In Java, there was a tradition that woman should finish their basic education at elementary school, but could not continue to study at higher education like men. After finished their basic education, they should prepare to get married. If they want to study, it was just like a short course for sewing or making a cloth. It was because women just have a duty to do housework while men were more powerful and have the responsibilities to get money (paternalistic).


On April 21, 1879, Raden Ajeng Kartini (RA Kartini) was born at Desa Mayong, Jepara, Central of Java. Her father was a patrician and a very rich man. However, Kartini lived in a small house because her mother was a concubine. Kartini also could not continue her study, but she tried to improve her knowledge from newspaper, books or her correspondency with her friends in Europe. Kartini has friends from Europe, such as Mrs. HG de Booij-Boissevain from Netherlands. With this friend, Kartini shared her feeling about much discrimination that she felt in Java, using letters. Because of her correspondency with some friends from Europe, Kartini started to think like European women and more modern.


Kartini married with K.R.M. Adipati Ario Singgih Djojo Adhiningrat who already has three wives. Kartini’s husband supported Kartini to realize her desire in education for women. However, after delivered her first baby, Kartini died. Now, every 21st April, Indonesia celebrates the Kartini Day.  


This reading will discuss the Kartini’s leadership based on some literatures, such as Time-and-Motion Regained (Adler, 1992), Transference (Maccoby, 2004), Beware the Busy Manager (Bruch & Ghoshal, 2002), and Why should anyone be Led by You? (Gofee and Jones, 2000).


Kartini and Leadership


Kartini married with a rich man and actually could live comfortably. However, she thought that women and men must have the same opportunities. Kartini leads not only women, but also men to improve their nationalism with modern critical thinking. She thought that critical thinking skills will be needed to make new innovations in an organisation or the country. Kartini approached her father to give her permission to make a small school with her sister. She focused on general education while her sister concerned on basic nursing science. It was based on reality that most people did not know about basic treatments. For example, she found a girl who died because her parent did not know how to bandage her wound before sent her to the nearest hospital. The nearest hospital was approximately two hours by train. Due to this, Kartini suggested that women should be taught not only with general sciences, but also basic treatments. It shown that while other princesses only thought to prepare their marriages, Kartini critically thought to solve problems which were faced by Indonesian women; education and emancipation. Besides that, she also has creativity to solve the problems, started with the idea to build a small school for girls.


A good leader should have sensitivity with problems and try critically to solve it. It is normal that in organisations there are many problems. However, if the leader does not have the sensitivity, that problems will be invisible. Thus, someday, many problems will be accumulated and need to be solved together. It will be hard for the organisation. On the other hand, if the leader has certain traits, or characteristics, such as intelligence and attractiveness, they can use their critical thinking skill to coordinate the group or organization member for solving those problems one-by-one effectively.


Kartini suggested that cultures were standards which were made by human. Thus, actually human also can modify it. Even she followed the culture, such as that woman should marry with a man who was chosen by their parent, but she did not follow some traditions. It was shown on her wedding party; she did not want to wash her husband leg, because she thought that the position of woman and man is the same. Kartini also has some ideas to revise some traditions which have made women were not appreciated.   


Standardization is the death of creativity. To be an effective leader, someone should be a risk taker, challenge most things, interested in many things, enthusiast to against the norm or the accepted ways of doing things. Kartini used her creativity to change the conditions, traditions or standards for women. Most people may have highly creative, but sometimes they do not accept the changes. Kartini has both of that. She want changes, thus, she was aware that she must think creatively to do it.


Actually, there were many problems in Indonesia. However, Kartini was not a busy leader because she only focused on two major problems in Indonesia: gender problems and education. Besides that, she managed her energy effectively to think the best way to realize her dreams. To make a school for women, she thought it for several years first, discussed it with some friends from Europe, and asked permission to her father and husband, also thought about how she could get money for that. Additionally, she assessed some parents about their opinion in education for women or for their children. Unpredictable, most parents really want to send their children, especially their daughter for studying and asked Kartini when that school would be opened. But, Kartini said that she must prepare everything already first before open the school.


Nowadays, it is no doubt that leaders are working under incredible pressure to get a great achievement. However, leaders should not to be busy with their activities or performance. An ideal leader should have a clear intention in where they will spend their time. The most important thing is that leader should focus their work to save their energy effectively. Based on the Kartini experience, she decided to solve the problems on education and emancipation for women only. However, Kartini realised that she will face pressures from her families, cultures and country when trying to improve the education for women. Thus, Kartini did not try to work harder on these problems, but just tried to think and work smarter, also think for making the meaningful contributions.


A leader needs vision and energy. However, a leader can not do anything without followers. Based on this, Kartini tried to gain supports from friends and families around her. In fact, most of them asked Kartini to terminate her dreams. For instance, when tried to discuss her plans, her older sister said to Kartini to stop thinking about education for women and asked Kartini to prepare her marriage. If Kartini still continue her desires, it means that Kartini will destroy the Javanese cultures on women. However, Kartini still continue her principle. Then, she tried to look for supports from abroad and some parents around her. She explained her plans and most parents agreed with Kartini’s plans to build a school for women. It means that as a leader, Kartini has a strong vision, try to get followers not only from families around her, but also from the government and abroad. On the other hand, Kartini stated that she still respected to Javanese cultures. To prove it, Kartini agreed to get married with K.R.M. Adipati Ario Singgih Djojo Adhiningrat who was chosen by her father, as a part of Javanese cultures.


Leaders can not exist without followers, nor can followers exist without leaders. There is a statement that the followers are the guarantee of successful leadership. At the same time, successful leadership is a product of increased follower efficiency and effectiveness through their leadership influence. Leader, who can understand what their followers want, will be a successful leader and gain the conformity of their followers (Blumen cited in Pfohl, 2007).


At the moment, according to Blumen, there are two forces which are changing the circumstances under which leaders lead. These forces are “interdependence and diversity.” At the beginning, Kartini may not get support because of the diversity. Diversity is related to the character of individuals, groups and organizations. It deals with the need for identity and without this understanding leaders further complicate their ability to be successful in their relationship with their followers.  For a long time, Javanese women lived with strong cultures. Thus, it is hard to make an innovation or changes on that. But, Kartini realized that she could not do anything without followers. Then, she tried to approach her sister first and started to get followers from families who have daughter, but still respected the Javanese culture.




Overall, Kartini has been known as a good leader for women because of her creativity to make changes, think critically to solve the problems, become a risk taker and focused on two problems only. Besides that, Kartini still respected the Javanese cultures to prove that her idea would not destroy the strong traditions in Java. Thus, Kartini has many followers, even at the first time, people suggested that Kartini’s ideas on education and emancipation for women seemed to be unnecessary.


Leadership is all about to make everything will be happened; even it seems hard to be realized. Conversely, leadership is also everything which can prevent something; even it seems to be happened. Moreover, leadership is a process to help the followers focus on the mission and vision of the organization, thus their goal will be realized.



Arbaningsih, D 2005. Kartini dari Sisi Lain: Melacak Pemikiran Kartini tentang Emansipasi “Bangsa”. Jakarta: Penerbit Buku Kompas

Pfohl, R 2007. What Followers Want From Their Leaders. Retrieved May 28, 2008 from