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Women and Conscious Leadership

Taken from the forthcoming spring ‘e-Organisations and People’ journal – For more information and to purchase a copy look here. This article asks whether the time is finally right for women to take on leadership roles without needing to give up their core values, needs and behaviours.  Evidence is put forward showing how essential it is to include women in leadership roles if we want to attain a sustainable future.  Lasy Lawless explores what might prevent that from happening.  She considers how much of this problem is self imposed and how much of it relates to gender politics in the workplace.  She asks each reader to do one thing to accelerate change.Keywords: Inequality, women in leadership, gender, prejudice, diversity and sustainability

My discovery of gender prejudice

I grew up on a farm in a large family in Ireland.  There was an equal number of boys and girls in my family.  This description probably conjures up a stereotypical image of simple country folk following strict catholic doctrines, women in the kitchen supporting men in the fields.  But that’s not what it was like.  My mother was the first female to study law at Cork University.  She experienced severe prejudice from male lecturers, who assumed she chose the subject to be the only female amongst men so that she could flirt with them.Despite being awarded a first class degree, she never got to work as a lawyer.  In those days the economic policy to address unemployment was that women gave up work when they got married.  Those women who did not go on to have children simply struggled to contribute and to live full lives. This background set the scene for my upbringing because in my home we never distinguished between male and female roles along traditional lines.  Boys cooked and girls worked on the farm – if that suited our strengths, rather than tasks that were assigned based on our gender. So natural was this to me that it wasn’t until I actually entered the workforce in 1980 that I discovered gender prejudice and I found it both shocking and stupefying.  It simply made no sense to me.

Slowly it dawned on me that although women were a core part of the workforce, they rarely ran companies, sat on boards or shared equally in rewards. Throughout my twenties I watched and learned just how agonisingly slowly systems of power change, irrespective of whether they are effective or satisfying.  I have oscillated between irritation with the system, rage at men and frustration with women themselves, each playing a contributory role in ensuring that change cannot be immediate. However, in the last ten years I think I can see the roots of a sea change.  I hope that when we look back at the noughties we will all be as shocked and stupefied as I was in the 1980s.

Conscious capitalism for gender equality?

And I believe that conscious capitalism is the movement that captures the attitudes and values that will make it possible for women to take their rightful place as equals in the business world.  I believe that gender equality requires three major shifts:  a new economic structure, the buy-in of men and women being more assertive. Conscious capitalism is that system.  I will try to address the other two conditions later in the article.Conscious Capitalism by Mackey, Sisodia and George (2013) identifies some key qualities of the conscious leader.’Conscious leaders abundantly display many of the qualities we most admire in exemplary human beings.  They usually find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.  Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others.  They are very dedicated to their work, which recharges and energises them instead of draining them.  Conscious leaders commonly have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence.  They also have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity and a great capacity for love and care. (Mackey, Sisodia & George 2013, p183). While so many of these qualities are gender neutral, others (love, care, emotional intelligence, sharing passion, servant leadership and helping shape a better future) are attributes frequently associated with women.  They might even be described as nurturing or maternal characteristics.

Because of the roles traditionally played by women – supporting partners, enabling children towards independence and reaching their potential, running households and finances, it could be said that women have been in training for leadership positions for thousands of years. ‘Conscious business’ is a way to describe organisations that operate within a conscious capitalist structure. Conscious businesses positively encourage women to embrace leadership roles outside of the home, but this is only the structure.  For real change to occur we need women to step into the roles and demonstrate our effectiveness in leading.

So what are the issues that women will have to address if they choose to step into leadership roles?  I think they fall into two main categories – things that women need to do for themselves, and things that men need to support us with.  Equality for women is happening slowly, but for change to happen quickly both genders need to collaborate.  The greatest hurdle is to raise general awareness of the challenges and of the amazing opportunity if we address the issues.  We need to take the conversations out from the feminists and futurists to every layperson. The major challenges we face are: women’s preference for collaboration over competition; scepticism about how their accomplishments will be reported by journalists/men; women’s fear of being humiliated by being judged on how they look rather on their accomplishments; young girls low aspirations based on their lack of belief that they will succeed; and ignorance by female graduates of the benefits of working in SMEs rather than in corporate cultures.

Collaboration vs competition

It would be easy to idealise women and to pretend that they completely avoid conflict or competition.  They don’t. But research shows that there are significant gender differences in frequency when entering into ‘winner-takes-all’ types of competition, and yet no significant gender gap in other types of competition.   Women are averse to entering competitive forums that result in a single winner walking away with the prize and the kudos, but women are equally competitive where the agenda results in rewards for the majority (Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. 2007). Conscious leaders believe that the most successful and sustainable results come from including the interests of all stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers etc  rather than simply focusing on shareholders short term returns.  Conscious businesses need leaders who favour collaborative, empowering attitudes rather than ‘shareholders-take-all’ behaviours, and women compete as frequently and as successfully when these conditions exist.

Respect for the long-sightedness of how women compete needs to be applauded, rather than their aversion for winner-takes-all outcomes to be portrayed as a weakness.  After all, we have seen the outcome of pure capitalist attitudes – the majority lose while the minority continue on in a self-serving manner. I ran a workshop this week for “Women in Leadership” that included an hour of dialogue with three significant female leaders.  I was struck by their passion to share success and power, which was reflected in these three responses: “In the Green Party we spent a long time considering how to do leadership so that it was not something that we did to people, but something that we do with them.” Caroline Lucas (First Green MP). “When I got above the glass ceiling I threw the ladder down so that other women could climb it.” Polly Toynbee (Journalist for The Guardian). “I have never knowingly turned down any conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about their career development.” Penny Thompson CBE (CEO of Brighton & Hove Council). These responses were not constructed to gain PR advantage.  They were authentic responses embedded in answers to various questions on “Women In Leadership.” It demonstrates their natural preference for “power with” as opposed to “power over”.

Scepticism about the press

I am currently working with an amazing female MD running a successful international business. The company is a conscious business moving towards employee ownership.   A year ago I invited her to speak about the company’s culture at a business event but she found the idea horrifying.  Besides a fear of public speaking, which is a common fear for both genders, she just didn’t trust the media to get that the success of the company and its culture was down to her team and not to her alone. She was not going to risk her team feeling undervalued. Since then I have introduced her to books and articles on conscious capitalism and very, very gradually she is becoming hopeful that there is a growing appetite for change in how business is done.  We need to get more information about conscious business out to women so that they know there is a system that absolutely relies on the feminisation of business.  I believe that they will take the risks necessary to step out of the shadows if they have faith that something is changing.Caroline Lucas resigned as formal leader of the Green Party after four years because she “had benefited so much from the position and she wanted to pass on that opportunity to someone else in the party”.  She told us that the press could not accept this explanation and so instead they were creating stories about an affair or her mental health.  This is the type of personal assault and misinterpretation that women risk when we openly offer an alternative explanation for our motives than the winner-takes-all model.

Fear of humiliation regarding personal appearances

Women fear the limelight of greatness because they risk being judged on their appearances rather than on their accomplishments.   68% of girls across all groups agree with the statement “ability”. At the workshop that I mentioned earlier, Penny Thompson told us that when a picture of her appeared in the paper after her appointment and announcing her amazing prior achievements she had to tolerate comments on her appearance such as suggesting she “use her huge salary to do something with her hair”. The most atrocious recent example of what women have to endure is captured here by the Financial Times about the first female prime minister of Australia: “Few politicians in a western democracy have endured such personal abuse as Gillard, whose three-year term as prime minister ended in June amid a welter of recrimination about the nature of Australian society and its treatment of women in top jobs”. (Parker, 2013)

But the Welsh-born lawyer did not go down without a fight. Gillard reflected on her role as the country’s first female prime minister: “I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.” With tears in her eyes, she talked about what her term as prime minister might mean for other female leaders: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that”. While this type of attack didn’t stop Penny Thompson or Julia Gillard from embracing leadership roles, not all women are resilient or brave enough to survive it.  Just as it is not every man who is brave enough to be a Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  It takes a huge amount of self belief and faith in the underlying higher values for a person to put themselves consciously in these positions.  What we really need is the support of men, the press and all powerful thinking individuals everywhere to make this kind of ignorant behaviour a thing to be ashamed of.

Young girls’ aspirations

Women lack self belief in their ability to succeed in business.  Girls across every level of affluence are almost 10% less likely to believe they could start their own business than boys of a similar level of wealth.  (Click for link to survey results.) For me, this is the most depressing piece of research available.  When I compare this perception to how I described my beautifully, naive beliefs in my teens it feels tragic.  We need more female role models in all walks of life.  Change of this type has to begin at home. So if you are reading this article, make one little change – point people towards Guardian Women, attend an event to support women in leadership (there are loads of them), vote for female leaders, challenge the status quo in companies.

Corporate careers vs SME offers

Women do better in SMEs, and SMEs do better because of women.  The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2012, to 17.3% in 2013 (Dr Sealy, 2013 – Link). Career breaks, bias and having babies certainly account for some of the shortfall but it cannot account for all of it and gender prejudice must account for at least some of it.  In contrast, recent research also found that 80 percent of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director and that this diversity meant that the companies were less likely to fail than companies with less diversity (Myers, 2013 – Link). The study highlighted the fact that family-orientated goals such as preserving unity, wealth and providing employment for family members may also contribute to their survival.  The team analysed data of over 700,000 medium and large private family and non-family firms with an annual sales turnover of at least £6.5 million, a balance sheet total of at least £3.26 million and at least 50 employees. This information is available to corporate boards but because they are so entrenched in traditional thinking and averse to taking risks they often appoint women as a token gesture and to appeal to corporate social measures rather than in the full understanding that they need to do this for their own survival.  We need this kind of thinking and behaviour to change.

Some hope

I think it is significant that although conscious business culture is only recently emerging as a solution to addressing the pitfalls of capitalism, and that democratic management and empowerment are being touted as the way to run successful businesses, it was an exceptional female political scientist – Mary Parker Follet – who wrote about it almost a century ago.   Her work was largely ignored by business writers, all men, until recently. “Follet was profoundly interested in society and how one could attain personal fulfilment while striving at the same time to create the well-ordered and just society.  The answer, she concluded, lay in democratic governance, an abiding belief that was to inform all her activities and become the goal that inspired her for the rest of her life”.  (?Graham 2003, p: ?)  In ‘Prophet of Management’ (2003), Pauline Graham explores the reasons that she was so ignored by her peers – was it a sign of the times or simply because she was a woman?   Like my mother, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, Penny Thompson and the female MD mentioned earlier,

Mary Parker Follet continued to say what was true for her despite being ignored or misinterpreted by her male peers.  It is remarkable how ahead of her times she was, and it is testimony to her message that approaching 60, and without any experience in the business world, she became a management thinker eagerly sought after by the business communities of both the United States and England.   Those business leaders, mostly men, were also ahead of their time.

Summary

Conscious business is a successful, sustainable way of addressing the failure of pure capitalism.  Conscious leaders require additional qualities that have been traditionally described as feminine.  Companies that have at least one female director significantly reduce the risk of business failure and conscious business culture was originally captured in the writings of a woman over 100 years ago.  So all of this bodes well for women who are ready to aim for leadership roles.  And having a more balanced mix of the genders across business leadership roles would appear to  lead to more sustainable success for everyone. It would seem that the time is ripe for women to share more equally in leading the world towards a better way to do business.  It is now up to women to embrace the moment and aim for greatness, for the good of everyone, rather than fearing the comments of small minded individuals.  It is also up to men to support women in the journey because it has finally become clear and evidenced based that this is the only intelligent choice for us all.

References

About the author

Lasy Lawless is passionate about change and transformation. She likes to combine this with pragmatism, strategy and business focus. Her approach is person-centred – which means, she expects and supports others to take their own, full responsibility.As a trained accountant, Lasy worked for Big Finish – a conglomerate of TV and film post production companies – at a time when that world was being radically changed by digital technology. As Group FD, after 10 years sitting in over a dozen boardrooms devising strategy, she realised that the old ways of doing things were finished. Traditional power structures no longer delivered.That’s, at least in part, why she re-trained as a psychotherapist. Lasy believes that understanding what motivates people, and how to create strong challenging relationships at all levels, is the single most critical success factor for any business. Lasy is one of the founding partners, with Pete Burden and Jamie Pyper of Conscious Business People, a consultancy a business consultancy helping leaders build 21st century business cultures. She can be contacted  via  http://www.linkedin.com/in/lasylawless.

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Conscious Business Discussion Paul Levy & Jamie Pyper

A brief chat about conscious business…

http://rationalmadness.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/paul-levy-and-jamie-pyper-on-conscious-business-feb-2014-1.mp3

Jamie_200x300paullevy


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Conscious Business Leadership – A Checklist

 FEBRUARY 10, 2014 BY 

roots4

By Jamie Pyper and Paul Levy

“The old leadership models increasingly no longer apply. A new type of conscious leader is emerging whose style is fit for 21st century purpose.” Jamie Pyper

There’s been a lot written on leadership in recent years. We’ve heard of visionary leaders, charismatic leaders, strategic leaders, and even servant-leaders.  Less has been written about conscious leaders. Conscious Leaders lead conscious businesses.

A conscious business is a business that is able to sense internally and externally in real time. It is awake and aware, a bit like a person, not just in its “head” but also in its ability to sense emotions and act on intuitions. A conscious business is led, not only by one or more leaders but also by leadership as an inherent process. Leadership can arise in different people, at different times in a conscious business, even though there may be people designated with the more permanent role or title of “leader”. In a conscious business, leadership never becomes stuck in habits. It is flexible and emergent. Leadership is a conscious activity inasmuch as it forms itself appropriately around organisational needs.

The leader in a conscious business will tend to exhibit some identifiable behaviours that reflect the notion of being “conscious”. Here we present some of the major elements of conscious leadership that we have identified so far in working with conscious businesses largely in an European context.


Nine Characteristics of a Conscious Business Leaders

Conscious Business Leaders…

  1. …are reflective, and invest in lifetime learning

  2. …act as enablers not dictators

  3. … distribute power where it is needed

  4. … share credit

  5. … share knowledge

  6. … are collaborative

  7. … are future focused

  8. … invest in relationships with all stakeholders

  9. … are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego


A Deeper Dive…

Conscious Business Leaders are reflective, and invested in lifetime learning

Too many businesses are almost compulsively in ‘action mode’ for too much of the time. Too many leaders tend to equate “busyness” with productive business. Yet silence is vital in so many areas of performance. The silence of a pause in a play, and the silence of resting after a long day. Silence and pausing are the essential spaces between activity. They are opportunities to pause to reflect. When we reflect on our experience we can turn that reflection in learning; we can develop wisdom from experience. That wisdom can be put to good use, but only if we take time to reflect. Reflection is an essential part of the ‘cycle of learning’. Reflection helps us to harvest wisdom from experience.

A conscious leader experiences reflection as being as essential as being active. Reflection is the means of making action more productive and effective, via the process of learning that arises: Learning from mistakes, learning from success, identifying knowledge and skills gaps, developing new insights for innovation.

Reflection is a life time process, necessary as long as we are in action. A conscious leader practices reflection and ongoing learning and embeds this as a critically importantbehaviour in the rest of the organisation.

Conscious Business Leaders act as enablers not dictators

In a conscious business it is a sign of strong leadership that the leader enables work to get done. This isn’t about ordering people but, instead, encouraging “order” around the realisation of work in action. The leader directs, not the work, but the narrative, holding the role of providing overview when needed, guidance and direction when situations rise into such complexity that a “helicopter view” is needed. The leader inspires others (literally “breathing in”) by acting on behalf of the organisation and sensing externally and internally needs to be done , then becoming the assertive and motivating mouthpiece for it The leader articulates direction through dialogue. The leader holds authority as a role not a rule. Authority is given by the organisation. Leadership is always a response to the organisational and community need. That response will often be proactive, anticipatory. Sometimes it will be reactive, arising from a direct response to urgent, real time signals.

Conscious business leaders, when needed, articulate the conscience of the organisation, encourage its conscientiousness, and raise the quality of its consciousness. A conscious leader waves the flag for the need for the business to act consciously and consistently.

Conscious Business Leaders distribute power where it’s needed

Conscious business leaders are never power-mongers. Power in organisations to the more or less bounded permission and resources to get things done. When power is linked to formal consequences and threat, people are “forced” to comply. When power is born of dialogue and freely given mandate, it becomes “empowerment”. A conscious business leader, with an often unique helicopter view, senses the power needs of the organisation ensuring resources, and mandate to act is located where and when it is needed, with whom and for how long. The culture of the business is one of respecting power to act; power is temporary and moves in different places. In a company making computer games, project leaders may become very powerful at different times. Power is given to enable work to get done, not to boost egos or allow power games. A conscious business leader removes power when it is misused.

A conscious business needs leaders who understand power as resources mandate to act in the best interests of the organisation. It is a skill and draws on negotiation, diplomacy, assertiveness and dialogue. It requires humility and sensitivity, an ability to be flexible and to hold a clear overview. Literally, with this kind of power role, comes great responsibility (Response-ability!).

Conscious Business Leaders share credit

Egoism can be what gets a dream realised. It can also atrophy and become a barrier to consciousness. Conscious Businesses do not set their employees up against each other. Motivation tends towards being intrinsic. Self-motivation is linked overtly, not to bonuses and “prizes” but to organisational need. Employees are committed citizens, freely committing to the organisation’s evolving purposes, exiting when that commitment wanes. Self-esteem arises from personal and collective victories and successes. Naming and celebrating success energises and this is recognised fairly and consistently by conscious business leaders. Conscious business leaders are “tuned into” the local challenges of individuals and teams, as well as the overall business goals. When success is realised, celebration is specific and aimed at authentic recognition and motivation. Conscious leaders do not take the credit for the hard locally based work. Credit is also shared openly so that local learning from success can take place fully and usefully.

Conscious Business Leaders share knowledge

Knowledge is a vital part of internal and external “sensing” in a conscious business. Conscious business leaders ensure that knowledge is located where and when it is needed, in the right form and with as much clarity, accessibility and accuracy as possible. Knowledge is never couched in bullshit and unnecessary acronyms. Knowledge is never “tossed over the wall” nor is there information obfuscation or overload. Knowledge sharing is focused on learning, proactivity, needed reaction and innovation. Often a conscious business leader ensures that the right “inquiry” is taking place – targeting research and the asking of questions to elicit further knowledge. Conscious business leaders foster a climate of openness to enable knowledge sharing. Staff are trained to knowledge share effectively, and the conscious business leader leads by example.

Conscious Business Leaders are collaborative

A conscious business does not respect departmental or functional boundaries that inhibit openness, learning and flexibility. Roles and job descriptions are designed to capture the needs of the moment, and are never fixed forever. A collaborative culture pervades, through skilled overlap between systems, shared access to knowledge as needed. Collaboration involves developing trusting group behaviours, internally and externally. Trust is a core value and forms part of the leadership’s strategic agenda. Conscious Business Leaders do not lock themselves away on office, are accessible and treat others as colleagues, bot subordinates, trusting that their “strategic leadership role” will be honoured and respected. When don’t mind being told what to do because they trust the role of the leader and “suspend disbelief” in favour of longer term trust. Equally, there is no collusion of niceness, and feedback is welcomed in ALL directions.

The business uses collaborative platforms (including digital platforms) that foster collaboration, seeking synergy where collaboration creates a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Conscious Business Leaders are future focused

Through a culture of continuous learning, the conscious business leader harvests learning from the past, clearly senses emerging business needs in the present, and then ensures a realistic and inspiring vision is created, shared, agreed, and regularly reviewed. This vision is based on a pathway into the future that the organisation is awake to and committed to. Consensus has been reach where, even if there is disagreement, all have authentically committed to the plan of action.

The future begins to reveal itself and the conscious leader articulates this, adapting to it, and ensuring the vision is never unhinged from emerging “reality”. This is always openly shared and also open to correction from real time feedback from internal and external “viewpoints”

The future is never framed in unrealistic dreams and, though the leader may offer a “vision” for the organisation, sometimes this vision will be offered by other people inside or outside the organisation. Not all conscious business leaders are personally “visionary”; some will articulate and realise the vision created by other connected to the enterprise. In all cases, the vision is drawn from a clear picture of the “future”.

Conscious Business Leaders invest in relationships with all stakeholders

A conscious business is only “conscious” in terms of the relationships that help it to sense effectively internally and externally. Conscious Business Leaders are an overview “hub” for that dialogue, ensuring that relationship nurture the quality of its consciousness as an organisation. A conscious business leader ensures that all of its stakeholders are able to give useful and often vital input into the organisation’s strategy and activities. Suppliers feel safe to be open and honest, and share in the schedules of the business, able to plan and innovative in harmonious ways. Customer feedback becomes part of the lifeblood of innovation.

The conscious business leader invests time and resources into the development of partnerships that enable learning, knowledge sharing, innovation, and the lean and effective use of resources.

Conscious Business Leaders are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego

Being a leader of a conscious business requires that leader to work on themselves – to remain awake and self-aware, in tandem with the organisation they lead. A conscious business leader will regularly “check in” with others, may have a mentor, and will seek out feedback on their own biases.

Conscious business leaders are humble. Their humility ensures that  their own ego doesn’t become a distorting filter for truth.This humility doesn’t mean they are weak or lacking in assertiveness; quite the opposite, conscious business leaders need to be highly responsive, prepared to challenge and to keep challenging, prepared to be formal and directive if needed. But this comes from organisational, not personal need. Conscious business leaders regularly check in with their own behaviour, attitudes and ensure their personal and professional development harmonises with unfolding change in the organisations they lead./


Some other elements of  Conscious Business Leadership

In our own research into, reflections on, and conversations with conscious business leaders, we’ve identified a range of other characteristics and attitudes that conscious business leaders often exhibit.

 Conscious Business Leaders…

  • show a willingness to take mindful risks (they do not habitually flee fro risk-taking, nor do they rashly court danger)

  • are eager listeners

  • demonstrate a passion for the cause (the core values and reason for the organisation’s existence)

  • are optimistic about the future (though this never clouds realism, they focus on the energising nature of consciously derived optimism)

  • find ways of simplifying complex situations for staff (because confusion born of over-complexity inhibits consciousness)

  • prepare for how they are going to handle conflict and difficulty well in advance (they are not fire-fighters)

  • Recognize that there are some people or organisations aren’t easy to partner with (so mavericks and introverts are employed openly and for known and agreed reasons with reasonable adjustments made)

  • Have the courage to act for the long term

  • Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships

  • Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels (recognising uniqueness and the nuances of people)

  • Inject energy, passion and drive into their leadership style (as they hold a unique, strategic “whole picture” and are often first readers of “urgency” and priority)Have the confidence to share the credit generously

  • Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

There are, undoubtedly, many other characteristics of conscious business leaders. Our nine-item check list above offers an attempt at a holistic view of conscious business leadership. We are continually adding to the list and developing it.


Contact Jamie Pyper at Conscious Business UK for a further conversation to develop conscious leadership in your business. See this for courses around Conscious Business.Visit the Conscious Business Realm