[January 7, 2018] My wife, who is Italian and strong-willed, reminds me each time we see a commercial about the Miss America pageant that “this is the 21st Century and therefore no need for exploiting women like this.” And that is exactly the struggle the pageant’s leadership is facing; how to make the beauty contest relevant in a world that judges people on their behavior rather than how they look.
For students of leadership, the Miss America organization is one that deserves our attention and for several learned reasons. First, it has seen a mass exodus of its leadership; driven by a series of expletive-laced emails in which contestants were crudely referred to in derogatory terms.1 Some believe the organization exhibits a toxic culture.
Second, as my wife reminds me, can the organization remain relevant in the 21st Century where changing standards of judgment reject appearance? In fact, judging others based on their looks is considered boorish behavior. Some will counter that the Miss American contest also has a talent component but we all know that is not the focus.
Third, and most important for us, will the new leadership team be capable of turning around an organization that seems to have outlived its relevance. Gretchen Carlson was just appointed chair of the Miss America Organization Board of Directors. She brings practical experience; herself a 1989 Miss American winner and successful member of the Fox News Network.
“Honored to move this iconic program forward with so many amazing volunteers.#MissAmerica @MissAmericaOrg @MissAmerica twitter.com/yashar/status” – Grethcen Carlson
Her first priority is spot on … to stabilize the organization and rid it of a toxic culture. The first will not be easy, the latter will determine whether she will ultimately be successful. She certainly has my respect for stepping into the hot seat. I will be following her time there and occasionally provide updates for readers of this leadership blog.
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