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Women in Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change, Week 1

I haven’t done this for a while, but I thought I might blog about a MOOC that I’m currently taking. It’s  being taught by Professor Diana Bilimoria at Case Western Reserve University via Coursera, and the course description is:

By offering more complex understandings of issues related to professional women and work, the course will help you increase self-knowledge about your own values and vision, as well as enhance your capabilities as a leader, manager, and team contributor.  We will examine the opportunities, challenges, trade-offs, and organizational dynamics experienced by women in work organizations, as well as reflect on and practice effective individual behaviors.

This is my round up of take-aways for Week One (Yourself as a Leader), with more detailed reflection below:

  1. Network with intent. Identify key influencers or gatekeepers, and build relationships now that you might be able to use later.
  2. Think about what will motivate you to stay in a profession/career, as well as what obstacles you might have to overcome.
  3. Leading includes modelling behaviour for those far beyond ‘your’ team.

Content

There are ‘lecture’ videos online, but I’ll focus here on the readings, which are more readily accessible.

There were two sections this week: the Welcome, and Leadership Values and Vision. Readings were on Centred Leadership (2008 McKinsey article), Inclusive Leadership (2012 Bilimoria article), ‘Engaging People’s Passion: Leadership for the New Century’ (from Leadership, 2005), and Personal Vision (2014 Bilimoria/Buse article).

Centred Leadership’s fivefold model of leadership struck me as a bit waffley. ‘Think positive’! ‘Engage’! ‘Do what you love’! The article refers to how women are special(ly emotional) snowflakes who “tend to experience emotional ups and downs more often and more intensely than most men do”, and suggests that those with strong networks and good mentors get promoted because “they feel a sense of belonging, which makes their lives meaningful”, rather than because they get a helping hand from friends/relatives.

Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with this first reading, but there were some interesting points relating to networking that I found useful. The first was that it prompted me to think about was the different natures of the networks that men and women build, with the former building broader but shallower networks that, in the long-run, can offer a sort of ‘cumulative interest’. The second was that women tend to be close to fellow employees who are not influential, whereas men are more inclined to build relationships with influencers that can reap rewards later.

Personal Vision was a very interesting analysis of the engineering profession in the US, which is notably unequal in its gender ratio, and the reasons why women stay in the profession. Turning the retention question around in this way reminds us why it is so important to be authentic in the workplace.

Exercises

The exercises required interviews with five colleagues, friends, or other acquaintances to build a picture of our ‘best self’, and an exercise setting out a set of values and a description of our ‘vision’. As I do self-reflection routinely as part of my organisation’s review process, I found the first exercise fairly simple to accomplish. The second was not something I’ve ever actually focused on, though, and I found it a really useful exercise. It was framed as a set of ‘complete the sentence’ prompts, and my answers are below.

The area in which I want my leadership to best contribute is… in achieving an equal, diverse and healthy workplace. 
The core purpose of my leadership is… to ensure that we take pride in our work — and have work in which we can take pride — whilst also remaining consistent with our values and individual’s needs.
My leadership serves… the organisation as a whole, which can serve as an example to others by modelling a twenty-first century, inclusive workplace.
The leader I want to be is… one who is authentic, leads by example, is collaborative and open, but is also able to give clear direction and feedback. I will own my decisions and support and protect my team wherever I can.
Through my leadership… we will continue to deliver high-quality results in a way that respects individual employee’s rights to equal treatment and to a healthful work environment.
My leadership will be recognised for… achieving results and building a sustainable team.

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