Women and Leadership: Perspective on Recent McKinsey Survey

October 28, 2008 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


The following commentary is re-posted from ZDNET, where it appeared today as part of a collective commentary, curated by Dennis Howlett. The premise was simple: McKinsey did a survey of women in business. They put their report out a week or so ago. Dennis Tweeted about it, and was hit by a lot of comments. So, since the survey was about women, he engaged a posse of us to offer our thoughts.
I’m honored to be part of this group of amazing women, which includes:
Suw Charman-Anderson
Rachel Happe
Anne Kathrine Petteroe
Maggie Fox
Jennifer Leggio
Francine McKenna
Marilyn Pratt
Laura Fitton

If you missed the McKinsey survey, here’s a link to a Forbes article that summarizes it pretty well.
With that, here’s the commentary I proffered:

To be honest the whole gender thing in business has always been a bit off putting to me. While I cannot discount the fact that the glass ceiling – while deeply cracked – is still far from shattered, at the same time, I’ve always held that the most critical part of being a strong woman in business is just to be strong in business. Be aware of the issues, but keep your eye on the ball and kick ass.
Granted I speak from the perspective of a woman who has benefited from a cavalcade of strong females who marched ahead of me. These women, starting with the suffragettes and continuing through the ensuing ripples of the feminist movement, are the reason women like me have a relatively easy time of it these days.
But this isn’t about feminism nor is it about gender equality. This is about how, in today’s changing business landscape, perhaps it’s time to look more closely at where the genders shouldn’t be looking at their differences but instead start looking at how to emulate the best of both worlds. And considering where old practices have gotten us, perhaps it’s time when being a woman – or at least acting like one – could be the most powerful asset you have for success.
The parts of the equation detailed in the McKinsey survey – feelings and such – are traditionally the purview of women. In today’s world, however, compassion, heart and having some sort of emotional connection are of paramount importance … regardless of gender.
The part I find amusing, actually, is the title of the survey. They call it “centered” management perhaps because the moniker “self” centered connotes the traditionally megalomaniacal, self-absorbed tendencies of the ruthless CEO – Larry Ellison comes to mind as one example. And it is true that if you look across the large number of successful business leaders, it is probably pretty likely that you’d be hard pressed to call any of them “nice”, “kind”, or “compassionate” individuals. Oftentimes I’d venture that it’s their utterly self-absorbed, don’t-give-a-shit about anyone perspective that has been central to their success.
But I would argue that the times allowing this sort of behavior are drawing to a close and that today’s world demands different behavior. It’s time to turn egotistical preoccupation into awareness and action.
To me the McKinsey survey results aren’t a surprise, except maybe insofar as no one had said it already.
It has perhaps never been more critical in business – or in politics or anything else for that matter – that leadership exhibit a sense of compassion, understanding and self-awareness. Perhaps it’s simplistic to put in these terms but it takes me back to childhood and the lessons taught by my parents. Specifically that the first step in being a strong leader is to first be strong within yourself.
Following the five points outlined in the McKinsey survey, it seems to me that the best leaders are ones who are most in tune with themselves and who can then take their awareness and put it into practice.
I would posit that while women do not have the corner on the market for this sort of behavior (I have worked with many a male CEO whose compassion was one of the core parts of their super leadership, in fact I’m working with one now) we do, perhaps, have a home court advantage.
But enough about my thoughts – what do YOU think?
You didn’t expect me to let you try and get away with just READING this did you?
Of course not.
With that, here’s a conversation I invite you to join. It was started on Seesmic, and has been embedded at ZDNET as well. When you click on “Play” the “reply” button will appear in the upper right corner. Clicking on that prompts you either to log-in to your Seesmic account or register for one if you don’t. The sign up is super simple and you will not leave this Web site to do it … so don’t be shy …
Behaviors in business: The female advantage?Forbes article summary of McKinsey report: http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/03/talent-women-leadership-lead-cx_1003mckinsey.html


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