Women In Leadership: It’s About PRESENCE, Not Position

We need more women in leadership positions. Women have the experience and understanding that it takes to meet the changing landscape of today’s workplace reality. They connect. They are intuitive. They know how to collaborate, how to build consensus, and what real networks are about. They think holistically. And they care.

I realize these are wholesale generalizations. Not all women have the all these skills and traits, and not all men are void of these. To understand women in leadership (as well as men), it is important to understand the two energies at play when people interact. In Chinese philosophy, the concept of “yin” and “yang” is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as people interrelate to one another. It is important to note that this is not a male/female dichotomy, as both men and women carry both these forces. However, women generally are the primary carriers of “yin” energy, while men are generally the primary carriers of “yang.”

“Yang” is about:

  • Moving Outward
  • Achievement
  • Separating
  • Segregation
  • Silos
  • “Fixing,” “Resolving” “Doing”
  • Strategy
  • Courage
  • Exploration
  • Linear
  • Functional
  • Masculine
  • “The Destination”

“Yin” is about:

  • Moving Inward
  • Engagement
  • Connecting
  • Relationship
  • Collaboration
  • “Being”
  • Intuition
  • Compassion
  • Attraction
  • Holistic
  • Integrated
  • Feminine
  • “The Journey”

Consider which list you identify with most strongly. You may find personal balance within you as you see different sides of yourself coming forward in different roles. If you don’t identify more strongly with one list over the other, it may indicate an already integrated person, evolving toward a balance between “yin” and “yang.”

The purpose of all relationships is to move us toward integration, wholeness.

Hence, if you are strongly aligned with one side of the spectrum, you are likely to get into a relationship (with a person or an organization) who is on the other end. Of course, the reason that drew you together is to help you develop the undeveloped side of yourself. Yet, before you know it, the reason that brought you together soon becomes your battle ground!

So… what does all this have to do with women in leadership? The Western world, and the organizations within these societies, for centuries have been predominantly run on “yang,” masculine energy. The evolution of human consciousness is awakening the “yin,” feminine energy with us. Employees today are insisting on engagement, collaboration, and creativity in their work. Customers are expecting more than a good product. They want good service. Creating a great experience for both employees and customers, requires a new kind of awareness, an awakening of the “yin” side of the cultures that serve us.

In order to create a workplace culture worth coming to and a workplace that best serves this new world, masculine energy alone will be insufficient. What we need are men and women in leadership at every level in organizations who are aware and courageous enough to bring their feminine side to their work.

What we don’t need are women in leadership roles suppressing their feminine nature in order to fit into the outdated, masculine world in order to “get ahead” in the organization. It’s about presence, not position.

Should we be expecting our leaders to “Walk The Talk?”

I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard the phrase, “The leaders in this place don’t ‘walk the talk.’” I’d be wealthier than a lottery winner. I’ve heard this said about leaders in every walk of life – business, politics, and government.

I understand the frustration when people see a lack of congruence from their leaders between what is espoused and what is lived. It’s called an authenticity gap. While the frustration is legitimate, the problem is the way we see the problem and the way we approach it. A lack of congruence will prevail as long as we continue to see this as a leadership problem. In fact, I contend that we are actually contributing to the problem by the way we view the situation.

There will always be an authenticity gap in our positional leaders because of the nature of our expectations.

No one will ever meet our expectations completely for “walking the talk” because we are human. Think about it. Where in your life have you maintained all the habits that you know are important? Do you exercise as much as you say you should? Do you always eat what you say is a healthy diet? Do you spend as much time with the people you love as you say you should? Do you ever watch more TV than you know is healthy? Where do you have perfect alignment between your espoused values and your actions? Where in your life have you completely closed this “authenticity gap?”

I contend that it’s not the gap that’s the problem. The real problem is that we aren’t talking about the gap – directly, honestly, and respectfully. What authentic, accountable leaders do, rather than pretend that there is no gap, is create a space for people to honestly and respectfully discuss the gap and work toward closing it. What authentic, accountable employees do, rather than complain about the gap with a sense of entitlement, is have the courage to face the incongruence directly when they see it.

If you are working in an environment and feel that your positional leaders are not “walking the talk,” here are some suggestions:

  • Strategy #1
    Start by giving what you expect from your leaders. Take a careful inventory of yourself. Where are you not “walking the talk” in your professional or personal life?  Where is there an authenticity gap in your life? Try taking the focus off your leaders and bring it back to yourself. Deciding that you have co-created the world around you – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability.
  • Strategy #2
    Once you have earned self-respect and credibility by working at closing your own authenticity gaps, initiate courageous, open, and respectful conversations with your leaders about that gap in yourself and in your culture. Be sure to bring your solutions, not your complaints to these conversations. Bring a copy of your corporate values to the discussion and ask for feedback about how you can better live these values as an employee.  If you don’t have clear corporate values then make up your own and bring these to the conversation for open, respectful dialogue.
  • Strategy #3
    If you are a positional leader, be aware that you are always being watched and there will always be people in your organization who perceive you as not “walking the talk.” Talk openly about this. Invite feedback continually. Turn your value statements into concrete behaviors and commit publically to living these values, while simultaneously fessing up that you are human, that you won’t ever be perceived as getting it perfect, that you are open for constructive feedback when you get off track, and that you expect the same commitment from your those who report to you.

What’s your experience with leaders not “walking the talk?” I’d love to hear from you.

Laissez faire Leadership or Lazy Fare Abdication: It Takes Courage To Let Go

Not long ago I was hired by a CEO to help assess and develop the leadership capacity of one of his managers. I started by interviewing the manager and each member of his leadership team. There was a consistent theme in the interviews. “He’s practicing laissez faire leadership,” I was told, with frustration, by his team. In actuality, it wasn’t “laissez faire” leadership at all. It was “lazy fare abdication.” Rather than leading at all, he was abandoning his leadership responsibilities. Ignoring people and leaving them without direction, clarity, or accountability left him with a team of frustrated, disgruntled subordinates.

When I asked this manager about his approach, he explained that he was a laissez faire leader, that he believed that people work much better when they are “left alone,” and that he was developing a “self-directed,” leaderless team.

This manager had the wrong understanding of what it means to a laissez faire leader. Laissez faire doesn’t mean “lazy fare.” It’s not about passive abandonment of your responsibilities, which is what his approach ended up being. It’s not about abdication. Laissez faire leadership is actually very strategic, focused, and deliberate. It takes maturity, clarity, and precision to lead with a laissez faire approach.

Laissez faire comes from the French, “leave it be”, or “let go.” Laissez faire from a leader’s perspective is a non-authoritarian style of leadership that achieves control through more subtle means. It is an approach to leadership that assumes that people excel when they are left alone to respond to their responsibilities and obligations in their own ways.

Below are three essential qualities needed to be an effective laissez faire leader:

  1. Connection
    You have to be connected to your team and your employees so you know how much they need the presence and availability of their leader. You have to know if a group is mature enough to function without the boss being around. If you back off too soon, as this manager did, you will breed resentment and frustration on your team. If you try to make a team “self-directed” when they don’t have the maturity and good will required, you end up with an assassinated leader who attempts to step into the role without the organizational support.
  2. Maturity
    Related to strategy #1, you can’t operate with a laissez faire leadership approach when you are parenting two-year olds. While extending trust to others by backing away and letting go can be an important tool for developing the maturity to function more independently, you have to know your staff enough to know when to back off and when to be more directive.
  3. Courage and Clarity
    “Letting go” in not passive. Letting go means being actively engaged with your staff and stepping away intentionally, knowing that backing off and extending trust will help them grow. To have the courage to do this, you need to have a solid accountability process in place, so everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, both from themselves and from every member of the team. You can’t be lazy if you want to be a laissez faire leader. It takes active involvement, awareness, and intentional, clear action.

What is your experience with laissez faire leadership? What works? What doesn’t work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Is It Time To Change Your Change Management Plan?

he problem with most change management plans in organizations is that they are doing just that: they are managing the change, not leading people through the change. To illustrate the limitations of most change management plans, think about the last time you relocated with a new job. What was your change management plan? Your plan may have been: 1) Call a realtor, find a new place to live; 2) Sell your house; 3) Purchase a new house or finalize a new rental agreement; 4) Schedule your movers; 5) Schedule cleaners for after the move.

Your unique plan could be quite different, but if your list looks anything like this one, there is one key point missing: leadership. Creating and implementing a plan like this is all about management: Defining, prioritizing, and executing. Leadership, on the other hand, is very different. Authentic leadership is about connecting with people: supporting and guiding them through the change. Change occurs outside of a person and requires management, while transition occurs inside of a person and requires leadership. Transitions are the reorientation that people go through as they come to terms with change. Organizations make a huge error when the two are confused or if they neglect attending to the leadership.

Leading people through the transition gets to the impact of the change on people and relationships. For example, what are you letting go of in the move? What’s going on inside you as you make this transition? How are you handling resistance, which always accompanies change to some degree? How is the change affecting your relationships?

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change and uncertainty or so in love with the old ways,” wrote the late Marilyn Ferguson, American author and philosopher, “but it’s that place in between that we fear… It’s like being in between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

We’ve all heard that when “one door closes, another one opens.” What they don’t tell you is that it’s hell in the corridor. Here are a few pointers to get you through the corridor. In leading change, you have an accountability as a leader to ensure that every change management plan incorporates the following:

  1. Give people a clear rationale for the change.
    Why are we changing? How will we be better off because of the change?  While change is necessary, not all change is good. If you have no solid reason for changing, you have no business initiating change.
  2. Give people a vision.
    Asking people to step into the corridor of uncertainty is a part of leading people through the transition to a new reality. If you are always certain, you aren’t changing. Uncertainty is an essential ingredient to growth. But in responsible leadership, uncertainty should not be about where you are headed. Change always starts with an inspiring vision of the future.
  3. Give people dignity and respect.
    In order to build a strong and civil high performance culture, every right must be accompanied by a subsequent responsibility. You have a right to make changes, as leaders. You have an accompanying responsibility to inititiate change in a respectful, honest way. For example, if you are going to move, don’t dump the move onto people. Give people the dignity and respect they deserve to understand and come to terms with the change.
  4. Give people compassion.
    It takes time to adjust to change. People usually bitch before they build. Get out of your office. Be connected. Listen to people’s concerns. Allow people to grieve. Give them time to let go. While the corridor of change may not be a time of productivity, it’s a great time to build community. Leadership through transitions is about caring for people, not manipulating them. While you may be able to control things, you can’t control people.
  5. Give people information.
    Tell people what you know. Tell them what you don’t know. Be honest. Be transparent. Be real.
  6. Give people boundaries.
    People need some structure to get through the corridor of change. They need to know that there are both accountable and unaccountable ways to handle emotions. It’s okay to grieve, to vent, to express resistance in constructive, contained places and respectful ways. It’s not okay to complain incessently, tear down others, and undermine the change initiatives. There’s a difference between constructive venting and destructive bitching.
  7. Give people a decision point.
    Similar to boundaries, people need to know when it it’s time to move on. They need to know that while venting, grieving, and expressing concerns are all valid emotional responses to change, eventually you have to build a bridge and get over it. Eventually you have to get through the corridor to the other side. And if you stay in the corridor too long, you’ll start to rot. If you seeing indicators of low morale, resentment, cynicism, resignation, bitterness, or indifference, it means you’ve been in the corridor too long.
  8. Give people a compass.
    If you’ve ever been lost in the wilderness you know that road maps don’t always work. What you need when you are lost is a compass, a set of values and guiding principles that remain constant and reliable during uncertainty and upheaval. A compass with a clear calibration pointing toward your destination will keep you on track in the transition.
  9. Give people your trust.
    Change creates all kinds of opportunities. The most important of these is the opportunity to extend trust: trust that people will come to terms with change in their own way and in their own time. Trust that with a clear vision you will get there together. While you care about people, you don’t have to carry people.
  10. Give people your courage.
    With every change you develop new resources. After all, this is one of the primary the purposes of the human experience: to grow and learn. Courage will naturally emerge when you have the courage to face and come to grips with change in your own life. Change is the courage to step off the cliff and grow wings on the way down.

Are some of these strategies for leadership in transitions missing in your change management plan? What can you do to improve on your current approach to change management? How can you bring a more human quality to your change management approach? Is it time to change your change management plan?

12 Keys To Authentic Leadership: You Do Know When It’s Real

Below are 12 key messages that underlie my fundamental philosophy of leadership. Most of these messages aren’t mine. I’ve borrowed them from many of the great leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years:

  1. Leadership is about inspiring and engaging people to work toward a compelling vision – by seeing the gifts and potential of others more clearly than they see it in themselves and being able to communicate it in their own unique way. Martin Luther King never said, “I  have a strategic plan.”
  2. There are too many consultants and speakers telling organizations how to be leaders. Leadership is contextual. The best an outside consultant can do is help you decide what kind of leadership is needed in your organization to achieve your purpose and help you get there.
  3. Leadership is about presence, not position. Great leadership cannot be reduced to technique or title. Great leadership comes from the identity and the integrity of the leader. Leadership is the way you live your life. Your power as a leader comes from being an integrated and real human being. This makes every person in your organization a potential leader.
  4. You don’t get promoted to being a leader. You get promoted to being a boss but you don’t get promoted to being a leader. There’s a big difference between a boss and a leader. Holding a position of leadership is like having a driver’s license. Just because you have one doesn’t make you a good one.
  5. You aren’t a leader until someone decides that you are. You have to earn the right to be a be called a leader, and you aren’t one until you have earned it in the eyes of others. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
  6. As a leader –  whether it’s in the home, your community, or in your organization – you will continuously need to balance supports with demands. You don’t help people by pushing them when they need to be supported, nor do you help them by supporting them when they need to be pushed. You never get this balance perfect, but great leaders work at it – every day.
  7. Great leaders achieve organizational goals. Authentic leaders help you find your voice in the process. Authentic leaders align the interests, values, and goals of the organization with the interests, values, and goals of the employee. This is employee engagement at its finest, and it’s what attracts, retains, and inspires greatness. Authenticity is about finding your voice and inspiring others to find theirs. Authentic leaders earn their credibility by being authentic. You know when it’s real.
  8. Leadership is ultimately about service. Turn your organization chart upside down. Take care of your people so they can take care of the customer. Serving, however, is different than pleasing. Serving is about meeting people’s needs so they can get their job done. Pleasing is about meeting people’s wants. Serving breeds commitment. Pleasing breeds entitlement.
  9. Your best leadership program will be over a cup of coffee. You’ll never be able to lead by sitting at your computer. Make building trust your number one leadership priority and spend a large portion of your time connecting with the people you serve. Find out what matters to others and do all you can to meet their needs. Listen relentlessly.
  10. Leadership isn’t about you. It’s not about how great you are, how noble you are, or how profound you are. Leadership is about others and what you do to give credit to others. If you are going earn the credibility to influence others – long term – you better have a strong enough ego that you can leave it at the door. Credibility comes from giving credit, not taking it. People don’t remember what you said; they remember how you made them feel.
  11. Leadership is largely a matter of love. If you aren’t comfortable with the word love, call it caring, because leadership involves caring about people, not manipulating them. If you don’t care about people or about your work or about why you get out of bed in the morning, you might consider doing yourself and your organization a favor and get out of the position of leadership.
  12. If you want to improve your capacity to lead, put your focus on finding ways to enjoy leading more. While I’ve met a few incompetent leaders who actually enjoy leading, generally speaking, the best leaders I know enjoy what they do. Put your efforts in finding joy in your work as a leader, and you’ll be a better leader.

What is your leadership philosophy? Have you shared it lately with the people you serve and love?

How To Make Sense of Organizational Leadership

We’ve all seen cases of sending employees to a leadership training program with no understanding of what skills or attitudes they are accountable to come out with. There is no measurement for whether or not the program makes any difference. Indiscriminately bringing in leadership “trainers” or aimlessly sending your leaders to a course because it “sounds interesting,” is the worst mistake you can make when it comes to organizational leadership.

It’s no wonder that organizations cut their leadership training budgets. If you still work in an organization that randomly sends people on leadership courses with no strategy or accountability or ways to measure the R.O.I. for the program, then you are working in an organization whose approach to leadership has reached its shelf life.

Smart – and healthy – organizations counter this mistake with a simple process:

  1. Clarify exactly what you expect from your leaders.
    Leadership expectations come from clarity of your values and clarity of your strategy. Once you are clear about where you are going and the kind of culture you need to get you there, then you can define the kind of leader it takes to make this happen. No one is promoted unless they meet the identified, expected standards.
  2. Rigorously measure – and assess – the leadership gaps.
    Once you are clear about what you expect from your leaders, you need to know where the gaps are. Your leaders need to know where they stand: both from in terms of attitudes and in terms of skills. Where are they meeting their organization’s need for good leadership? Where are they falling short? Your organization needs to know where the gaps are in their leaders. Who is a good leader? Who is not measuring up?
  3. Develop an accountability plan to close the gap.
    Once the gaps are identified (both personally and organizationally), the next step is to hold yourself and your leaders accountable to develop a plan close the gap. There are a myriad ways to close the gap, but how you close the gap depends on what exactly the gap is. Mentoring is a way to close a gap. Coaching is another way. Job sharing or cross-training, where you work in another area in the organization are also alternatives. Specific online training programs can be a very effective way to close the gap. Leadership training is an obvious way to close the gap, but now you have a goal and expected outcomes that you are accountable for in the leadership training. You may identify that many of your leaders have a similar gap in their abulities. This may present an opportunity to bring in an external consultant (or even internal person if you have the resources), to design and deliver a customized program that would fill the collective gap.

In order for leadership programs to produce long-term results they must have both clarity – about the specific skills and attitudes that are needed from the leaders, as well as a strategy to address and fill the gaps. Its so much more enjoyable, enriching, and effective, when you are working with a purpose, rather than merely working with a package.