Gender, Leadership, & CSV

If you haven’t read the Harvard Business Review this month, you should.  Why?  Here are just three of the articles highlighting research that will rock, push, disturb, and ultimately change the way we do business:

  1. How Women End Up On the “Glass Cliff,” by Susanne Bruckmüller and Nyla R. Branscombe.  They report that people prefer leaders with stereotypically male strengths, when a company is running well.  However, “when a company is in crisis, they think stereotypically female skills are needed to turn things around.”
  2. Finding Hard Ways to Measure ‘Soft’ Leadership,” led by Herminia Ibarra.   Professor Ibarra is analyzing her list of “The Best-Performing CEOs in the World” and checking to see if there is a common thread in how these leaders approach leadership.  She asks, “Can we provide hard evidence of the benefits of ‘soft’ leadership?  Why is this important?  Because “distributed leadership, empowerment, and knowledge networks are still viewed as indulgent.”  If they can identify the common “soft” traits of the most successful leaders, they “may be able to predict which leaders will add the most value” to their organizations in the future.
  3. Creating Shared Value,” by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.  “Not all profit is equal.  Profits involving a social purpose represent a higher form of capitalism, one that creates a positive cycle of company and community prosperity.”  Creating Shared Value (CSV) is different than Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in that it creates both economic and societal value.  While CSR focused on reputation with little link back to the company, CSV combines company and community interests.  This is “capitalism unleashed” to create the next wave of growth.

Why does any of this matter?  Because organizations that want to compete in the future will adopt new ways of doing business.  Instead of answers though, I have questions.  Questions that I hope will stir some reflection and some dialogue regarding our current state of affairs, and where we are headed.  I don’t ask merely to be provocative, but to start a conversation that will hopefully provide some clarity into this new way of being (and leading):

  • Are we hearing more about women in leadership due to the financial crisis (based on the first article cited)?  How have we limited and destroyed value because of our reliance on dominant male strengths?  Would the financial crisis have happened at all if we had more female leaders?
  • Decades of leadership theory have suggested that we are better when we learn how to become more “emotionally intelligent,” but the ability to implement “softer” skills in the workplace have often been perceived as a career ender for those that want to climb the ladder.  Is it possible that this resurgence in softer skills training has also come as a result of the financial crisis?
  • Why do we tend to punish men when they demonstrate “soft” leadership?  Do we shame men that show compassion?  Why is it considered a weakness to be vulnerable and transparent when we know that trust is built on these “softer” skills?
  • Likewise, how do we demonize strong women?  Do women feel compelled to “man-up” in order to compete?  Does “manning-up” wipe out the strengths women naturally bring to the table?  Do we take some pleasure criticizing those that seem to “stray” from the societal definitions of normal?   What impact do we have on future leaders that don’t feel like conforming to the status quo of gender stereotypes?
  • What do great companies do to sustain their growth year after year?  How do they treat their employees?  How do they view their role in society?  How does CSV change the way we all do business?

What do you think?