Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of The Way

Thus read the slogan of the project team chartered with a huge corporate restructuring at a major financial institution some years ago. That message had a marvelous way of focusing our attention on our appropriate role in the undertaking. To all of the firm’s employees, it said – “Choose ONE!” Only one. You cannot do it all. Don’t even try. I suspect this was the precursor to Nike’s “Just Do It.”

In the days following Katrina’s devastation through coastal America, I am reminded of this very potent message and all of the lessons that were given to me by those tough people, men and women, who served that project in the trenches so many years ago. I see the same faces as I look out among the many men and women working hard to deal with today’s challenges.

First: LEAD! Be prepared to lead . . ALWAYS be ready to be among the few willing to take the first and crucial steps forward out of chaos. Some must lead. And IF you are prepared, then it must be you who leads.

ALWAYS be ready to be capable and able to take those first essential steps. First responders set the tone. Leaders take the course that might save lives and, after all, that is what counts. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and by your God-given talents -– however you define the source of those gifts –- be prepared to lead.

I am in awe of the simple decision by one woman business-owner from New Orleans who managed to give her employees five weeks’ advanced pay and told them to leave town before the storm hit. That is leadership.

As New Orleans crumbled into chaos, I saw Governor Blanco stand at a mike telling looters and rapists that her soldiers WOULD shoot to kill if any of the marauders dared step beyond the lines of civil order. That is leadership under incredible duress.

The lesson to all of us is that we, too, in all likelihood will face the possibility of some man-made or natural disaster. Even more important than our little disaster-readiness kits is our personal disaster-preparedness and capability to lead others to safety should the circumstances require that of us as individuals.

First: Lead.
Second: Follow. If you are not in the appropriate position or role to lead, then the next most important contribution you can make is to support those who ARE leading. Follow appropriate instructions. Do as you are told by those who have the skills and resources to guide, direct, save, secure, and lead.

Follow includes support, help, augment, and bring wisdom and perspective to the collective whole, making it stronger and more secure by your efforts.

The woman who owned a sports RV company filled up over half a dozen of the vehicles with medical and personal supplies and arranged to deliver them to emergency organizations in New Orleans for them to use, at their discretion, for those they identified as most in need. She counted on those who were closer to the problem being better able to make the right choices.

Follow also includes listening and being open to good ideas from the community. A writer to the LA Times realized that New Orleans’ evacuees declined the offer of the cruise ships and suggested instead that the ships be used to house and relieve emergency medical and rescue teams.

Others realized that European airlift planes would bring emergency materiel to the US, and then fly back empty. They suggested that containers of grain from the central US, which were at risk of rotting because the grain could not be transported through the Gulf ports, instead be re-routed by airlift to Darfur in Africa where civil genocide by starvation is occurring.

Water brigades work because followers follow effectively. Medical teams are massive collectives of finely-skill and –tuned followers. There is no shame in following. When informed that evacuation was required as a local health mandate, the only appropriate response is to follow orders.

Even when someone junior in an organization has found within herself or himself the capacity to lead, you do not waste time asking about the bureaucratic pecking order or the niceties of position. YOU FOLLOW. You act. You support. You do not waste time on gamesmanship. You suck up your ego, and you get on the water line. You save lives.

First: Lead.
Second: Follow.
Third: If you cannot do either of the above, then at least get out of the way of those who can and are doing so. Do not make their jobs more difficult. Do not become part of the problem. Do not require that they cease leading and following and saving lives, but instead that they give you one fraction of a second’s attention which you do NOT deserve if you are neither leading nor following.

Looters, rapists, thugs, gangsters, and price gougers all fall into the third group -– taking advantage of the uncertainty, the weak, the helpless. Those who repeatedly resisted orders of the Mayor of New Orleans to evacuate a submerged city drowning in fetid, poisonous waters were merely adding to the already horrific burden being placed on emergency rescue and medical teams. Get out of the way.

Scammers are setting up fraudulent financial aid web sites, phony rescue-aid programs are preying on the sincerity and generosity of a giving and caring nation.

The message is this: to those who perpetrate these sick frauds, your day of reckoning will come. To those who mindlessly help them succeed in duping thousands, think for yourself and check for yourself. Do not come crying to authorities later that you were conned during this chaos because you did not have the simplest intelligence to verify whether this was a credible and reputable aid source.

Get Out Of The Way -– do not be part of the problem. Do not make the job harder by failing to use your common sense. Do not try to be a hero, a cowboy, or the Lone Ranger, merely adding to the chaos when you could have accomplished more by working through the established, trained, competent entities on the front line.

Lead. Follow. Or get out of the way.

I’m sure, somehow, this message has as its origin the AA saying,

“Lord, grant me the courage to change the things I can change,
the patience to accept the things I cannot change,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Monday, August 15, 2005

“What Holds Women Back?”

So was titled the article written by Dean Laura D’Andrea Tyson for the October 27, 2003 issue of Business Week Magazine. Dean Tyson, of the London School of Business, and formerly of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, should know the answer to the question, “Why do so few women reach the top echelons in corporate America?”

There are three things that "hold women back", according to Dean Tyson:

1. Women and men have different attitudes about competition. Men like it, women don’t. Competition is still what drives success in corporate America.

2. Men are more likely to negotiate for pay, promotions, and recognition in the business world. Women just don’t like to negotiate.

3. Many professional women state that they are not willing to pursue senior leadership positions if it requires them to give up having children or spouses.

Maybe it’s time for women to “open their minds” and consider some alternative views of this same reality.

First, “competition,” as men know and love it, is “a game” or “a battle”. Competition is the setting in which one can only win or lose, at the expense of another – the old “zero-sum game”. Competition is the thing that keeps the adrenalin surging among those alpha male types of corporate America.

It is NOT the only way to operate. Economists today speak of the “zero sum fallacy” in describing the false belief that everything in the world can be viewed as a win-lose game. Yet, for some reason, we still believe that all business situations are or should be a zero-sum competitive game.

Most economic activities, especially in more complex, specialized and interdependent societies, tend toward NON-zero sum decision-making situations. Today, especially, global trade scenarios seek to maximize mutual benefit, not benefit one nation exclusively at the expense of another.

Women are more inclined “to prevail,” “to endure,” and “to survive”. Women live longer. Today women even are showing tremendous endurance in ultra-marathons, and their times in marathons are beginning to approach those of male competitors.

Women are more inclined to take the long-term perspective. Isn’t that exactly what attracts and interests shareholders the most – success and viability over the long term? Safe, enduring, and secure returns on investment? As opposed to the thrashing, volatility and high-turnover/high-costs of trying to tweak results to short term, quarterly dreams and wishes?

What women do need to learn is how to be clear that they are in a corporate setting that focuses on the long-term, rather than the short-term, benefits and economic gains.

Second, “negotiation,” again as men know and love it, is yet another “game” or “battle” in which they can “prove themselves”. Synonyms include “haggle” or “chooney” in Farsi – suggestive of yet another battleground where the men can take up arms to separate themselves from the boys.

The real question is whether “negotiation” is undertaken with an objective of “the zero-sum game” or “bargaining for mutual gain”.

Women certainly need to learn the ropes of “bargaining for mutual gain” in order to assert their own self-interest. Negotiations are a learnable skill.

Women have become a clear majority in the human resources, communications, and legal professions – all of which rely heavily on negotiation skills and performance. The challenge is to find the “beneficial mutual gain” in which men, too, have a vested beneficial interest in participating as a negotiator.

Third and finally, some women argue that the challenge of “work-family balance” is a barrier to their long-term success and survival in corporate America. Let’s think about this and consider a few unique perspectives.

If there were a better dialog with both sides of the “work-family” equation, different results might occur. If there were better “task delegation” among work and family partners, then different results might occur. If there were greater investment in “support services”, different results might occur. And if women invested more in their own personal career planning, then different results might occur.

Women can develop more effective dialog strategies that involve spousal partners in a mutually-agreeable allocation of tasks and responsibilities. The failure to hold this dialog, in too many cases, represents an assumption on the part of some women that their spouse either cannot or will not participate in the process. Perhaps too many women are making unilateral decisions about “work-family” options when they should be discussing these strategies for the long-term benefit of their families and their relationships.

Once the “work-family delegation” deal is struck, the challenge becomes how to ensure follow-through and no reversion to the status quo. If husbands and wives cannot trust each other to keep their agreed-upon work-assignments (or to accommodate short term adjustments), perhaps this is an indication of a far more serious failing in the relationship than originally was thought.

If the “work-family” negotiated settlement cannot be had with reasonable contribution of labor-sharing on the part of both parties, then some sort of economically-viable alternative service mechanisms needs to be considered.

If Mom and Dad decide, together, that she MUST home-school the kids for free, that’s one economic decision. If Mom and Dad decide they both prefer day care, then there’s a price to be paid by the family duo to implement it. What is not acceptable is to make the choice AND NOT be willing to pay the appropriate price – whatever that price turns out to be.

One should also be aware that only 52% of the adult population (male and female aged 15 to 64) consist of married individuals with spouse present. Another 34% of that same population have never been married. Another 16% are men or women without spouse present. So, there are a number of family choices. And, the marketplace should respond by creating a number of alternative choices -– not merely try to accommodate those few who insist on one solution –- that she be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of some theoretic and perfect work-family balance.

The marketplace should not be penalizing those who choose to not have children or those who choose to have children and not hold their employment hostage to their family choices.

Women also have the potential opportunities of a wide variety of career opportunities at various stages of their life that could provide them –- if they used them creatively -- with great personal and professional satisfaction. The prerequisite is that they stop trying to “do it all” and “do it all at once”.

Which is wiser: to try to tend a child and a full-time job simultaneously or tend a child and study some subject that expands one’s future value as a human being or as an income earner?

Which is smarter: to try to tend an elder family-member and support a full-time job or to tend an elder family-member and invest oneself in a related support-service endeavor?

If women really cared that much about child care services, then women would be creating more cost-effective child care service businesses as part of the economic marketplace. But, we suspect that women do NOT really want cost-effective child care services as much as they prefer someone else, preferably the government or “others”, to subsidize it for them and for their benefit.

If women can spend millions on fragrances, personal nail care, hair treatment, bosom augmentation, facial surgery, shoes, clothing, and the like, but women cannot invest in the creation of self-sustaining child or elder care services, then we must conclude that women prefer all of those former things over the latter. If that’s what women prefer, then that is exactly what the marketplace will provide for them.

While Dean Tyson and I may disagree on "what holds women back", we do agree that women must meet their challenges through the supply-demand mechanisms of the marketplace, because we cannot expect the solutions will somehow miraculously appear, phoenix-like, out of the embers of morally-persuasive arguments -- unrealistic, unsupported, and uneconomical.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Have We Made Progress, Yet?

While interviewing women on boards of directors at top US corporations in 1991, Anne Clark Ronce found that many of them refused “to be named or identified in anyway . . . [preferring] to stay in the background.”

Clark Ronce understood their positions very well:
    “Their reluctance to speak for attribution … was consistent with their sense that being a woman or minority board member brought extra attention, and required due diligence on their part to preserve privacy and to be viewed as models of appropriate behavior by their colleagues on boards and by others in general.”

So, here we are 14 years later. Back then, only about 5-6% of the top seats were occupied by women. These rare, anonymous women reported that their peers, the male directors,
    “don’t want someone who will shake the tree too much.”

Boards in the pre-Sarbanes-Oxley environment were driven by,
    “Caution and conservatism about picking a woman who will not embarrass the company and who will interact successfully with the rest of the Board. . . “

This provides unique perspective for the 21st century woman candidate for a board role. We should ask ourselves why anyone would have wanted a woman on board if they only wanted her to “just be a nice girl and sit quietly in the corner.” We should probably also ask the even more obvious question of why any WOMAN would have wanted to be on a board that required her to act and behave as a Stepford Wife?

Even a decade and a half ago, the women directors were telling us that change was in the air. They told Clark Ronce that,

  • “. . . one route [to qualify women for board service] that was common in the past – community service – may no longer be an option.”
  • “. . . community service and participation on non-profit boards is being devalued or rejected altogether.”
  • “. . . this academic route . . . will also become obsolete.”

Have we made any progress in the campaign to improve diversity on boards of directors of top US corporations since Clark Ronce’s interviews? Perhaps. Back then, one women board member said,
    “. . . anyone who would look for ways to increase the number of board members [is] ‘Don Quixote in a dress'.”

Today, there are many independent efforts underway, in the states and around the globe, to advocate and to advance women to top board of director positions at major public and private corporations, not as tokens and not as an impossible dream. Rather, these efforts are underway because it’s good for business.

In the early 1990s, the most likely woman to be placed on the board of a major US public corporation was the woman who ALREADY was seated on a Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 board of directors. How did they get on the first board, initially, still mystifies most of us.

Until just recently, most board members came from the CEO ranks, until today’s demands on CEOs escalated, and companies responded by insisting that CEOs “stay close to home and do that job first”. Now, boards are taking a closer look at the next level of top executives as a resource of candidates for independent directors.

Back then, the question was “why aren’t there more women CEOs?” We still ask that question, but now we ALSO ask, “why aren’t there more women among the top 6 executive positions in the corporate management gene pool?”

In the early 1990s, Clark Ronce’s interviewees said that, “the most important, and perhaps only, determining factor in whether a company has a woman on its board, is the attitude of the CEO.”

Today, the momentum favors separation of the CEO position and the Board Chair position; consideration of a lead director; and independence of the board in determining how it will govern itself, evaluate its own performance, and seek, select and induct its own board members.

What really has changed over the past 14 years is that, back then, there was most likely just 1 woman director who might have tried to persuade her company’s CEO to institute “glass ceiling reviews” as part of the management development review process. Back then, there likely was just 1 woman director who might use her own assertive effort to get to know the company’s senior management by initiating an annual review – by the board – of the progress women throughout the company were making in their careers.

Today, these are described as “best practices” to be considered and implemented by all public companies. And today, there are at least twice as many women asking the probing questions and providing the appropriate leadership and teamwork required by today’s global economy.

Have we made progress? Absoluletly, the answer is "Yes!" Are we satisfied that we've made ENOUGH progress. Absolutely, the answer is "NO, not yet!"

Having women on boards of directors is the best way for a company “to send a message to other women that the opportunities are there” -- to all the women in their corporate sphere of influence: customers, employees, shareholders, and stakeholders. Because that is where women are today.

See Anne Clark Ronce’s complete online work at

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

On Diversity – The Tyson Report Perspective

At a recent “directors’ training colloquium,” I was pleased to see that one woman executive had been invited as a speaker. What did not please me was that she didn’t really come as prepared as I would have like to have seen. While other (male) presenters gave the usual PowerPoint slide presentation, she chose to speak a few words “from her heart”. That’s fine, but what was much more frustrating was her answer to the inevitable question, “What is the business case in favor of board diversity? What is the value of women on boards of directors?”

She cited the Catalyst report which found that top US companies with women on boards are correlated with greater shareholder returns. That’s sound, but the report was not able to answer “the chicken vs. the egg” question of which came first – did the women on the boards cause the companies to excel or was it that great companies attracted women to their boards?

What does impress me much more significantly is the very well-thought out arguments in favor of diversity on boards that were presented in The Tyson Report – the findings of a 14 member panel of distinguished leaders (including 7 women) brought together by Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Dean of the London Business School. The report was released in June 2003, not long after Derek Higgs’ complete and scathing review of the status and needs of UK boards of directors.

The Tyson task force, first, refused to recommend the “top 100 females,” that swim-suit edition of female nominees for corporate consideration as board candidates. The reason for not doing so was their economists’ belief that the marketplace should take care of its own business of identifying how, why, where, what, and who should serve on public boards. That having been said, the task force stepped forward and categorically answered the question, “Why Does Diversity Matter?” by citing the best practices available from the best research available today:

  1. “The best boards are compose of individuals with different skills, knowledge, information, power, and time to contribute.” (Corporate Boards: New Strategies for Adding Value at the Top by Jay A. Conger, Edward Lawler III, and David L. Finegold, Jossey-Bass, 2001)

  2. “According to a recent survey of [academic] literature [on the subject of board diversity] groups that are more diverse in skill or knowledge-based dimensions have the potential to consider a greater range of perspectives and to generate more higher-quality solutions to problems than less diverse groups. (Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 21, 402-433)

  3. Research also supports the idea that diversity of knowledge and experience coupled with strong debate within top management groups is a predictor of success.” (How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Jean L. Kahwajy, L.J., III Bourgeois in Harvard Business Review, July-August 1997 - Reprint no. 97402)

  4. “Groups make better decisions to the extent that the information available to the group is more diverse, provided the group understands ‘who knows what’ and takes advantage of this knowledge.”

  5. “. . . diverse teams can leverage their diversity to reach out more effectively to a broader set of constituencies to help avert problems or solve them when they arise . . . [such as] to help companies manage key constituencies including shareholders and employees.” (Goodstein, J., Gautam, K., & W. Boeker in The Effects of Board Size and Diversity on Strategic Change, Strategic Management Journal, 15: 241-250. April, 1994.)

  6. “Groups valuing diversity must have leaders committed to counteracting such tendencies and to develop mechanisms for doing so.”

  7. “. . . companies may reap substantial benefits to their reputations from building more diverse boards of qualified individuals.”

  8. “. . . the composition of a board can send a positive signal to customers, shareholders, and employees, and contribute to a better understanding of the company’s leadership of the diverse constituencies that underpin its commercial success.”

  9. “. . . greater diversity in the boardroom can help a company build its reputation as a responsible corporate citizen that understands its community and deserves its trust.”

  10. “But the most fundamental business rationale for a company’s commitment to greater diversity in the boardroom . . . is a simple and compelling one – the desire to find and employ the best talent.”