Judge Rendell: To lead, get inside their heads

Judge Marjorie Rendell (CW’69) was on campus Feb. 4 to talk about leadership to a standing-room only crowd of College students who packed 3615 Locust Walk. She was the second speaker this semester in the ongoing series “Lessons in Leadership,” designed by the Fox Leadership Program to bring outstanding College alumni back to campus to discuss life, their career and what they’ve learned about leadership.

Described recently by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one of the most powerful women in Philadelphia (along with Rebecca Rimel of the Pew Charitable Trusts and President Judith Rodin), Rendell emphasized her preference for working behind the scenes. She drew on her experiences as one of the first female bankruptcy attorneys in a very traditional law firm and her work on the $250 million Kimmel Center project for her examples.

First, gain their trust

She told the students that first and foremost you must gain the trust of those you want to lead. “You must get inside their head and find out what they need and what they fear,” she explained. Then present a vision and clear steps to achieve it.

In response to a student’s question about the Governor’s leadership style, Rendell said, “We both think like lawyers. We go through the options—bing, bing, bing and make a decision.”

In 2000, when he was chair of the Democratic National Committee and the Supreme Court had handed down its Bush v. Gore decision, Ed Rendell was roundly criticized for saying Gore should concede. Midge disagreed with the critics: “That was the only logical choice. It just took others longer to understand that.”

Rendell, who wears many hats at Penn—she is chair of the Board of Overseers of the School of Nursing and a member of the Trustees, the Athletic Advisory Board and the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women—spoke to the Current about her newest hat, Pennsylvania’s first lady. She is the first to also hold a full-time job.

“It is really unprecedented,” she said. “I want to take advantage of this opportunity in a way that can have an impact. I like to have outside activities that take you to new places and let you meet different people. I think it makes you a better judge.”

Originally published on February 13, 2003