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Centred Leadership: How Talented Women Thrive
In 2004, international management consultancy McKinsey and Company commenced its McKinsey Leadership Project; to learn what drives and sustains successful female leaders. This article is based on McKinsey's project report, CENTRED LEADERSHIP: How talented women thrive, published in September 2008.
I chose to write about the McKinsey Leadership Project for this leadership-themed edition of the ABN's e-newsletter, as I believe four of its attributes make it stand out amongst other models of female leadership.
It's relevant to ABN members
Whereas the bulk of the published literature about female leadership relates to employees and corporates, McKinsey's study is applicable to the daily activities of female entrepreneurs and self-employed women, as well as corporate executives and employees.
The project report identifies a practical suite of five interconnected leadership attributes that can be easily learned and implemented by women wishing to improve their leadership skills, both within and outside their workplace
It draws on the experience of a wide cross-section of real women
Amongst the leaders participating in the project were hundreds of women; some of whom led 10,000 or more people, and others who led less than five, thus enabling the sharing and analysis of a very broad range of expertise, experience and knowledge; and
I found it inspirational to discover a leadership model that accommodates traditional female workplace characteristics, drawing on the concept of positive psychology to empower women to drive their own personal achievement and, in turn, inspire others to follow.
McKinsey called the model identified through its project Centred Leadership, and the high ranking leadership attributes the project identified are:
- managing energy
- positive framing
- connecting and
Leadership Attribute 1: Meaning
Meaning starts with happiness and is the motivation that moves us.
It's important that leaders experience meaning, because among professionals it translates into greater job satisfaction, higher productivity, lower turnover and increased loyalty. The benefits also include feelings of transcendence - contributing to something bigger than you.
Finding meaning in life helped some of the leaders in McKinsey's study to take new paths and accept the personal risks implicit in their goals.
Leadership Attribute 2: Managing energy
Actively managing energy levels is crucial to leaders. As well as meeting their workplace commitments, women still generally take responsibility for what McKinsey calls the "second shift" - household management and childcare responsibilities.
McKinsey's interviewees generally were of the opinion that work-life balance is a myth - so the only hope women have is to balance their energy flows - basing their priorities on the activities that energize them both at work and at home and actively managing resources to avoid having to draw on their reserves.
Leadership Attribute 3: Positive framing
The frames people use to view the world and process experiences can make a critical difference to professional outcomes. Studies have indicated that optimists see life more realistically than do pessimists; a frame of mind that can be crucial to making the right business decisions. That insight may be particularly critical for women, who are twice as likely as men to become depressed. Positive framing is different from positive thinking, which tries to replace negatives with positive beliefs. Positive framing accepts the facts of adversity and counters them with action.
No matter how pessimistic you are by nature, you can learn to view situations as optimists do. The key is self awareness. McKinsey gives the example of a meeting that goes badly. Instead of internalizing the situation, in such a case, you should limit your thoughts about it to its temporary and specific impact, and keep them impersonal. You should also take some action that will restore both your energy and faith in yourself, for example, going out with friends or having a hard workout.
Leadership Attribute 4: Connecting
People with strong networks and good mentors enjoy greater career satisfaction. They feel a sense of belonging, which makes their lives meaningful. The reporters indicate that their experience with hundreds of women at McKinsey offers evidence that women's' networks tend be narrower, but deeper, than men's'. The comparative broadness of men's networks can lead to their having an advantage in developing knowledge and obtaining professional opportunities.
McKinsey reports that most women they've worked with typically find that the colleagues they are close to are not influential; and vice versa. Explicit planning and some risk taking are needed to change the situation.
McKinsey suggests that one way women can overcome this is by providing and asking for help on a regular basis. It also suggests that women find ways to forge connections through interests outside of work. The researchers constantly heard the comment "make it personal". You can express this side of yourself in all kinds of ways at work without inappropriately blending your professional and personal lives.
Leadership Attribute 5: Engaging
McKinsey says that while many people think that hard work will eventually be noticed and rewarded, that doesn't usually happen. The leaders interviewed in the study repeatedly said that women need to "create their own luck". To take ownership of opportunities, women must first find their own voice, literally. Even senior women on boards still lose from not speaking up - they hang back if they think that they have nothing new to say or that their ideas fall short of profound.
Women who want to grow as leaders should also take ownership of their professional development, looking inward to see how they can become a more effective leader, identifying what they need to change, and then actually changing it.
Engagement is also about accepting risk as a part of opportunity - making a choice for risk and working with it, rather than avoiding it. McKinsey suggests that reaching out to others to learn the best outcome from change can often help you see opportunities in the right frame and decide whether to go for them.
McKinsey is now exploring the hypothesis that today's leaders can become even more effective through applying centred leadership: a shared purpose with deep meaning for the people involved, explicit awareness and management of energy, positive framing, strong informal and formal networks and the collaborative creation of opportunities.
In time, McKinsey hopes to help increase the number of female leaders significantly, by giving them tools to build leadership skills for any playing field.
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