Women in Leadership: It’s a Matter of Life and Death

BusinessWoman_outside2Close your eyes. Bring into your awareness the face of a person in your life who you believe is a great leader. As you see that person’s face in your mind’s eye, think about what it is about that person that had an impact on you. Remind yourself of those things; say them quietly to yourself.

Open your eyes.

My guess is that no matter who you saw in your mind, their impact on your had nothing to do with what the person has on the outside (financially, educationally, or anatomically) and had everything to do with what the person is like on the inside. It was likely someone whose passion, purpose and positivity were contagious, and you wanted to be a part of whatever that person was creating.

Leadership is everything. It is critical to any well-functioning organization, university, community and family. When it is done well, it’s the reason people are attracted to join, and to stay. When it’s off course, it’s one of the key reasons that people leave (or otherwise disengage).

I happen to believe that effective leadership is also a matter of life and death.

There is an interesting phenomenon in typical organizations. As you move up the ‘ladder’ from entry level positions to more senior leadership roles, the importance of technical skills goes down, while the importance of self- and social-awareness goes up. The importance of self- and social- awareness at higher organizational levels is not new; what might be new is the realization that the way we are working is actually making our capacity for self- and social- awareness go down! Constant multi-tasking, crushing workloads, and long ‘break-less’ work days are taking a toll on our ability to regulate our emotions and build meaningful relationships.

What’s also interesting is that women?almost?completely vanish from the picture at higher organizational levels!

While women make up 50% of the workforce, and earn 50% of university degrees, they comprise only 18 % of executive roles and hold a mere 5 % of CEO seats. ? Yet, there is so much evidence that women make effective leaders. Last year,?Zeneger Folkman, a company that studies leadership, found that women rated higher than men on 12 out of 16 attributes tested. After analysing 7,280 of their clients’ performance evaluations, they found two traits where women outscored men significantly: taking initiative and driving results.

And, there is some evidence that organizations with more women in leadership positions perform better financially.

Every organization, no matter what their purpose for existing, needs to be productive and sustainable. And, productive, sustainable organizations need people who are engaged and energized around their purpose.

Sadly, both productivity and engagement are at an all time low in our country, while stress and mental illness are at an all time high. People are working longer hours, and feeling less satisfied with their results. If extreme stress is not causing premature death (and it clearly is in some cases) it is certainly contributing to mental and physical dis-ease.

I think there is a connection between all of these factors. We need to change the way we work and live. And, we need more chicks in charge!

More women need to step up, lean in, and otherwise support and encourage each other to assume more leadership roles. Not only because we are 50% of the workforce, but because it only makes sense that we will create a happier, healthier, and more productive country when we – all of us – men and women – together – utilize our collective intelligence and maximize our opposing strengths.

Some of the reasons that women do not step into leadership includes a concern about being able to maintain work-life balance while holding senior roles. It is exactly that concern for balance that organizations need today.

Perhaps I should have started with this disclaimer: This post is not anti-men. Nor is it pro-women. It is, instead pro encouraging the right women and men to lean, step and jump into leadership opportunities – and to create positive, productive and prosperous workplaces.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The 2015 theme is ‘Make it Happen’. So, I invite you to make it happen! Let’s change the way we work and live and make this a happier, healthier, more humane world for us all!

And…the next time you close your eyes and think of a great leader, I hope you see yourself.



Play to your Strengths!

In my early years? report cards there was a theme; ?okay student? talks too much?. It was true! I was a social animal?well, at the very least, I seemed to be unable to control my need to interact with people around me. It wasn?t until years later, that I realized I was an Extrovert. I needed to be able to interact in order to be able to learn. Because the environment was like most learning environments of the time, where ?quiet? and ?order? were valued, I tried desperately to BE QUIET. I was able to sustain that for a period of time?then my ?natural? tendencies would rise up (and it continued to get me in trouble with my teachers). I thought there was something wrong with me. Why could other kids perform well in this environment? Was I defective in some way?

I, only later in life, realized the significance of this experience. I was not at my best when I was quiet (unable to interact with others)?my ability to learn suffered, my overall performance was marginal?and my motivation tanked!

I wonder today if my teachers of the time would be at all surprised with my career choice. I am a professional speaker. I get to spend each day (at least those days when I am not creating new material) interacting with others?being energized by (and hopefully energizing) others. I would not trade this career for any other. I am truly in a position to operate from my strengths, most of the time, when I am working.

One other comment made by my early teachers was that I was a ?daydreamer?. Well, guess what? I still am! (Another ?problem? that is actually an ?strength?.) I think it?s that strength that feeds my creativity ? which keeps me personally engaged in what I do and around which I get most of my positive feedback from clients.

What are are your strengths? It?s sometimes not an easy question to answer. I?ll bet that you know that there are times at work in which you are energized and engaged; and there are other times in which you are not. Therein lies a clue about your strengths. Chances are ? when your energy (and performance) is high, your strengths are in use. If you are interested in determining your strengths, there are some online resources available to you. Martin Seligman?s website, Authentic Happiness, features several assessments that are free of charge. You can also keep a simple journal, noting times at work when you are energized and engaged?what are you doing?

How much opportunity do you have to play to your strengths at work? According to Marcus Buckingham, author of ?Go Put Your Strengths to Work (among other very good reads), only about 12% of us play to our strengths at work.

I speak about this topic ? and several related to this topic ? every day when I am keynoting a conference or leading a workshop. I cannot describe how exciting it is to watch people begin to be energized about the possibility of using their strengths more at work. It can be a transforming experience for them?you can actually see them change before your eyes! Their skin colour, posture, and overall way of being changes. Imagine capturing that transformation on a more permanent basis in workplaces everywhere!

Well, you can do more than imagine it! No matter what, you must begin with yourself. Start seeking more opportunity to do the work that energizes and engages you. Talk to your leader and share your ideas to play to your strengths more often. I cannot imagine a leader who is not interested in hearing about how you can positively impact your satisfaction and your results.

I saw this video recently?it brought a tear to my eye. It reminded me about the importance of allowing myself, and then others around me, to be who they are and play to their strengths. The possibilities are endless! And, you never know who you might serve, or SURF, in the process!

Service Dog to Surf-ice Dog!