Penguins, introverts, and leadership at Baked Ham

Speaker series links unrelated topics.

On Friday night, over fifty people gathered inside Sackville’s Royal Canadian Legion. A demographically mixed bag of students, faculty, and young professionals (with more than a few who don’t fit any of those descriptions), they had one thing in common: they’d came to hear the Baked Ham presentations. There is a level of serendipity in that fact: the theme of this speaker series is to find the common thread between seemingly unrelated topics.

The Baked Ham has been a quarterly Sackville event for years. The organizers, Leah Garnett and Paul Henderson, deliberately choose two unaffiliated speakers to give thirty-minute talks. The hope is that commonalities between the two presentations will become evident through a final discussion period with the audience. 

The first speaker, Georgia Klein, a Mount Allison professor of geography and environment, discussed her research work in Antarctica, both aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern, and at the Neumayer scientific station. With a slideshow for visual aid, she discussed the psychological fortitude required to perform grueling scientific work in the cold, to spend months in endless polar darkness, and to survive the “ancient and sadistic swearing-in ceremony” that is used to welcome new researchers on board the Polarstern.

As she wove her narrative of adventure, hardship, and seasickness, Klein also discussed the finer points of life in the Antarctic: waiting for the “First Sun” of the year with frozen tequila sunrises (the German ship is the only one with a bar), learning new techniques in the field, and exploring the Neumayer station’s apparently endless supply of Weetabix cereal. And of course, there were a lot of pictures of penguins—unafraid and adorable, the birds were often a nuisance for the scientists as they worked.

After Klein’s talk, the floor went to Amanda Hachey, a leadership strategist and co-op developer, for her musings on society’s relationship with our leaders. The characteristics of great leaders (which she refers to as ‘thought leaders’) are, to Hachey, quite different from those we see in our real-world leadership. This is particularly visible in the prizing of extroverted personalities as leaders. Extroverts often talk their way through the thinking process, and this is perceived as ‘charismatic.’

“But charisma means ‘in touch with your own gifts’”, Hachey reminded the audience, suggesting that introverts (with their tendency towards introspection) might make far better leaders. When policy is based on an extrovert’s use of speech to process thoughts, problems arise in governance.

 “It’s about asking good questions… I find it refreshing to hear a leader say ‘I don’t know,’” she said. Hachey further commented on the nature of gender equality in business and politics, saying, “It’s not about counting genitals… it’s not gender, but masculine versus feminine energy!”

The question period after the talk gave rise to a number of stimulating discussions. Perhaps the greatest link between the talks was a shared sense of frustration surrounding the idea of inactivity and a lack of progress. 

Klein experienced frustration regarding people’s attitudes towards the environment. “If you’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica and you can afford to go as a tourist… don’t,” she said. Humans have done enough to harm it, but as Klein observes, we have done little to benefit it. “No one does anything to change until we’re in a time of crisis… the time for doing nothing has passed,” said Klein. 

 Hachey was frustrated with the fact that some people who could be good leaders have no desire (or incentive) to enter into leadership positions, giving rise to the same old political class. 

Both speakers agreed that making changes requires a degree of energy, and seeing ineffective behaviours or thought processes continue through inaction is frustrating in any kind of leadership situation.

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