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- Patience vs impatience: is the job ‘fire-fighting’ or strategic planning?
- Suspicious vs trusting: does the job require getting at the hidden truth, or working with people who are upfront?
- Speculative vs concrete: are you focused on innovation and what-might-be, or carefully attending to practical details of the here-and-now?
- Consensus-seeking vs independent: is the ability to take a collective view more important than taking a personal viewpoint or offering an unusual approach?
- Optimistic vs pessimistic: are you encouraged to focus on the positives, or to tackle dangers, pitfalls, and looming disasters?
- Financially focused vs sheltered from finance: does status in the profession vary hugely with wealth, and the work encourage thinking in terms of profit-and-loss?
- Fragile dignity vs solid status: are workers subject to deep rebuffs, with work in which they are heavily invested emotionally being easily and frequently rejected? Do capacity or qualifications dictate success?
- Better nature vs worse nature: does the job remind you of the best in life, or introduce you to the worst of human nature?
- Logical vs haphazard hierarchy: is it clear how progress and promotion are earned, or is there a strong element of chance, leading to anxiety and distrust?
- A declining vs growing industry: does it feel as though the golden age of your profession is past, or is it emerging into new arenas?
It might be possible to establish a generic profile for work, such as in academia. I am not, currently, an academic, but I am a PhD student, as well as holding down a full-time job in an organisation with some clear homologies with academia. I often think of whether or not I wish to jump ship and move into academia. Perhaps the way to make the best decision is to think not of the tasks that the job requires, but to think of the psychological profile of the career path. It would be easy to construct an ideal image of academia, founded on trust — a meritocratic, rational set of peers — and solid status, but that is clearly not the experience of a large number of people working in the industry. So, for those currently working as academics, how would you sum up the psychological profile of your job, and its impact on you?
|‘How it Works’, #385 from the brilliant XKCD.com|
This is the final week of Diana Bilimoria’s Coursera MOOC on Women in Leadership. It’s been a short, but interesting course. As a whistlestop tour, the major issues and dismal statistics have all been covered, but the course hasn’t dwelled on them self-pityingly. Instead, the focus has been proactive, starting from the basis that knowledge is power.
Week 1: Developing your Leadership Identity
Week 2: The State of Women’s Leadership
Week 3: Your Presence as a Leader
Week 4: Tools for career advancement
There were only two readings this week: a Harvard Business Review article from March 2014, Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life; and a chapter by Bilimoria et al on profiles of women’s career development over time.
I love HBR, and this article was no exception. Based on thousands of interviews, its focus is on how leaders can get away from ‘firefighting’ and towards making meaningful, deliberate decisions about how they work that can enable them to have more time for family and community, “vigilantly manag[ing] their human capital”. They draw out five main behaviours:
- Defining success for yourself;
- Managing technology;
- Building support networks at work and at home;
- Travelling/relocating selectively; and
- Collaborating with your partner.
For me, the most interesting of these is managing technology, as I’ve written a lot about incorporating technology into my academic life (acwri tools), working practices (particularly time planning), and hobbies (particularly running). ‘Managing technology’ in HBR’s context describes “corralling” emails, calls, and other messages as part of “deciding when, where, and how to be accessible to work”.
The article links this very personal question to the dangers of 24-hour availability from a work-performance perspective. The article emphasises the increase in creativity that can come from being focused on mundane tasks rather than the issue at hand, as well as the importance of effective delegation for empowering teams. The issue, then, is not so much managing the technology as managing how we decide to use it. A leader who checks their emails compulsively because they want their team to run every decision by them has a problem not with their smartphone but with their leadership style (or with their team!). Our uses of technology say much more about us than they do about the technology!
The chapter by Bilimoria et al builds on the idea of there being three chronological career phrases: a ‘sprint’ idealistic achievement phase; a ‘marathon’ pragmatic endurance phase; and a ‘relay’ reinventive phase. Alongside this is a parallel model, whereby women in an early career phase focus on challenge, developing into a focus on balance mid-career, and then a focus on authenticity in later career stages. The chapter offers three composite profiles based on interviews with women in these various phases. I actually found something a little sad in these profiles and the presentation of the two models. It had the air of a self-fulfilling prophecy about it, as though women would inevitably find their workplace sexist or demeaning, or otherwise disempowering.
The first exercise was to evaluate how we currently spend our time between work, family, friends, self and community, and to compare it with how we want to spend our time. It also invited us to define what success might look like, including what it will enable us to achieve, and what we need to do in order to reach that goal.
I often think about my life as a narrative, and ask myself whether choices I make will enhance it, offering coherence, variety, depth, etc. Focusing on my life as a story about who I am and what I have achieved means taking a long view and being willing to critique my own actions and choices. Success, for me, means writing an impressive, diverse life story that offers me insight, and that can hopefully inspire others through my mentoring and coaching. To achieve it means seeing my time and attention as resources that need to be invested wisely, and not depleted, reminding me to focus also on the actions of self-care that replenish my internal resources.
* Image taken from The Job Crowd: http://www.thejobcrowd.com/news/who-are-best-employers-work-life-balance.
This is the penultimate week of Diana Bilimoria’s Women in Leadership MOOC, and we are getting to the business end of the course’s career applications. Some of my key takeaways from previous weeks have already touched on the this week’s theme: the additional challenge for women in career negotiations, particularly over pay.
Week 1: Developing your Leadership Identity
Week 2: The State of Women’s Leadership
Week 3: Your Presence as a Leader
Readings this week included a set of articles referring to the issue I raised in last week’s blogpost about the costs for women in seeking to negotiate higher salaries or increased benefits, including (2010) ‘toolkit’ for women seeking to negotiate a raise, a clear summary from the New Yorker of the many penalties that women face for trying to negotiate, and the 2015 Pay Gap report by the American Association of University Women.
Professor Bilimoria’s lecture set out some of the key techniques for negotiating, including taken an interests-based approach, looking for common ground, rather than focusing on fixed positions, and going into a negotiation knowing what your best alternative (‘BATNA‘) is. For women, strategies that balance empathy and assertiveness, or focus on both relational and objective goals, tend to work best. Because of course, we must always be seen to be giving, caring, and conciliatory.
The exercise this week was to practice negotiating, either through a role-play with a friend, or through a real-life scenario. I negotiate routinely with quite senior individuals about content they produce. Sometimes, the issues we negotiate are apparently trivial issues of phrasing, which can already put me on the back foot, as I am the one raising them. Nevertheless, it is a relatively low-stakes negotiation for me. My BATNA is that the content remains as they have written it. The only consequence of failing to negotiate the necessary changes is that my senior manager may think me ineffective at negotiating (and the intrinsic dismay at failing to enforce the rules of house style).
In these situations, the repeated negotiations are all there is. My repertoire goes something like this:
- Assess whether I can unilaterally make the changes (i.e. not negotiate and get my position as the outcome). This will usually depend on personalities.
- Raise a “question”, to “make sure I understand correctly”. This is a gentle hint that perhaps the content in question is not perfectly worded. The hope is that the person in question will suggest an alternative, or indicate that they’re happy for me to make changes.
- “We might suggest…”. I use ‘we’ a lot. I speak for a team of people who do this work. We have agreed guidance, and we should (in theory) all give the same advice based on it. Depending on the tenor of the conversation, I might start here, or I might start with: “The guidance says that…”.
- “It might help other people understand the context if…”. The person I’m negotiating with and I are on the same team. We both want readers to have the best experience.
- “Okay, I understand your point. I will explain it to [senior manager], but he might make changes. Do you want me to come back to you if that happens?” This is the end of the negotiation, at least for the time being. I might be sent back to the individual to try again, or the senior manager might talk to them directly.
This is the third of my weekly reflections on Diana Bilimoria’s MOOC on Women in Leadership. This week focused on self-confidence and navigating organisational politics.
Key takeaways for me this week were:
- Focus on your successes; reflect regularly on where you’ve excelled, and highlight your best work into conversation with senior colleagues;
- Working longer hours does not always mean working better; and
- Seek out assignments that are challenging but where you know you can succeed.
There are many reasons why women’s self-confidence can be low, particularly the ‘double bind’ whereby we are seen to be either too passive to be leadership material, or too aggressive to lead a team. Women’s lack of self-confidence can flow from both conditioning and lived experience. It is a product of structural problems, not individual failings, and the article is not strong enough in tackling that issue head on. For example, in citing the research that women tend to negotiate their starting salary less frequently, and negotiate for lower sums, the article fails to reflect on the negative impact that negotiating hard for a high salary has on how women are evaluated by their colleagues and bosses, burying that fact towards the bottom of the article.
Bilimoria’s lectures address different sources of self-confidence for men and women, in particular for women: authenticity, self-efficacy, adaptability, and persistence. Her insightful discussion of voice and non-verbal communication was particularly interesting: voice “is about having the courage to say what needs to be said to improve the outcome, but in a way that can be heard”. Shouting louder is not necessarily the answer. Saying the right things in the right way to the right people. Now there’s the rub.
The report on the myth of the ideal worker highlights many of the same points. It’s aggregate of data posits an Ideal Worker as one who:
- Actively seeks high-profile assignments
- Rubs shoulders with influential leaders
- Communicates openly and directly about their career aspirations
- Seeks visibility for their accomplishments
- Lets their supervisor know of the skills and willingness to contribute
- Continually seeks out new opportunities
- Learns the political landscape or unwritten rules of the company
- Isn’t afraid to ask for help.
There were two exercises again this week. The first was to take and reflect on a Mindtools self-confidence assessment. I scored 50 in the assessment, which was at the top end of the “okay” band. I scored lowest on ‘mastery experiences’, or experiences where my own effort led to success. One of the suggestions for increasing the number of mastery experiences I have has made it into my list of key takeaways above: asking for tasks/roles where I know I can excel. I might need to fight for these assignments, if they are in areas where I have not already proven myself, but having a clear knowledge and belief about my own competences is an essential first step.
The second exercise was to map the power structure of my current organisation, as well as my relationships to the key influencers. This can be quite a difficult exercise unless one has a clear aim in mind, but I found it useful to reflect on the organisational structure and what concrete steps I could take to improve my own influence. This sounds Machiavellian, but it is important to know who can help, as a mentor or as a person with control over assignments, as well as who can hinder. And it’s also a good excuse to get out the colours pens!
Welcome to week 2 of my journey through the women’s leadership MOOC taught by @DianaBilimoria of Case Western. This week’s theme was the current state of women’s leadership at the top of organisations.
Key takeaways for me are:
- Identify and fight for ‘hot jobs’ that are visible, mission-critical, or international. Do not be ashamed of holding decision-makers to account for how they allocate such roles.
- Be prepared to ask, “How and why do you feel abraded?” And, yes, use those terms: put the onus on them to own their emotional response to you, and highlight how ridiculous the terminology used for criticising assertive women can be.
- Be conscious of what (dis)advantages you and others are accumulating. Do not be afraid to point out their accumulation, but speak up for others who are accumulating disadvantage, not just yourself.
Bonus takeaway, courtesy of Gloria Steinman:
This week’s readings focused predominantly on corporate/for-profit institutions, although in the forums there were a lot of interesting reflections about different areas, including academia. Readings included a statistical overview of women in the workplace, from Catalyst.org, an organisation focused on expanding women’s opportunities in business; studies about how women are given less favourable development opportunities and about how the ‘double bind’ manifests itself, causing women to be judged critically whether they are assertive or not; and an article from Fast Company about how ‘abrasive’ is a gendered term in performance reviews.
The statistics are, I hope, well-known. The US and the UK do not even break into the top 30 countries for women in senior management positions, a table topped by Russia, Indonesia and Latvia.* Grant Thornton call out the UK, particularly, as “stagnating” on this front.
Developed countries, by and large, are less equal in this regard than developing countries. Perhaps there is an element of economic complacence for the former countries, so that they do not feel sufficiently motivated to leverage the whole of their workforce (even following the 2009 crash). It is interesting to see that such countries and cultures are clinging so hard to unconscious gender biases that they go against rational economic self-interest — companies with more women senior leaders financially outperform those with fewer — as well as the national, societal interest, as those firms with more women leaders also have higher levels of corporate social responsibility. There should be strong internal and external incentives for companies to boost their numbers of women at the top. And yet, progress is exceptionally slow. (Perhaps we should remember Germaine Greer’s assessment that women have very little idea of how much men hate them…)
What, then, are the barriers that women face in advancing their careers? Unfriendly corporate cultures continue to alienate women in some industries (tech has recently been under a lot of scrutiny over this), and there is always the human bias towards homophily in making promotion decisions (i.e. promoting those who are like ourselves, particularly in terms of gender, race, or class).
This tendency towards homophily is also reflected in the lack of strong mentoring for women, and their exclusion informal networks, both of which are invaluable sources of information and learning. For example, a good mentor might give crucial advice about which projects to fight for or accept — which are ‘hot jobs’ — and which to pass up. Catalyst suggest that approximately 20% of our learning and development comes through these mentoring and networking activities (with 70% coming from on-the-job training and 10% from formal training). 20% can clearly make all the difference, and I am certainly going to be thinking about how best to developing leadership networks and mentoring systems, as I now have a role in the development of ‘high potentials’ in my organisation.
To my mind, the most crucial element is the failure to judge men and women on an equal footing, however. Various studies have indicated that, with identical CVs, men are more likely to be hired than women, such as one from Cornell looking at recruitment in academia and evaluations of whether a candidate had completed sufficient teaching and research.** The Fast Company article notes how, in reviews, women are routinely described as ‘abrasive’ and given personal feedback, whereas men are not judged in this way. The classic ‘double bind’ whereby women are rarely judged as both competent and likeable, but are either ‘abrasive’ (i.e. competent but unlikeable) or ‘sweet’ (i.e. presumed incompetent at higher levels, but likeable). Such evaluations of female performance typically come from second-generation bias, or unconscious assumptions, rather than explicit discrimination. Second-generation bias is also reflected in the way that women are channeled into certain leadership roles over others, such as HR over finance, on the basis of an assumed ‘female’ skill set.
It is important to note that advantages or disadvantages accrue over time, as the Toby Morris cartoon at the top of this post illustrates. Like interest on an investment or a debt, things can spiral beyond our control. Once labelled ‘abrasive’, women can find themselves passed up for roles that would involve them managing challenging teams, which are essential for building experience. It can be very difficult to call out colleagues or senior managers on small things, but it is essential.
One of the exercises this week was a consciousness-raising one: to research the statistics for our own organisation, industry and nation. In brief, as I noted above, the UK’s progress has slowed to a virtual halt. Within the civil service, the split is 62% men, 38% women in senior leadership positions (according to the ONS in 2014).
My organisation occupies a small niche of the UK public sector, with only 15 senior managers. However, our statistics are slightly worse: 64% to 36%, including one female senior manager who has been on a career break for several years (making the current proportions even worse: 69% to 31%). And this is after a senior male manager left quite recently.
I was surprised by this, as I thought we would have been slightly better than the average, but we are not. Emotionally, we feel defensive about organisations or places where we are happy, to the point of minimising failings. In my organisation, there are many difficulties around career advancement because there is relatively low churn at the top levels, which people can reach quite quickly in their careers. With so little space for people to climb into, it is easy for promotions to have the appearance of fairness, but there may well be implicit biases that go into those decisions, shaping the organisation’s decision-making for decades to come. In small organisations, every promotion is key to the organisation values and culture.
Week 1: Developing your leadership identity
You can find out more about the course itself (and still join!) on the Coursera website.
* Statistics taken from Grant Thornton International Business Report, 12 March, 2014
** There have been similar studies comparing rates of hire for those with names that might identify someone as non-Caucasian, such as a study from the University of Chicago. Although the course, and therefore this post,
I am all for training courses and, indeed, personality tests. As a young teenager, I was fascinated by all of the ‘personality tests’ (on a website whose name I cannot even remember now), but I find myself a lot more conflicted now.