGregor Burns edited that work. Goethals and Burns were both on the faculty at Williams College at different points in their careers, and Christensen often met with them in Williamstown while working on that project in the early 2000s. Burns has since died, but Goethals, now at the University of Richmond, edited "Women and Leadership" with Crystal L. Hoyt, a colleague at the school. On both books, Christensen took an active role. (The back of "Women and Leadership" lists her as an editor.) In the past, she has worked in trade publishing.

"I have a great personal interest in this because obviously I run a press. I have these nonprofit projects. I'm always dealing with these issues," she said of women and leadership.

Christensen also authored a chapter in the book, titled, "Leading from the Fringes: Women's Paths to Political Power."

"This is a pet project in many ways," she said.

Still, she doesn't force her beliefs on writers.

"My responsibility is to show different perspectives. When I come to this, I don't agree with everything presented. And we tell our authors, 'Explain the debates; don't continue them.' That's our job in these books. If you read a book for the trade audience, then you're the sole author. Of course, you have a point of view and a particular argument you're making, but our job here is to help people understand different points of view," Christensen said.

Winfrey's remarks at the Globes were certainly in sync with the book's themes.

"So, I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, `Me too' again. Thank you," Winfrey closed her eight-plus minute speech by saying, making a reference to the Me Too movement founded by Tarana Burke in 2006 to support sexual violence survivors.

"I said, 'We had Oprah!'" Christensen recalled of her reaction to the speech.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions