Nov 30 2020| Leadership | Leaders
by Phil Eyre Founder
I was grateful to be invited by the host Marie McNeela, Managing Director of Intertrust in Guernsey. The aim was to bring female business leaders together to inspire each other and encourage excellence in leadership.
As an extension of my working partnership with the Intertrust team, and notwithstanding my gender, I was asked to shine a light on female leadership excellence. The conversations around the three tables were all stimulating and, for me, there were some clear leadership takeaways.
1) Power and purpose are inextricably connected
Power is the ability to influence others to take action towards your vision for the future. The purpose of the action is therefore crucial. If there’s no clear purpose, power can quickly become a source of frustration and demotivation for others.
Leaders - of any gender - must lead with purpose, constantly communicating the reason for the direction and influence being exerted by them.
Lord John Dalberg-Acton is famously quoted as saying that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We can reframe this as a corruption of purpose. Some of history’s most powerful people have arguably led people towards a corrupted purpose: self-serving, abusive to others, taking what’s not theirs, imposing systems based on fake news rather than truth.
Maintaining the purity of purpose is therefore crucial. Are women better at maintaining the purity of purpose when compared to men? Formal evidence is sparse, although it can be asserted that leaders who are willing to hear critical feedback, are high in empathy and work towards a horizon beyond their own tenure are more likely to lead with ‘high’ purpose than those seduced by short-term, self-orientated success.
Instinctively, and in my work with senior women, I believe that more women understand the need to wield their power lightly. This was backed up by conversations in the room, along with hesitation by women to say they have or want power, possibly because the word itself needs to be reframed from a female perspective and with purpose at its heart.
2) ‘Good’ power is marked by joy
Ingrid Fetell Lee’s work on joy is exemplary. I was intrigued by her recent discussion on the connection between power and joy **. In summary, when power is viewed as ‘power over’ others, it leads to anxiety and oppression. However, when power is ‘to’ others, ‘with’ others or ‘within’, it creates the conditions for joy.
Reflecting on our work with leaders and leadership teams in a wide variety of settings in the Channel Islands and further afield, this rings true. Where power is sought for power’s sake - pitting colleague against colleague - we observe (and sometimes experience) low trust, high blame, frustration and often misery.
In contrast, there is a lightness and positivity within companies that genuinely empower others, where leaders encourage others for their successes, take responsibility for failings, are open to feedback and seek to advance the careers of as many other people as possible. We know where we enjoy working the most!
An absence of joy in any organisation is a warning sign that power is being wielded aggressively over others. This need not always be from the top. We have observed some faulty power dynamics where the strongest influence lies not with the executive or board, but with a strong minority within the company. In these scenarios, a change in how power is transmitted is essential for a more joyful - and higher-performing - environment.
Are you finding - and leading - joy in your work?
3) Diversity enhances agility
Some might argue that the fewer decision-makers, the more agile the company. There is some truth to this; fast decisions are nigh-on impossible to achieve via consensus when there are a lot of people in the decision-making body (be it a board, executive committee or political group). Yet this is only part of the truth. Where decisions are focused into a very small group or just one ‘hero’ CEO, the quality of decision deteriorates as the field of vision becomes too narrow.
The most effective leadership teams deliberately draw on their differences. The best will intentionally appoint people with different experiences and perspectives in order to enhance the breadth and depth of decision-making. The worst CEOs appoint ‘in their own image’, creating an echo chamber of ideas, yes-people who are unwilling or unable to bring in ideas that are different to those already tabled. That might make for an easy board meeting but will certainly create the conditions for missed opportunity and risk.
Diversity is a broader issue than gender, although it includes gender. As Alison Parry of Intertrust Group said: ‘Diversity is about recognising that we are all individuals and we can better understand their needs if we have diverse businesses.’
Women have an increasing presence in decision-making, in family wealth, community leadership and boardrooms. There is still a way to go, however. Those choosing to keep their boards comfortable and familiar, excluding different perspectives, are missing out on great ideas.
Jenny Palmer, Principal of Elizabeth College, touched on the importance of unleashing potential in the next generation and, whilst it is clear that we are seeing a shift away from the traditional female and male stereotypes, there is still more work to be done on this.
In discussions, it was generally agreed that yes, women can have a very positive impact on a business or the community, but most important is having the right person with the right skills and knowledge for the job. Ask yourself, whose perspectives and experiences are you missing?
Diversity of thought is the end goal along with building a culture of respect, trust and performance. If you would like to dive deeper into this theme, read our blog on this topic. https://www.leadersconsultancy.co.uk/articles/team-formation-and-dynamics/