I recently had the privilege of hosting Day 1of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2018 Wisdom Mentoring Program. Given carte blanche to develop a full leadership day, my intention was to provoke the attendees to realize how their leadership and hidden powers are critical in light of 3 massive and key shifts changing our world.
The attendees were women holding senior or executive positions in primarily male-dominated industries. Think oil and gas, manufacturing and international consulting firms.
These smart and outspoken leaders patiently indulged me in painting the picture of what’s underpinning the confluence of change happening now and expected to accelerate over the next 2-5 years. The impact will be not only on our work, but also on businesses’ ability to adapt and, how we as a society choose to respond.
I’m talking about Industry 4.0, the inter-generational workplace and #TimesUp.
If you don’t know much or even heard about these 3 key shifts, it’s time to get on board. Industry 4.0 alone will change the world in ways we can’t even imagine. Think big data, artificial intelligence or self-driving cars. It’s the bridging of physical industrial assets and digital technologies in so-called cyber-physical systems. It’s already here; humans just aren’t ready for it.
We’ve been talking about the inter-generational workplace for over ten years. Now we have Generation Zs filling positions. Millennials expect flexibility, diversity and ethical business practices. Generation Z expects the same and more: mainly, a self-actualized workplace culture. The Gen Z employee wants regular feedback, access to all levels of the company and to feel personally valued. This means power not situated top/down; rather, power that flows down, up and across.
#TimesUp is the third significant phenomenon. For centuries women have been relegated to subservient positions. It’s taken women of the Hollywood machine to break the silence of behavior both men and women have always known exists. #TimesUp is the recognition that women will not tolerate inequality and harassment in any industry. This will have huge impacts on ways we communicate and who sits in the C-Suite offices.
With these key shifts on the table, I proposed it’s time for women leaders, to bring out their “hidden powers”.
I’m talking about the characteristics we have in spades but don’t necessarily bring to our work. The women attendees dug in and came up with lists of values, behaviors and ways of being they don’t show up with at work.
I was met with complaints of, “my male colleagues speak over me in meetings”, “I’m called aggressive if I stand up for myself”, “it’s so hard being the only female at the board table”.
I don’t doubt the challenges these women face. What I’m suggesting is to change how we, as women, show up. We may work in male defined structures, but if we consider the 3 key shifts in front of us, we have compelling reasons to change the book on leadership.
We’re moving into a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Businesses will embrace agility, speed of change will be the norm and innovation and failure will be paramount. Employees will need to feel they matter and their work has meaning.
Four themes emerged through the hidden powers discussion:
Now, I’m not suggesting men don’t have these same qualities – they do!
In a recent HBR article, authors Tinsley and Ely pinpoint that it’s actually organizational structures, company practices, and patterns of interaction that position men and women differently; this creates systematically different experiences for them.
We’ve created narratives over the years that reinforce gender stereotypes; the real explanation for any sex differences that exist in the workplace is context.
With 3 massive shifts in our midst, it’s time to let go of ancient directive management behaviors and bureaucratic structures where few hold the power. It’s critical to replace them with values and behaviors that support, not disenfranchise, people.
Since the 1990’s Daniel Goleman and others have been proselytizing Emotional Intelligence. That we need leaders with self-awareness, empathy and self-regulation has taken hold, and yet, it’s not enough.
For women in leadership positions, stepping up and promoting their hidden powers will generate learning for both genders. This can influence a shift in context, thinking and behavior from gender bias and stereotyping to one of inclusion and equality.
As we embark on the agile corporate landscape, we’ll need an antidote to the lightening speed, innovate/fail/adapt/change processes of cross-functional teams. We’ll need teams supported by senior leaders who are not only empathetic, but vulnerable, support failures and successes, understand and support inclusivity and create climates of resilience.
We may be heading into a future of artificial intelligence and robots, but as the women of the Wisdom Mentoring Program discovered, it’ll take very human actions and qualities to support people into this new era.