Five leadership skills for every leader, young or old.


Note: It’s the Harnisch Foundation, but the Harnisches are outnumbered by the professionals who lead the daily operations and whose ideas shape our work. This includes Carla Blumenthal, Program Manager of Funny Girls, who takes the mic today.

Did you know that 9 out of 10 girls believe anyone can have leadership skills, BUT only 1 out of 5 believes that she has leadership skills? Quick-and-dirty translation: Many girls don’t see themselves as having “leadership skills.” That has to change, and philanthropy has a role to play. In fact, at the Harnisch Foundation we think investing in girls today matters more than ever especially if we want more women in leadership roles in the future (hello, gender gap, we’re coming for you). We need to support women in discovering, developing, and applying their natural leadership capacity at all phases of their leadership journey, and this includes their adolescence.

Enter Funny Girls, our leadership-taught-through-improv program for girls in grades 3-8. This 11-class curriculum opens the door to mastering and modeling five core leadership skills: collaboration, agility, self-awareness, empathy, and resiliency. Improv is great for teaching these skills (more on that in an upcoming blog post), but we also chose these five key skills (though there are many!) given that they are essential in leadership. Here is why:

blankCollaboration: There are various styles and approaches to leadership including ones that value bringing people together and igniting a collaborative effort. In fact, success is often built on listening to others’ contributions and building on those ideas to accomplish something together. In Funny Girls, participants explore both stepping up and stepping back, the give and the take. Finding the balance and one’s collaborative spirit is key in leadership.

1_think_fastAgility: Of course leaders need to provide deliberate, thoughtful responses, but they also need to be agile, making contributions in ambiguous scenarios and sometimes having to make them swiftly. How can we be both slow and fast, deliberate and spontaneous? Well, it’s complex, but we think there is a simple way to get started: Be present. From a state of being present, one can better process the situation as it is and respond appropriately.

2_feel_whats_realSelf-Awareness: Becoming more self-aware. Oof, that’s a big undertaking, but Funny Girls begins to unlock one piece of the puzzle: emotions. Recognizing and naming one’s breadth of emotions (and their varying intensities) is the first step to better understand how to manage those emotions a key attribute in leadership (and one that generally makes the world a better place!)


4_in_your_shoesEmpathy: This might be a bit touchy, feely, but the empathetic leader is one of the best kinds of leaders. We think this skill breaks down into one’s ability to identify another person’s emotions and articulate a response that acknowledges those feelings. For some that comes easy, for others not so much, and they need to practice observing and listening to understand others’ feelings. It’s worth practicing skilled listeners let others know that they are being heard, and in doing so they create a safe space for understanding, collaboration, and contribution. Who doesn’t like that?



Resiliency: There is rarely a straight path to the finish line of our goals. Every person faces the ups and downs of their pursuits. It’s resiliency the ability to pivot and try multiple ways to work around an obstacle that supports leaders in accomplishing a goal.  Not a bad skill to have in one’s leadership tool belt, right? Yay, we think so too!


There is more to come on Funny Girls, but in the meantime, I hope you join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get regular updates on our work and that of our partners! Also, sign up for our newsletters to learn more about our various programs and grant opportunities.

Credits: Graphics by Matt Lowery.