Skip to Login Skip to Content Skip to Secondary Navigation

Annarose Zelano
Mar 18, 2016

RISD LEADS - Leadership in Times of Adversity*

Mar 18, 2016 by Annarose Zelano


          On Monday March 14th, RISD LEADS welcomed Senior Lecturer in History, Tom Roberts, who gave a session on leadership in times of adversity. Tom took examples of different leaders throughout history and how we can learn about leadership by how they managed to *lead* through a hard time.

          Because we tend to learn from models, we are able to look back on history and find people to look at as role models. We are able to see what they did well, what they didn’t do well, what worked, and what did not work. Leadership is thinking differently, a good leader must be able to come up with a great idea but more importantly, put that idea into action.

          Some leaders are never known for what they did, like the inventors of fire and the wheel, but theirwork and initiative they took are still valuable today. Athens, Greece was a place of many unknown leaders who thought differently and created concepts that are still used in our world today. Because of this abstract kind of thinking, they were able to come up with new ways to think about the world through philosophy, writing, drama, and art. Leadership does not always entail fame or give credit, sometimes leaders are quiet and unknown, but it does not diminish the value of the leadership they provided.

          Tom described leaders during adversity as people of the past who became great leaders because of how they led when things were not going well. The six examples he chose to focus on were Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Nelson Mandela. Five out of the six had all experienced some type of personal adversity in the early lives before becoming great leaders. Some adversities these leaders had experienced included racism, sexism, physical disabilities, and prejudice.

          Tom also gave out a survey for those in the crowd to fill out about people that they think were great leaders in the past and present. Some leaders that were named included Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, their own relatives, and teachers.Tom went through describing many different qualities of leadership that he has come across and think are important. These qualities of leadership include: honesty, responsive, communicate, delegate, sense of humor, passionate, and resourceful. Roberts took the time to go through each of the leaders and discuss the qualities they had that helped them embrace and overcome the adversity they had faced as a leader.

          Although each leader he described varied in qualities, characteristics, and leadership styles and stories, what they all had in common was that they stood out from the crowd. They took a stance on something they thought was important, regardless of if it was the popular choice, and worked hard to make it happen. Tom argued that a true leader tries to do the right thing, is prepared for criticism, and is not afraid to displease some people.

“A guarantee to failure is to try to please everyone”


          Bringing it back to present day and at RISD, Tom Roberts brought up that each student at RISD has an incredible talent and what they bring with that talent is a responsibility to lead with it. Examples of artists being leaders through the very nature of their art are Picasso, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey. There is a responsibility as well as the opportunity to use your creative talents and ideas to take people somewhere that they are not now.

“Now go out and do it. LEAD