Leading During a Crisis: Explosion in Beirut, The Aline Kamakain Story

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Maureen Metcalf, ILI’s CEO and Founder is a Fellow with the International Leadership Association (ILA). In this role, ILA recommends 12-16 interviews for her radio show focusing on innovating leadership. The show focuses on balancing academic excellence in leadership with personal stories of high impact leaders and thought leaders and authors talking about their latest books and frameworks.

The following blog accompanies an interview with Aline Kamakian. This interview, specifically Aline’s Story, was very moving and inspiring. We encourage you to learn more about Aline by listening to her interview titled Thriving During Crisis: A Successful Middle Eastern Businesswoman that aired Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020. If you feel moved to donate during the holidays to a person and organization in Lebanon impacted by the recent explosions, please consider supporting Aline and her efforts to re-open Mayrig to provide jobs for 85 staff.

This is Aline Kamakian’s Story.

As someone who has a master’s degree in business, I recognize that we can learn things in school, from books and lectures, but there are things that only life teaches us.  Being a Lebanese of Armenian origin, I grew up with my grandparents embedded in the stories about my ancestors. Their stories about the resilience and ability to adapt and the respect and gratefulness to the country that accepted them conveyed the values I learned.

On 4 Aug 2020, Beirut was hit by a huge blast.

According to BBC reporting, “The blast that devastated large parts of Beirut in August was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, experts say. The Sheffield University, UK, the team says a best estimate for the yield is 500 tons of TNT equivalent, with a reasonable upper limit of 1.1 kilotons. This puts it at around one-twentieth of the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945… The explosion was the result of the accidental detonation of approximately 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. The blast led to some 190 deaths, as well as more than 6,000 injuries.

My restaurant, our offices, my house and my car were all blown to pieces in just a second. The terrace outside of our meeting room looked out over the port just 300 meters further. We were having a management meeting. I don’t know how I survived, standing on the terrace, looking at the fire and fireworks in the port. The next thing I remember was standing over my financial controller and giving him CPR. I don’t know how I knew what to do, reflexes from when I was a girl scout? The blast had injured 25 employees, of which five were left with a permanent handicap. It destroyed most of the restaurant furniture and equipment. The building was still standing, but windows, doors, winter gardens were all shattered.

First, I needed to make sure all my employees were safe and had a roof over their heads. I had never felt a victim, but there was no way I could get back on my feet without external help. So, I decided to open a fundraising page to help us. One week after the blast, we started cooking over 1,000 meals per day in our central kitchen to be distributed among those who lost their homes. We prioritized, first comes the team, holding on to our values, generating income, moving on, and moving fast.

On the 4th of September, just one month after the blast, the restaurant opened its garden and kitchen again. While we were still working hard to repair and rebuild the inside of the restaurant. The first evening that the restaurant was again partly operational, the whole team had dinner on the Mayrig terrace.

Here is the reporting about the restaurant:

 

When 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate tore through Beirut, only a highway separated the city’s port where the explosives were stored from 282 Pasteur Street. This is where Mayrig, the famed Armenian restaurant known as much for its delectable sour cherry kebab as preserving Armenian culture in one of the diaspora’s strongholds, has stood since 2003.

Located in Beirut’s lively Gemmayzeh neighborhood in a building from when Lebanon was under Ottoman rule, the restaurant was destroyed.

It joined the rest of the city that stood in ruins, where over 170 people have died, thousands more injured, and an estimated 300,000 left homeless. The decimation the blast caused came on top of a Beirut that was already in political and economic crisis. The Lebanese pound was tumbling to shocking lows that have caused widespread poverty. Electricity and food shortages are the norms.

But the destruction of Mayrig stung beyond a crumbling building: around 85 families, whose livelihoods depended on the restaurant, were suddenly left jobless and homeless. Not a single staff member escaped unscathed, and some are still in critical condition.

And then there’s the other, more existential loss: the idea that an institution fighting to preserve and progress Armenian culinary heritage, which has always teetered on the brink of either being forgotten, denied, or erased, could disappear forever.

“Mayrig” means “mother” in Armenian. For the last 17 years, this woman-owned culinary institution has brought centuries-old recipes from inside the homes of the Armenian community in Lebanon to a restaurant enjoyed by both local and international patrons and built on those traditions to create new dishes. Staffed by the same Armenian mothers who have always led the preservation and passing down of food culture to future generations through their labor and knowledge, “Mayrig” was founded by Aline Kamakian.

Being at “Mayrig,” she said, is being alive.

Her grandparents, Armenian Genocide survivors, found refuge in Lebanon, becoming part of the Lebanese-Armenian diaspora, which now numbers over 150,000 and has contributed significantly to the social, political, and cultural life of the city while keeping Western Armenian heritage alive. Bourj Hammoud, one of the first places refugees settled, became the historic center of the Lebanese-Armenian community. The area was heavily impacted by the explosion.

Aline’s early Story

I was five years old when the war broke out in Lebanon. I have seen my father as an entrepreneur struggling to raise his family and keep us safe during the war. This taught us to be creative and find means under pressure and create solutions to the absence of necessary provisions such as electricity and water and fundamental civil human rights. For example, to open my restaurant in 2003, I had to build my water reservoirs, bring a generator to produce electricity, ensure the team’s transportation and basic needs, and find other locations during the war.

Preparation for Management During Crisis

In the war in 2006, we took three days to find a safe spot up in a mountain resort. This move made it possible to guarantee the continuity of the restaurant and the employees’ income. We had to build our reserve in fuel; bring walkie-talkies because there was no phone; secure a safe location for employees to sleep, and secure kitchen equipment from the kitchens of friends and family. We created a restaurant in 1-weeks’ time. The most important tools were: sharing information, make the team part of the decision making, delegate responsibilities. In these circumstances, it is about operating a restaurant and the security of the team. Almost half of them were living in dangerous areas. The team managed to work and did so without days off, without hours to rest to cover for the others. We agreed that we would see how to cover extra hours or vacation after we passed this crisis. We learned to adapt to respond to this disruption quickly. It turned out to be a right decision because it generated enough income to secure the salaries, and it offered the chance for the employees to continue working.

Every two years, we have a minor to big crisis that asks for our adaptation. In 2019 the revolution started after three years of financial difficulties and corruption scandals. The challenges were different and led to significant hardship.

  • The internal security was terrible; roads were blocked, breaking and burning buildings and public property.
  • The banking sector turned into an unpredictable mess. Lebanon was known for its strong banking sector and was the saving place for all the Lebanese diaspora. And suddenly, the banks stopped giving out money. There was a limitation on cash withdrawals and transfers. The impact was dramatic since Lebanon is mainly an importing country. Its own industries ae very limited and the country has very little raw materials.
  • Inflation towered: Lebanon rates now 3rd worldwide after Venezuela with an inflation rate of 365%. The challenge is that it is not just inflation but also inflation that the government doesn’t recognize. There is an official rate, a rate from the banks, and a black-market rate.
  • Covid-19 led to lockdowns in many countries; in Lebanon rules were not applied evenly over the whole territory as some political parties allowed their followers to disregard the rules. COVID spread fast in autumn, and governmental regulations are often contradictory from one week to the next, unequally applied and harmed first of all the whole Food and Beverage sector.
  • With a government that is corrupt, and incapable comes the explosion of 4 August. The government resigned, but since it hadn’t formed a new government yet, the old government continued in the same corrupt, incapable way.

How to lead in such a context?

University lectures didn’t teach us to navigate this type of crisis. I didn’t learn a to-do list.

In the restaurant business, never compromise on the quality. The challenges were to keep the quality. We couldn’t look at saving money during this catastrophic crisis. We were committed to living our values during the crisis.

  • We needed to keep the employees safe and secure cash. I created a pop-up project in Saudi Arabia and took part of my staff there for three months.
  • We were committed to maintaining food quality. The aim is to find the best product at the best price, not the cheapest product. We needed to keep the team quality-oriented, encourage sharing resources, information, and pay attention to finding the best ingredients.
  • I communicated very openly, explained the companies’ situation, and explained the difficulties of living in Saudi Arabia. We went as one team and worked together to maintain the team as in Lebanon, there was no income.

My goal was to jump on opportunities that would allow me to take care of my family and my team! I didn’t have all the info, but the circumstances required me to keep going. I knew I needed to be transparent, genuine, honest, and always make values-based decisions. In this case, I was focused on my team’s safety, health, and economic well-being.

Again I did the same thing: first comes the team, holding on to your values, generating income, moving on and moving fast.

 

Aline Kamakian acted in the best interest of her team during the most challenging experience of her life. She truly exemplifies someone who is living her values! She supports the families of the employees who are unable to work and who continue to require significant medical treatment. During our call, she deeply inspired me as a leader and person who acted as her best self during this crisis. We often look to movies for superheroes. I believe Aline is a real-life superhero. Her actions inspire and invite all of us to act with courage, integrity, and selflessness. To support her campaign, please consider donating to the Mayrig Family Go Fund Me campaign.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Aline Kamakain began her career as an insurance broker at the age of 18 to put herself through college. She graduated with a double major in Masters in Finance and Marketing, Aline’s skills as an insurance broker allowed her to build one of Lebanon’s top 9 Brokerage Firms. All through her successes, Aline never forgot her love for food but most importantly she never forgot her Armenian roots. In June 2003, she opened “Mayrig” an avant guardiste traditional Armenian restaurant to introduce to all those who appreciate homely, healthy and tasty food, the forgotten flavors of Ancient Armenia. Aline was also voted Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in the Brilliant Lebanese Awards. She is a board member of the Lebanese Franchise Association as well as a board member of the Lebanese League of Woman in Business and a successful candidate of the 2014 Vital Voices Fellowship Program.

Photo by rashid khreiss on Unsplash

 

Navigating Change

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This blog is provided by United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading Through Change: A Military Perspective that aired on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020.

 

Here are my observations and takeaways from my experience navigating change in a wide variety of global logistics organizations supporting the US Military and our allies. Much of my experience has been leading change which ranged from crisis response establishing and maintaining a logistics hub to support the Haiti citizens from their devastating earthquake to contingency operations mobilizing Naval Reservists in support of expeditionary logistics missions in Iraq and Kuwait to operating system upgrade implementing a SAP system which replaced a legacy system.   These experiences shaped my approach to leading change in a dynamic environment and provide the foundation for the following article.

How a leader handles change will determine the team’s future.  A leader’s attitude toward change will be a key to success. I learned early on that I could spend energy resisting change, or I could embrace the change to keep moving forward.   A leader must look at change in a positive and realistic light. The leader needs to be the steady rudder to keep everyone on course.  This will require the leader to keep their “resiliency tank” full at all times to stay tough during the challenges ahead.  Figure out how to keep your “resiliency tank” full, whether it is meditating, exercising, or playing chess.  Your strength will be needed so a resiliency routine will have to be a priority.  Encourage your team members to establish a resiliency routine too.

The leader’s job is to clearly articulate the WHY …and repeat the message …over and over.  This gives time for the team to catch up.  In most cases, the leader has had time to absorb the new information before the idea is introduced to the entire team. When the change is introduced to the team, the team needs time to grasp and embrace the new idea. The leader is going 100 miles an hour down the highway with the new idea and team is just getting to the highway on ramp.  As the leader, you may need to slowdown so your team can speed up.  I did not say stop. Once the team absorbs the idea, understands the mission, and is empowered to execute, it will accelerate and exceed expectations. One key point is knowing that not everyone engages the change in the same manner.  Some individuals struggle with the new idea and may feel threaten by what they see taking place.  The employee’s role may change.  He or she may go from expert to novice in the new arrangement.  Resulting in an unsettling emotional reaction.  And will usually get better over time for most individuals. This is something to be aware of during the process. A leader needs to watch out for those struggling and engage through listening and understanding the challenges the workforce is undergoing.  Sometimes an empathetic ear from the leader can be the tonic to pull the team member through the rough waters of change.  Also, some individuals just take longer to adjust to the new environment, but others soar to the future state.

I have also noticed that the technique that makes teams more successful in new unknown areas is to create an open dialogue about the challenges and work through them collaboratively with the stakeholders. Easily said, not always so easy to do but rewarding in the end.  Continual communication about the compelling need for the change is a must do and must be repeated often.

Some best practices when dealing with change:

  • Set trust as the foundation for all relationships.
  • Identify the key stakeholders and communicate the compelling reason for the change …the WHY.
  • Uncover the blind spots as quick as possible through listening and learning.
  • Create collaborative teams to develop solutions for the blind spots identified.
  • Build coalitions that do not exist and shore up ones that need to be reinforced.
  • Stay strong throughout by listening and understanding the barriers or challenges anchoring others.
  • Be agile. Do not get defensive when new information is received, and adjustments must be made.
  • Establish a routine and regular check-in, set goals, and follow up on progress using accountability metrics.

Have a bias for action…keep moving forward.

The takeaway here is that during a significant period of change is when the leader really earns his or her money.  They need to be authentically enthusiastic and fully engaged to ensure the team members are making the transition.  This can be exhausting work but extremely rewarding.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

United States Navy Rear Admiral Deborah Haven, Retired, has been a successful leader in a wide variety of global logistics organizations, both civilian and military for over 30 years.  She is particularly skilled at introducing change in large organizations.  She has a keen ability to understand the landscape, identify barriers and develop an actionable plan to improve organizational effectiveness.  Deborah is a graduate of the Naval War College, holds an MBA from the LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and a BS from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an executive coach, independent consultant, and a member of the board of directors for the Flag and General Officer Network.

Inclusive Leadership During a Crisis: How to Lead Equitably and Compassionately

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This blog is provided by Taryn Oesch DeLong, managing editor of digital content for Training Industry.  It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Research Findings on Women’s Access to Leadership Development that aired on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020.

 

“The coronavirus pandemic has cast an irrefutable spotlight on social and workplace inequity — and places an urgent demand on employers to lead responsibly and with compassion.”

This statement from a report by Time’s Up, the organization created by 300 women in the entertainment industry in response to the #MeToo movement, reflects a current concern of many leaders, especially those managing remote teams or creating leadership training programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interest in TrainingIndustry.com articles on topics related to leadership, supporting employees, managing in a crisis, and diversity and inclusion has increased in recent months — which is good. It means leaders, and learning and development (L&D) leaders in particular, are looking for ways to lead compassionately and equitably during a year that sometimes feels like a never-ending crisis.

In a recent article for TrainingIndustry.com, “Leading During a Crisis: Retooling Leadership,” Maureen Metcalf wrote that effective leaders, particularly during a crisis, have an “unwavering commitment to right action.” They identify the right course for the organization and its people, and they alter that course when needed. One right action, the importance of which has been highlighted by recent events, is inclusive leadership.

What Is Inclusive Leadership?

According to Training Industry’s glossary, “Inclusive leadership is present in organizations and leaders that make a concerted effort to promote and support diversity and equity in their teams and companies. Inclusive leaders create environments of transparency and psychological safety to encourage idea sharing and innovation by embracing perspectives from diverse backgrounds.”

In other words, leading inclusively means going beyond values statements and diversity pledges. It means ensuring equitable opportunities for all employees. It means creating an environment where people are valued for their intrinsic worth as human beings rather than on surface achievements or attributes. And, it means honoring each person’s unique gifts and contributions.

Why Is Inclusive Leadership So Important in a Crisis?

As months of COVID-19 have gone by, we’ve seen that the impacts of coronavirus have not been distributed equitably. People who already lived with inequities, such as people with disabilities and chronic health conditions and people of color, have been disproportionately affected both by the illness and by the economic fallout. And the challenges of working from home, often while managing a household with children and/or elderly family members, have placed an added burden on women, who already faced an often uphill climb to career success.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first crisis to have a harsher impact on disadvantaged groups of people, and it will not be the last. Fortunately, the more we develop leaders who know what it means to lead inclusively, the better equipped we will be to handle such crises in the future.

How Do Inclusive Leaders Support Their Employees?

Inclusive leaders not only strive to have teams that include diverse perspectives, but they also work deliberately to ensure that those diverse perspectives are honored and the people who share them feel that their gifts are valued and cultivated.

For example, Training Industry research has found that women who believe their managers support their career development are more likely also to have equitable access to leadership development when compared with men. This finding sounds obvious but is critical for organizations to understand, especially if they are to succeed during a crisis.

A manager’s job is not just to assign work and make sure it’s completed. In our current job market, workers are looking for jobs that go beyond putting food on the table and also provide them with development opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers. LinkedIn Learning’s 2018 “Workplace Learning Report” found that 94% of employees would stay at their employer longer if it invested in their career, and the most common reason “employees feel held back from learning is because they don’t have the time” — in other words, their managers are not giving them support, in terms of time, to grow.

During the pandemic, employees who started working from home due to health and safety concerns found themselves with blurred lines between work and life, and many had to juggle their parenting or other caregiving responsibilities with their work responsibilities. With such demands on an employee’s time or energy, learning can all too easily fall by the wayside. During this crisis, inclusive leaders have sought with compassion to understand their team members’ needs and identify ways to support them. While it may have meant that their employees put less time in on the clock, it almost certainly meant that the work they did do was of a higher quality, because they were able to focus more of their energy on it.

How Can Organizations Develop Inclusive Leaders?

Including information on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in leadership training programs is important to developing inclusive leaders. DEI training is notoriously difficult to implement well, but in general, if a program goes beyond lip service, includes practical and relevant information, and is led by a credible instructor, it can be effective in cultivating inclusive leaders.

It’s also important to teach leaders how to coach and, especially, how to coach employees from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. Coaching is an effective tool for behavior change and personal development. It also, according to Training Industry research, can bridge the gender gap in leadership development access. Female survey respondents who had received formal coaching reported almost equal levels of access to leadership development when compared to male respondents. Inclusive leadership training, then, helps managers learn how to provide personalized coaching that meets the unique needs and preferences of their female employees.

Finally, as Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, author of “INCLUSIFY: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams,” wrote in a TrainingIndustry.com article, “If we are to train leaders to be inclusive, we need to know what makes people feel included.” Her research identified uniqueness and belongingness as keys to an inclusive culture. In a work-from-home pandemic workforce, the ability of leaders to understand team members’ unique needs and make sure they feel like they belong is more challenging — and more rewarding — than ever.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Taryn Oesch DeLong is managing editor of digital content at Training Industry, where her work has received an APEX Award of Excellence and a Regional Bronze Azbee Award. She is also the co-host of “The Business of Learning,” the award-winning Training Industry podcast, and contributed to the 2020 book “Global Perspectives on Women’s Leadership and Gender (In)Equality” (Palgrave Macmillan). Taryn is the board secretary at The Power of the Dream, a nonprofit creating jobs for adults with autism and IDD in the Raleigh, N.C., area and a coach for Miracle League of the Triangle. She serves her faith community as managing editor of Catholic Women in Business and assistant editor and contributing writer for FemCatholic.

The WE Empower United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Challenge

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This blog is a follow-up of the interview WE Empower UN Sustainable Development Goals Challenge Winners with Amanda Ellis, Hadeel Anabtawi and Habiba Ali that aired on October 8, 2019.

Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future was honored to interview Amanda Ellis, a co-chair of the WE Empower United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge. Amanda shared the vision of the challenge, which is to recognize women business owners throughout the world who are contributing to their communities by running successful businesses and advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. With her were Hadeel Anabtawi and Habiba Ali, who were 2018 Challenge Winners. Their stories of challenges and triumphs are shared in the episode that aired October 8, 2019.

 

What is the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge?

It is a global business challenge for women entrepreneurs based on the United Nations 17 SDGs meant to recognize and honor those women who are inspiring those around them to promote positive change in the world.

The history of the sustainable goals and the list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be found here. Goal 5 of these is Gender Equality and empowerment of women and girls and is the focus of this challenge.

 

What are the objectives of the Challenge?

There are three objectives of this challenge, to seek women leaders through the world and to:

  1. honor their achievements
  2. invest in their ability to create positive change
  3. ignite and excite others

 

How many finalists and awardees are there?

The challenge has 5 regions:

  1. Africa
  2. Asia-Pacific
  3. Eastern Europe
  4. Latin America and the Caribbean
  5. Western Europe & Other

Every year, in each of these regions 5 finalists are selected for a total of 25 finalists. From there, one awardee is selected from the 5 finalists in each region.

 

What’s new?

Since the recording of the show, the 2019 Challenge Winners have been announced and we wanted to briefly share about the next class of women changing our world.

 

2019 Challenge Winners by region:

 

Africa:

From the region of Africa, the awardee was Christelle Kwizera from Rwanda. Kwizera founded Water Access Rwanda, a company that works to provide safe water access to rural and semi-urban communities.

 

Asia-Pacific:

The awardee in the Asia-Pacific region was Lina Khalifeh from the country of Jordan. Khalifeh founded SheFighter, a self-defense studio for Middle Eastern women. SheFighter has grown globally to provide training and seminars on self-defense for women.

 

Eastern Europe:

In the Eastern Europe region, innovation is key to the awardee, Zoya Lytvyn from Ukraine. Lytvyn co-founded a K12 school that implements innovative education ideas, including a free online teaching program and trainings to make a quality education accessible to all in Ukraine.

 

Latin America and the Caribbean:

In Guatemala, Karla Ruiz Cofiño founded a Digital Awareness program, which is used for conferences and workshops to provide people with digital skills and knowledge and how to use it for positive influence.

 

Western Europe and Other:

Co-founding the organization 412 Food Rescue in the United States, Leah Lizarondo was recognized as the Western Europe and Other awardee. Her organization seeks to bridge the gap between possible food waste and those in need of food. Food Rescue Hero, a mobile food app, helps direct volunteers to transport extra food to nonprofits in need.

 

These women exemplify leaders who are seeking to be an innovative leader and change the world! Congratulations to all the finalists and the awardees!

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Susan Harper is the Business Manager at Innovative Leadership Institute and sometimes a travel blogger.

Challenging Times Can Build Leadership Skills

This blog is provided by Aleksandra Scepanovic, Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group, as a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future. This interview Difficult Times Can Build Leadership Skills aired on 10/22/19.

Prior to getting my start in real estate, I began my career as a reporter, editor and media analyst in my home country of (then-)Yugoslavia, reporting on the front lines of the Bosnian War. At the time, I never would have predicted that I would end up co-founding a real estate firm in New York City, but each step along my journey has been equally important in leading me to where I am today.

In the early 2000’s, while still working in Bosnia, I was longing for a change in the post-war theater around me and I ultimately decided to move to New York. I arrived with a need to recharge and start afresh. Years of witnessing turmoil on the front lines was draining, and being in a new environment provided me with the inspiration to channel my life-long fascination with design. I enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Interior Design program. It was a revitalizing change, and the first step into my new journey.

My first few years in New York were exciting, and allowed me to fall in love with the city and its architectural beauty, and from there I began my career in the highly stimulating world of real estate. At the time, I was working at a boutique brokerage firm in Manhattan with my partner, Erik Serras. We found ourselves spending more time in our home borough of Brooklyn, a borough which we felt was widely and undeservedly so underserved by the city’s real estate brokerages. We recognized the potential, and decided to branch out on our own to form Ideal Properties Group.

Just a short time later, the U.S. economy began to take a turn. We had just began an exciting adventure as new business owners, and we knew we were not going to let anything stand in our way. As a leader, above all, it is important to stay optimistic. In my case, it helps that I actually am an irreparable optimist, and this certainly helped see us through this time.

We stuck to our intuitions, and followed our instincts to guide and form our best decisions, because now not only were our jobs on the line – we had a growing staff whose livelihood depended on us. In times of crisis, it is important to strive to not only individually as a leader but collectively, with your team, re-assess your objectives and your priorities, and determine a plan of action to get back on track.

Before we began this journey, I wish I truly knew how difficult it would be to be my own boss. I admit to being a strong-willed individual, but before starting my own business, I did not have the experience I have now when it comes to analyzing or critiquing my own ideas. I did not know how hard it would be to try to question your own thoughts, and to be willing to go back to the drawing board if something were to not go right. Over the years, there have been many times where we have gone back to the drawing board. This in and of itself is the nature of being a business owner and being a leader. Learning to adapt, and understanding that not every idea is going to be a homerun right away is an incredible and empowering realization, one I wish I had known in the beginning of this journey, but also one that – in retrospect I realize – comes with time.

One of the most immediate lessons was how many hats you’d need to quickly learn how to wear. As an entrepreneur, you learn to find comfort zones amid minefields, in the spots where you previously perhaps only had doubts. When starting our business, we were confident in our ability to navigate the ever-changing New York City real estate market, but there were plenty of course-corrections that we needed to chart along the way to sustain our business model. Prior to starting Ideal Properties Group, I wish I knew how large and positive a role failure would play in the building and the growth of my business.

Learning to delegate and trust others with parts of the business that you are not necessarily expert in – was another important step we needed to take as leaders. We take pride in our hiring process, and know that we associate our brand with the most passionate and empathetic candidates, and we find it imperative as a small business to effectively onboard our team members and immerse them in continual training. Trusting our associates to carry the flag of the brand by performing their jobs well and with the best interest of the company at heart… has allowed us to look at things from a bird’s eye view – and make adjustments as needed. Letting go of your ego and empowering your associates to help make the business thrive are essential in ensuring long-term success.

Although there is no secret formula to running a successful business, for us, each failure and setback has become a valuable lesson that helped us navigate a variety of business trends and market landscapes. As a leader, there will never be a time when you feel that you have it all figured out – and if there is, perhaps that is a sign that change is needed. Continuing to make, and then learn from your mistakes is easier said than done, but both are essential truths that – once recognized and adopted – set leaders apart from the pack.

 

To receive the weekly blogs, use this link: subscribe to Innovative Leadership Institute weekly blog.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview to this blog and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the ILI LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Aleksandra is Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group, one of the largest privately-owned, independent real estate firms specializing in premier Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods. Ideal offers pre-development marketing and branding as well as residential, commercial, office and retail services. With offices located in Chelsea, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope and Williamsburg, and a staff of over 250 real estate brokers and salespeople, Ideal is continuing its rapid expansion across NYC. The firm was founded in 2007 by Aleksandra and her partner Erik Serras, who identified a need to build a technologically-innovative infrastructure for sales and rentals in key Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Women And Leadership – Reflections On My Leadership Journey

Introduction

This blog is a guest post by Parminder Vir and is the companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future on Voice America called FOCUS on Women and Leadership. It is based on a panel discussion at the International Leadership Association 4th Annual Women and Leadership Conference in June 2019 focusing on Building Solution, Harmony and the Greater Good.

 

Reflection On My Leadership Journey From A 40-Year Professional Career

In my keynote presentation, I shared my leadership journey and insights from a 40-year professional career dedicated to positively impacting and transforming lives through my work in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. Throughout my multifaceted career, I have put my skills and expertise in the service of the work I care passionately about and the different voices and communities represented in my work.

The response from the audience gathered at the Women and Leadership conference was overwhelming to something I had taken for granted. People always remember how you made them feel and not what you said, and it was a privilege to be given the time to reflect and share my leadership journey learnt on the job with the gathering at the ILA conference.

  • The Early Years

Passion, vision, integrity, deliberate audacity, and enduring optimism are qualities that lie at the heart of my leadership style and achievements. My leadership character and qualities have been learnt through practice from my first job in 1979, at the age of 23—when I was sent to launch the Minority Arts Advisory Service regional office in the Midlands to support ethnic minority artists of Afro Caribbean and Asian descent.

The power of art as a force for political and social change ignited my passion and spurred me to spend the first decade of my professional career from 1979 to 1986, empowering Black and Asian creativity through funding, cultural programming, and policies to mainstream our creativity and our cultural contribution to Britain.

In 1982, as the Head the Race Equality Unit in the Arts and Recreation Department of the Greater London Council, I managed a grant aid program, funding a wide range of ethnic minority artists and organization, many of who are internationally renowned today. I established policy initiatives for the development of minority arts; created training schemes in arts administration for ethnic minorities; and ensured the representation of ethnic minorities on the bodies of the major arts organizations in the UK.

This period marked the start of my 40-year career of self-directed learning and defined my leadership style which is characterized by my willingness to take risks, initiative and self-discipline, embrace responsibility, persistence, learning from failure, intrinsic motivation to learn new skills, time management, and goal setting.

  • Storytelling – Film and Television

In 1986, I took all this learning as I pivoted into a career as film and television producer. The accepted wisdom in early 1980’s Britain was that it’s impossible for someone like me – a working class immigrant – to break into the film and television industry. The spark to make films was lit in 1982, when I organized a Festival of Black American Films in London. Watching these films and listening to the struggles of African American filmmakers to tell their stories fueled my imagination to do just that in the UK.

My desire to make films was born out of a passion for telling compelling untold stories from around the world. From 1986 to 2004, I generated a body of work that challenged the mainstream of film and broadcast media to open itself up to perspectives that emerge from the margins, where cultural innovation so often begins. As a storyteller, I believe there are many truths, just as there are many faiths and many voices. The role of film and media is to respond to these different voices. My work is to present the truth from places that are not recognized.

In addition to making films, I also led the campaign to reflect, represent, employ and develop ethnic talent on and behind the screen in British film and television. This led to the formation of the Cultural Diversity Network, an alliance of UK broadcasters and film industry committed to increasing the range and diversity of talent on and behind the screen.

As the founding Board Director of UK Film Council from 1999 to 2005, I contributed to the development and implementation of its international strategies which embraced the film industries of emerging markets through new co-production treaties with India, South Africa, Morocco, and China. I played a pivotal role in ensuring that equality and diversity commitments were fully integrated into every aspect of the organization’s activities.

Working in the Arts and UK film and television industry for over three decades, I was never interested in positional equity or formal authority. What drove my passion was the need to use my position to bring about institutional and mindset change which in turn would fuel the influx of marginalized talent into the mainstream.

  • Philanthropy & The African Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

In April 2014, I made the move from film to philanthropy when I accepted the invitation from Tony O. Elumelu to join the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropic organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. As the CEO, I brought my unique mix of skills, talent and imagination to design, develop, and launch one of the most ambitious entrepreneurship programs on the continent – the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs from across the continent.

Since 2015, the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme has empowered 4470 African entrepreneurs, across 54 countries to institutionalize luck and democratize opportunity. In 2019, the program scaled to select 3050 African entrepreneurs!

To support them on their entrepreneurial journey, the Foundation has given them the tools, the networks, the mentors, and the funding to transform Africa. Today the Tony Elumelu Foundation is at the forefront of technology innovation and recognized as a thought leader on African Entrepreneurship around the world. Over the five years that I lived in Nigeria and travelled across 50 of the 54 African countries; I met Africa’s exceptional talent, pursuing incredible dreams, re-imagining history, entrepreneurial pursuits, and humanitarian work across the continent.

Under my five-year leadership, the Foundation cemented its role as the principal advocate for African entrepreneurship, empowering thousands on their path to economic and social transformation. In retrospect, I feel Africa was my destiny and everything I had learnt and achieved before in arts and culture, film and television production, film finance and business consulting was leading me to this.

In Conclusion

I believe leadership begins with one’s self, at home. My most precious assets are my two amazing daughters. I have wanted nothing but the best for them; education, opportunities, experiences, challenges, to give them wings so they can fly. As a leader, I want to be judged by the quality and values of my children.

Over my 40-year professional career, I have endeavored to do the same in my working life. My business and personal values are transparent to the organizations and the people I work with, devoid of separation or duplicity.

Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank, role or a title; it is a responsibility. Leadership is about building trust with shared common values and beliefs. Great leaders work for the greater good. They are transformational. They shape and change cultures of the organizations they work with. They take risks, break rules, constantly tread new roads and meet new challenges. They embrace conflict as an asset because they recognize there is no movement without friction. They build trust with teams and give credit to those who made it happen. They sell the vision because they live the vision.

To the aspiring women leaders, I say always stay focused on the “why” and not the “what” of your chosen field. When you lose sight of the why, your passion for what you are doing will be diminished and it is impossible to inspire or to lead. Always remember the why, because it is the light that will be your energy and your guide to achieving the impossible. Leadership is a journey of life, just make sure you are making this journey with integrity.

 About ILA

 For twenty years ILA’s mission has been to advance leadership knowledge and practice for a better world. Through this platform, they organize events and conferences assembling talent across sectors, cultures, disciplines and generations.

For the 4th Women and Leadership conference, over 200 participants including teachers, scholars, researchers, students, consultants and coaches, gathered from over 14 countries and seven US states. A community of like-minded women and some men, young and old, spent three days discussing, debating, and reflecting on ways in which women’s leadership potential can be developed, energized and liberated for the ‘greater good’. It was a platform for sharing depth of knowledge, perspectives, ideas and good practices, building professional and academic connections with common values and a unifying belief that women in leadership positions matter.

About the Author

 Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impact and transform lives through her work in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa’s leading philanthropic organization based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. She designed and launched one of the most ambitious entrepreneurship programs on the continent – the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs from across the continent. Under her five-year leadership, the Foundation has cemented its role as the principal advocate for African entrepreneurship, empowering thousands on their path to economic and social transformation.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out this and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the ILI LinkedIn.

 

Five Lessons in Resilience: Overcoming Life’s Challenges

Goals Innovative LeadershipThis blog is an excerpt from an article published in Integral Leadership Review, Building Authentic Leadership by Innovating How You Lead. It is the companion to a Voice Ameria interview with Kate Terrell, Five Lessons in Resilience, Overcoming Life’s Challenges. Take our free online resilience assessment.

We define resilience as the ability to remain flexible and focused in the face of ongoing change. To be an authentic leader, we need to attend to four key elements: our physical wellbeing, our thinking, our emotional intelligence and sense of purpose, and our connection to people who support us.  We must be honest with ourselves and others about what allows us to be resilient.

The other day Maureen met with a client who, for the first time in his life, is struggling with health challenges. This man works for a large national nonprofit where leaders pride themselves on their stamina, persistence, and always achieving results beyond what others could deliver—which may be part of the root of the problem. At forty-one years old, he had been blessed with great health until back problems forced him to take a leave of absence from work. He was given surgical and non-surgical treatment options to address his back condition. The non-surgical choices involved managing his stress and lifestyle as well as a daily routine of exercise and stretching. While the non-surgical option may sound easier than the surgical option, his underlying dilemma is facing the fact that he cannot live up to his own expectations of himself. He is young and suffering stress-related physical problems that, if he does not get under control, will likely result in chronic pain for years to come.

Now he must rethink who he can authentically be and face the reality of his physical limitations. Although we all will face this at some point in our lives and careers, most of us never really think about it until a dramatic event forces us to reassess the choices we make and how we’re living.

When we read about authentic leadership it seems so simple: be true to yourself. For this client, a primary condition of his authenticity is facing his physical limitations and being authentic with others about what he can and is willing to do to balance his work schedule with his personal health needs.

In coming to terms with his humanness, the client needs to figure out what it even means to be true to himself. Does he retain his stressful job in a field he loves, implementing a mission which he believes is his life’s work? What other avenue does he have to pursue his passion and make an impact on the world?

How you can put resilience to work for you to become more authentic?

Here are seven questions to consider as indicators of your resilience as a leader:

  1. Am I taking the actions I need to take to remain physically healthy over the longer term?
  2. Do I manage my thinking throughout the day, every day (minimize negative self-talk; be gentle and kind in how I think about myself; express gratitude regularly; have reasonable expectations of myself and others, etc.)?
  3. Do I demonstrate strong emotional self-awareness and self-management?
  4. Do I have a sense of life purpose that inspires me daily and helps keep the less important annoyances in perspective?
  5. Do I have a spiritual practice that supports my well-being?
  6. Do I have a support system that supports and encourages me during good times and bad?
  7. Do I use effective communication skills to manage stress?

If you’ve answered no to any of the six questions on the list consider: what changes you can you make in the short term to authentically and honestly commit to and move toward greater resilience?

As a resilient leader, you are more able to respond to the ongoing challenges of your role with clear thinking and presence. This, in turn, allows you to continue to be authentic with yourself and others around you. It also allows you to promote resilience in your workgroup so you can ensure others are also able to perform at their highest capacity.

Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet—thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing—consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.

— Lance Secretan

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills and systems to create a regenerative, inclusive and thriving organization that will have a positive impact on the world.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of Metcalf & Associates is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, coach, and consultant.

 

More Women on Boards: An International Perspective

More women on boardsThis blog is provided by Lynne E. Devnew and Marlene Janzen Le Ber as a companion to their interview for Voice America conducted live at the International Leadership Association Conference. Their interview focuses on:  More Women on Boards, An International Perspective on Taking Action; it aired March 19, 2019.

Let’s begin with an assumption that in an ideal world gender equity, racial equity, religious equity, and cultural diversity would not be issues meriting attention.  The best candidates for positions in governments, leadership in workplaces, starring roles in film, etc. would always be chosen and these best candidates would be perfectly representative of the population.  As we all know, however, we don’t live in an ideal world.  We recently edited a book titled More Women on Boards: An International Perspective. In it, 42 authors, women and men from all over our globe, shared their research and experience related to an area where the world is far from the ideal – gender equity on Boards of Directors.  In 2017, women held only 15 percent of board seats globally.[i] There are many, many reasons for this lack of equity.  In our book, and in the work of other researchers, the challenges of reaching gender equity on boards have been explored and many suggestions for how to come closer to achieving the ideal have been offered.

One major conclusion we’ve reached, and which we believe is evident in all the work that’s been done, is that there are many ways to make some progress, or to move the needle, towards gender equity on boards of directors, but the influence of any one solution will be far from enough to reach the ideal and a “one size fits all” strategy will fail. In this article, we’ve summarized the challenges to achieving gender equity on boards and suggestions to address each of the challenges into four broad categories:  boards themselves, women themselves, culture, and laws. One more challenge relates to the argument whether this idea of gender equity on Boards of Directors is even worth pursuing.

Challenges – Boards Themselves

Boards and their current members provide challenges for increasing gender equity on boards.   First, in countries and companies without term limits for their Directors, the turnover is very limited and there may be very few board openings.  Demonstrating how important this challenge is, women were named to take 137 of the 358 vacant seats on Fortune 500 companies’ independent boards in 2017.  Thus, over 38 percent of the vacant seats went to women, a huge increase over the 28 percent in 2016.  But there were 4,747 seats on the boards of those companies.[ii]  So, even if all new board members were women, progress would remain very slow and totally excluding men as potential new board members would be unacceptable to most everyone.

Another barrier is the oft-stated requirement for board members to demonstrate an understanding of the “big picture”.  This competence is often viewed as best gained by serving as a company CEO.  However, as there are very few women who are hired as CEOs (e.g. 4.8% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women[iii]), few women have a resume indicating they have the CEO experience considered a prerequisite for board membership

Yet another challenge is that, in general, individuals are most comfortable working with others who share their values and their interests, people whom they both like and trust.  Thus boards have most often looked for new members among the people they know.  Sometimes they even seek people who look and act as they do.  They believe they are doing this in the interests of smooth board functioning.

Means for addressing these challenges include: board term limits; increasing the size of boards; recognizing that in today’s fast-changing, high technology, global economy CEOs aren’t the best source for the gaps in skillsets on boards; and adding women who are known and admired rather than merely “a woman” to meet a quota.  Executive recruiting firms are often used to help identify women not already known to board members and who would be a good board “fit”.

In addition to boards posing challenges to adding women members, boards can also limit women board members’ effective participation.  Some boards are run by chairs who listen only to a few most trusted members.  Adding women to a board if they are not going to have a voice on the board is meaningless, and board chairs are key to ensuring the voices of all board members are heard.  In addition, research has demonstrated that adding a “token” woman to a board means little except for an improved statistic.  Women’s voices seem to become an influence when there are at least three women on a single board.

Challenges – Women Themselves

Some evidence indicates that women themselves contribute to the equity issue because there are not enough women who aspire to board membership or who are prepared to serve on boards. As noted above, few women have served as CEOs and given that this is considered essential background experience, woman do not stand up to be included as independent directors.  “Golden skirts” in countries such as Norway highlight another problem.  Although women hold more than 40% of the board seats in Norway, many of the seats are held by a few women, the “golden skirts,” who are professional board members and participate on a large number of boards. The large percentage of undergraduate and professional degrees being earned by women, and the growing number of women in C-suite positions (even if not CEO) would suggest a larger number of qualified women for directorships.  Arguments are also made for the value of feminine relational leadership, which is more likely to be seen in women’s skill sets and backgrounds, as contributing knowledge, values, and decision-making approaches that would enrich boards; perhaps in ways that are more valuable than prior CEO experience. Today, many leading universities and professional women’s group offer programs to help women develop big picture and networking skills among others; efforts to help women who do not have CEO backgrounds prepare for board membership.

Some suggest that women don’t want to serve on boards; the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t come out favorably for women.  This appears to conflict with evidence that women are more prepared for board meetings than the men serving on the same boards.  However, women often have major responsibilities outside of work, and home and family roles can conflict with career ambitions.

Challenges – Cultures and Laws

This challenge is closely linked to cultural values, stronger in some countries and within some religious communities than in others, that women’s primary role is as a caregiver at home.  While our shrinking globe and global media have reduced this challenge to an extent, such beliefs still have a major influence.  Many would question the assumption of the ideal world we posed at the beginning of this statement. Even in Western countries where gender equity is espoused, most of the childcare, eldercare, and home care is done by women whether they work outside of the home or not. In some countries, gender equity is increasingly codified in the law; in other countries, the laws restrict women’s participation outside the home. Countries with strong cultural support for increasing the number of women on boards have used the legal system to require reporting of women’s representation on corporate boards or to enact quota systems.  In countries where the culture is consistent with quotas and where penalties for noncompliance are included in the laws, quotas have been quite effective.  Recently France joined Norway in the elite group of countries where the percentage of women on boards exceeds 40 percent.[iv]

Challenges – The Business Case

As a final discussion point, it is worth noting that once one gets beyond the arguments that it is unfair to discriminate against women and that it is foolish to dismiss the talent of half the world’s population, the arguments for adding more women to boards become controversial also.  Women board members have been found to add new perspectives that improve decision making, encourage innovation, serve as role models for women employees, change the atmosphere at board meetings, and encourage corporate responsibility.  Yet, when researching human behavior it is almost impossible to reasonably assume that the number of women on a boards is the only variable and that “all other factors are equal”.  Perhaps that is why the results of studies measuring the benefits of adding women to boards often seem inconsistent.  Company size, board make-up, chair behavior, industry, the style and behavior of the individual women involved, and all the other topics discussed earlier might also be “not equal” leading to conflicting evidence among studies.

We believe adding women to boards is valuable and that there are many, many things boards, women, and society can do to increase the number of women on boards.  We want to make sure we’re all remembering though, that complex issues seldom have simple solutions – and board equity is a complex issue.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills and system to create a regenerative, inclusive and thriving organization that will have a positive impact in the world.

About the Authors

Lynne E. Devnew is on the associate faculty for the doctoral program, is a distinguished research fellow, and chairs the Women and Leadership Research Group at the University of Phoenix in the United States. A former senior middle manager at IBM, she has a DBA in strategy from the Questrom School, Boston University, and is a graduate of Columbia University’s Master Degree Program for Executives in New York City and Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, all in the United States. Dr. Devnew’s research work and publications are focused on women’s leadership aspirations and leader identity development. She serves on the boards of several not-for-profit organizations.

Marlene Janzen Le Ber is Associate Professor and Chair, School of Leadership & Social Change at Canada’s only women’s university, Brescia University College and Adjunct Research Professor at the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at Ivey School of Business, Western University. Her teaching is all leadership-related. A multiple research-grant holder in the complex processes of leadership, her current research is in leader character, leader identity development in women, and impact of art-based and narrative research on policy and social change. Prior to her doctoral studies, Marlene was a health care executive within academic health sciences centers, known as a strategic leader who spearheaded numerous health system innovations. Marlene has a PhD in Strategy from Ivey Business School, MScN (Admin) and BScN from Western University.

[i] This statistic is from Deloitte’s “Women in the boardroom: A global perspective – 5th edition” published in 2017 and based on data gathered from over 60 countries.  The relevant statistic in the 4th edition, published in 2015, was 12 percent and gathered from more than 40 countries.  The report is available at https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/risk/articles/women-in-the-boardroom5th-edition.html.

[ii] The number of women filling vacant and new board seats for Fortune 500 companies is from Heidrick & Struggles 2018 “CEO & Board Practice”.  This report is available at https://www.heidrick.com/Knowledge-Center/Publication/Board_Monitor_2018.

[iii] This information is from Catalyst Research’s “Pyramid: Women in S&P 500 Companies” on March 25, 2019.  The pyramid can be found at https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-sp-500-companies/.

[iv] The leading role of Norway is discussed many times in our book, More Women on Boards: An International Perspective.  After it was completed, France passed the 40 percent mark, as reported in Catalysts’ “Quick Take: Women on Corporate Boards” dated December 21, 2018.  This report can be found at: https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-on-corporate-boards/.

 

Women’s Leadership Journeys: Stories, Research, and Novel Perspectives

This blog is an excerpt from the recently published book, Women’s Leadership Journeys: Stories, Research, and Novel Perspectives by Sherylle J. Tan (Editor), Lisa DeFrank-Cole (Editor).  It is a companion to the Voice America Interview recorded with the authors at the International Leadership Association Global Conference in 2018 Women’s Leadership Journeys: Stories, Research and Novel Perspectives. 

Women possess all the qualities required for effective and impactful leadership in the 21st century (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Women leaders have shown themselves to be persuasive, strong motivators, problem solvers, and mentors (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Enge, 2003). Yet, the journey to leadership for many women is not a simple, linear road. There are various twists and turns, starts and stops, and assorted roadmaps that women must navigate through toward leadership (Hewlett, 2007; Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005).

In 2007, Alice Eagly and Linda Carli proposed the metaphor of the labyrinth, a negotiable yet challenging set of routes and “circuitous paths” that women must take to attain top leadership positions. Eagly and Carli believed that the presence of women in elite leadership positions called for a new metaphor to replace “the glass ceiling” to appropriately reflect the obstacles and diversions that women face as they navigate their path to leadership. Introduced in 1986 by two journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt, the glass ceiling, references the transparent layer that allows a woman to see the top job, but not the invisible barriers that hinder her advancement to it. While women navigate the rise to leadership, they are inundated with obstacles that they had not seen or anticipated on their way up and hit the ceiling unable to ascend to those senior leadership positions. Those hard-to-see barriers, such as discrimination and prejudice, have been the focus of a substantial body of research dedicated to women and leadership over the past three decades (see Barreto, Ryan, & Schmitt, 2009; Bruckmuller, Ryan, Haslam, & Peters, 2013; Eagly & Carli, 2007).

While some women have broken through the glass ceiling, men continue to “outnumber women in nearly every sector of leadership” (DeFrank-Cole & Tan, 2017, p. 43) despite the fact that women make up half of the American population and are earning the majority of degrees at every level of higher education (Johnson, 2016). For example, women hold about 5.2% of S&P 500 chief executive officer positions (Catalyst, 2017) and while a record number of women (104 in 2017) are serving in the House and Senate, women make up little more than 19% of the U.S. Congress (Center for American Women and Politics, 2016). Furthermore, in the political sphere, we saw in 2016 the first woman nominated by a major political party for the office of the U.S. Presidency, but not elected.

Whether the glass ceiling has been cracked or broken remains up for debate, however we do know that this underrepresentation of women in leadership does not appear to be an issue of qualification or ability to lead. In fact, there are plenty of qualified women to serve in leadership roles. There is a great deal of research to show that women are capable of being effective leaders and exhibit the traits and skills necessary for complex contemporary organizations and society (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003; Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995). In fact, a meta-analysis found that women’s leadership styles tend to be more transformational and women tend to engage in more contingent reward behaviors than men; styles that are both associated with effective leadership (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003) and other research has supported the effectiveness of women’s leadership when rated by others in a variety of contexts (Paustian-Underdahl, Walker, & Woehr, 2014).

The scarcity of women leaders has been attributed to gender role stereotypes people hold along with discrimination and prejudice women often face in the workplace (Eagly & Carli, 2007). While many improvements have been made, the workplace in many ways remains an artifact of the twentieth century. Gender stereotypes, while subtler than in the past, continue to be a prominent issue for women due to the cultural and historical views of leadership being a masculine trait (Koenig et al., 2011). These subtle cultural beliefs that inadvertently favor men, referred by Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb (2013) as second-generation forms of gender bias, impede women’s journeys to leadership and hinder their leader identity development. Second generation bias reinforces the status quo by preventing women from being seen as leaders and role models to other women, thus placing them at a disadvantage from being considered for leadership positions (Ibarra, Ely, & Kolb, 2013).

The impact of these biases and stereotypes plays out in a variety of ways and has implications on women’s perception of their own leadership abilities and how they perceive themselves. In a study where women were exposed to leader stereotypes, women performed more poorly and showed lower self-efficacy than those who were not primed with the stereotypes (Hoyt & Blascovich, 2010). Similarly, later research by Simon and Hoyt (2012) found that women who viewed gender-stereotypic commercials preferred a follower role in a leadership task that ensued. The findings also indicated that there was indeed a positive effect on increasing women’s leadership roles after viewing media images of women in counter-stereotypical roles highlighting the importance of women as role models for leadership.

The influence of exposure to women as leaders can shape women’s beliefs about leadership and its attainability. Research by Dasgupta and Asgari (2004) emphasized the importance of women viewing women in leadership positions, specifically finding that the experience of learning about women leaders coupled with seeing women as leaders helped women to adjust and change their gender stereotypic views of leadership. They found that the exposure to female leaders helped women to interpret their leadership goals as realistic targets for themselves and for other women. One way to enhance women’s leadership, in addition to seeing women in leadership roles, is to understand how other women have broken barriers and navigated their way to leadership. Because women’s career and leadership trajectories are not linear (Wittenberg-Cox & Maitland, 2008), the journeys women take to leadership are often individual and thus important to understand and reflect upon. This volume not only provides research from scholars to support and develop women on their roads to leadership, but also includes stories from women leaders.

Storytelling is an important method for learning and gaining insight into the paths of leadership. Storytelling allows us to make meaning of the world in which we live. It allows us to connect to those around us whose experiences resonate with us. Regarding leadership, trust is built through communication (Auvinen, Aaltio, & Blomqvist, 2013) and stories have “emerged as a potential approach in terms of coaching and leadership development” (p. 497). Therefore, using stories as a method to demonstrate women’s connections with leadership is a beneficial and legitimate strategy to expose women to female leaders and to support their leadership development. Thus, the chapters in this book provide stories, as well as research essays, to encourage women on their journeys to leadership.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills and system to create a regenerative, inclusive and thriving organization that will have a positive impact in the world.

About the Authors

Dr. Sherylle J. Tan is the Director of Internships and KLI Research at the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College. Dr. Tan has researched and published on leadership education and development, women and leadership, and work and family. She is currently series co-editor of Sage teaching case study collection on Women and Leadership and co-edited Women’s Leadership Journeys: Stories, Research, and Novel Perspectives (2019), with Lisa DeFrank-Cole.

Dr. Lisa DeFrank-Cole is Professor and Director of Leadership Studies at West Virginia University (WVU). She is a member of the Executive Leadership Team in the ILA Women and Leadership Affinity Group and has been writing and studying women and leadership for nearly 20 years. Women’s Leadership Journeys: Stories, Research, and Novel Perspectives by Routledge (2019) is her first co-edited book with Dr. Sherylle Tan.