June 3, 2024

Making change through bravery, trust and honesty 

Recently, I had the privilege of hearing a very powerful woman speak. Her name is Gerardine Wurzburg and she is an Academy Award®-winning documentary producer and director who uses her talents, skills and influence to lead change.

Ms. Wurzburg was a guest in the Speaker Series hosted by the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program at Drexel University. She has created work that changed perceptions and behaviors related to such important topics as women and work, HIV/AIDS, and autism. She was a delightful speaker whose words profoundly influenced me, and I would like to share with you what I learned.

In the interview, hosted by Cathie Siders, PhD, Ms. Wurzburg spoke about the importance of being able to find sustainable funding that would free her to do meaningful and sometimes controversial work addressing the important social needs of our time. She described her creative process in three stages.

  1. Seeing the need
  2. Using communication to translate the need to a broader audience
  3. Telling the story from its most powerful moments

She used this approach to tell the story of women’s rights in the workplace (coal mines) in light of their need to care for their families. She used the same framework to shed light on HIV/AIDS, a complex medical and social situation that she presented through the lens of supporting families and diminishing ostracization. And her most recent work, “Wretches & Jabberers” (see the trailer), focuses on navigating the communication challenges that people with autism face. The common thread of all this work is the need to change people’s perceptions and behavior in the face of circumstances we think that we understand, but probably do not.

Three things she said in the interview particularly stood out to me:

  • Label jars, not people.
  • Community engagement makes this process work.
  • Awards mean little unless you make an impact.

As I watched this remarkable woman speak, I was struck by how people allowed her into these controversial and painful parts of their lives. She said that she “found brave people, got them to trust me, and in turn they trusted that I would tell the true story. They were brave enough to speak in front of the camera. I must honor their point of view.”

From this conversation, I realized that bravery, trust and truth-telling are actually leadership skills, and I asked her if she would speak about those qualities and address how leaders could build those skills. Here is what she said:

“You have to take risks on people. Making a good judgment call requires bravery because you have to go counter to the trends. Trust in the people you work with. When they know you trust them and are not micromanaging them, then they can grow. Giving people the chance to grow is essential. Let them surprise you. If you work from a presumption of competence, a lot of good things can happen.”

I hope you will take a few minutes to check out Ms. Wurzburg’s work, and that you will find ways to incorporate bravery, trust and truth-telling into your own leadership journey.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.

Get Started

Metta Solutions Icon