Leadership in Scandal: Olivia Pope: Head Gladiator in Charge

800 533 Ellen Ensher
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Guest Post by Megan Trudo

P97A1620 How does our wardrobe signal our leadership style? It is an interesting question and my student from last semester, Megan Trudo, does a great job writing about this. I am on vacation to Europe for 3 weeks so during this time, I will showcase some of the excellent blog posts written by my students in my Managing People in Organizations class last semester. Happy Reading!

In Megan’s words:

In the highly acclaimed television series Scandal, actress Kerry Washington portrays main character Olivia Pope, a force to be reckoned with. In the show, Pope is a crisis manager running the consulting firm Olivia Pope & Associates, dedicated to fixing problems and crises; protecting and guarding public images and reputations; and solving certain crimes in her clients’ interest. She is seen as a transformational leader. Pope, along with her colleagues, have the goal of trying to make Washington D.C. a better place. In her job, she tends to initiate structure, a dimension that encompasses day-to-day leadership behavior. This means that Pope defines and structures the role of her employees for goal attainment. She takes on a consultative style by presenting the problem to her employees, soliciting opinions and feedback, but ultimately making the final decision. Ms. Pope exhibits qualities such as a high energy level, a high stress tolerance, and high self-confidence, which are just a few things that make her a great leader.

On this past season

On this past season, Season 5, viewers have been able to see a different side to Ms. Pope. As a person aspiring to work in the fashion industry, I have noticed a significant change in the protagonist’s wardrobe. In previous seasons, Olivia is dressed in neutral colors only: blacks, whites, grays, tans, and navy blues. However, her wardrobe this season is much more vibrant showcasing clothes with reds, yellows, pinks, etc. This season is also the first season that Olivia is a single woman. There is no doubt that Pope has always been seen as a leader throughout all the seasons. However, I believe it is this season that she is truly finding herself as her own leader. She has been relinquished from the chains of others who were bringing her down and realizing what works best for her. This goes back to her wardrobe change. The new, lively colors display a more powerful and independent woman.

Pope has redefined leadership, especially for young women. People refer to this movement as “The Olivia Pope Affect.” As a young black woman myself, Olivia Pope is someone I look to as a role model in terms of her leadership style. Nevertheless, she is a cultural icon and role model for all women of color while becoming the quintessential career woman. Pope’s problem solving skills, assertiveness and unapologetic demeanor are traits that have led to success in her job. Although these qualities are typically not viewed positively when displayed by women, the show does a good job at eliminating these negative stereotypes associated with women in leadership. This allows ambitious female viewers to embrace their own leadership traits without the fear of sacrificing their likeability.