This chapter considers two interviewees who found themselves thrust onto the leadership stage. Like actors without a script, they needed to improvise to meet the demands of their role. However, as we see when we compare their experiences using the family business learning phases, community of practice and women’s roles frameworks, both found they knew more about the stagecraft of leadership than they had given themselves credit for. BRENDA Brenda succeeded to the leadership of the family motor dealership business when her husband died suddenly. She did not have a family business background. Before opening a motor dealership with her husband she worked in jobs requiring ‘feminine’ skills such as sewing, rather than jobs that would orient her to business: Brenda: I was once the sewing adviser for [a major Australian department store]. Brenda was acutely aware of her lack of functional business skills when she took over the business. She stressed during her interview that neither she nor her husband had ever expected her to run the business; they had both always seen her only as a ‘support person’. For Brenda, the experience of attaining leadership was short, sharp and difficult. She felt she had stumbled inadvertently into a blinding spotlight where she did not know what she was supposed to do or say, and her mistakes would be obvious to all around her. Her ‘audience’ was hostile, especially at first. She experienced overt discrimination from men in business, and from their wives who regarded her as a threat:...
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