Monday, May 20, 2013

The Council of Dads

The primary storyline of the book entitled, The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me (William Morrow: 2010), is how Bruce Feiler, author of nine books about how he “walked” through his most important life experiences, faces a year of bone cancer in his leg which requires weeks of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by more chemotherapy, extensive recovery and physical therapy.  But, foremost in his mind are his twin three-year old daughters and how they would fare in a world without their Dad.

His concern is how difficult his daughters’ lives might be “without my voice.”  “Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they yearn for my approval, my discipline, my love?”

Feiler decides to ask six men to “help be their dad” in his absence because of his strong belief that fathers have special value in the lives of young girls becoming young women.  

“These are the men who know me best…. share my values… helped shape and guide me… traveled with me, studied with me, have been through pains and happiness with me.”

Watching Feiler think intensely about how these men added value to his life over the years is a fascinating experience.  And it also reveals many of the thoughts that go through men’s minds as they build a business (like Feiler started a family) then decide to assemble just the right team of compatriots to carry on the vision in the event that he might not “be there to the end.”

His concept is not simply a selfish focus on himself or an attempt to recreate himself through the Council of Dads.  His concept is how to develop the full potential and capacity of his twin daughters, as he would wish he would be able to do were he to live through this brutal year of cancer treatments.  

“I would like [my twin daughters] to know themselves through their Council of Dads. … A few words, an open door, a welcome embrace every now and then will ensure that your presence [as a Council of Dads] will be a constant guide in the girls’ lives.”

Men do things that women do not.  Men think of their legacy.  They think intently of the future and what it might look like, with or without them.  A Council of Dads is a special group into whose hands this Dad was willing to commend his rambunctious, adventuresome, and enthusiastic daughters.  Feiler wanted his daughters to feel the love, dedication, lessons, and wisdom of his six peers – not older and wizened men – just great friends who had walked along side of him at strategic points in his life.   

Men hand over to other men significant and meaningful tasks when they form councils, boards, or groups like these.  Interesting is how the Council soon took on a life of its own.

“But as I started to share the idea with the men, the Council began to evolve.   For starters, the dads took action.  One sent a magazine subscription; another stopped by more frequently; a third asked for more photos of the girls.  As one of them said, “I think it’s part of my responsibility as a Council member to know the girls as they grow up.”

Men hold themselves mutually accountable for their own performance expectations once they create a team or council.  They accept the responsibility as “a duty” to act at their highest possible level of potential.  They create the sense of self required by the position they accept. They create the “governance” that guides them as a group.

“Even more surprising, the men took a keen interest in one another—with equal parts curiosity, kinship, and rivalry.  A fraternity developed.  And suddenly my notion of a list no longer applied.  It was more like a community, a circle, a Stonehenge assembly where the girls could seek refuge.”

Men choose other men who complement themselves; not clones, but rather individuals who represent different facets or who add a unique dimension.

“In this circle I had certain figures:  my childhood buddy, my camp counselor, my college roommate, my business partner, my closest confident.”  And ultimately, “someone to explain [your creative side] how you looked at the world.”

He purposefully did not include women. Not that his wife, Linda Rottenberg, founder and CEO of, would not be capable of performing at the highest level. After all, she was his partner in all of the cancerous bad news, treatments, and chaos. Her wisdom and insight helped Feiler find the right men to serve as his Council of Dads.  He knew that his wife would be ok – she would not just endure, she would prevail.

“Linda would be fine.  She would experience a lot of pain and inconvenience, but in the end she would find a way to live a life of passion and joy.”

He wanted a Council of Dads to complement all the wonderful family, friends, community, and support that surrounded him during his “lost year” and who would be there for his daughters in the event that he might not be.  There is something special in Dad-dom that would be missing with him gone.  His purpose was to ensure that his daughters did not feel the emptiness.  His special gift to them was six voices to slay the monsters which the two girls might encounter in their journey to growing up to their full potential.  

There is something special about all the thought that goes into assembling a group of a few worthy men to care for that which you consider precious. Could women be as focused on the future? Could they be as self-less as the men were willing to be? Could we imagine a mother, in a similar situation – facing the prospect of death, envisioning a Council of Mothers to take on the responsibilities of guidance and of “being there” for her children, male or female?  Could we imagine whom a mother might tap to take on such a challenge?  And how might they perform?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Buffett on Women

A great read, today, is Warren Buffett’s article in the latest issue of the Fortune 500 magazine -- taken together with the full video of the interview -- provide a terrific challenge to contemporary women.

The most important quote from his interview is this:

“Too many women continue to impose limitations on themselves, talking themselves out of achieving their potential.”

He reminisces about his friendship with Kathryn Graham, concentrating on what he calls “gender-related self-doubt.”

“[Graham’s] brain knew better, but she could never quite still the voice insider her that said, “Men know more about running a business than [she] ever will.”

“[Buffett] told [Graham] that she had to discard the fun-house mirror that others had set before her and instead view herself in a mirror that reflected reality.”

Champion Boards blog provided a focus on Kathryn Graham’s book, a Personal History, and her sense of inadequacy, back in April 2007. 

Friday, May 10, 2013


Marc Benioff, CEO of, introduced his revolutionary V2MOM to ensure constant communication and complete alignment within his fast growing company.  Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company and Revolutionized an Industry (with Carlye Adler; Jossey-Bass: 2009) , where he describes the concept and process of V2MOM.

The following is taken from his book:

We [at] have an internal tool that I use and a communications cadence to help me to stay focused -- because I can be the kind of person that needs help staying focused. That tool is called a V2MOM (acronym that stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures) and there’s five questions that I’m constantly asking of myself. I do that basically every six months for the company. I ask the employees to do it once a year, to publish it and make it transparent for all the other employees. To take those five questions and constantly think about where we are positionally. Here’s how it generally breaks down:

Vision: write it down in 10 to 15 words. When I meet with entrepreneurs, I’ll say to them: what do you want? That’ll be my opening question to them.

Values: What is most important about that vision? What are the values of the vision? Is it growth, is it quality, is it excellence? Write those things down and prioritize them.

Methods: The question is, how are you gonna get it? What are the actions that you’re going to specifically take? In priority, write them down.

Obstacles: What is preventing you from having that vision -- achieving that outcome -- right now? Write it down.

Measures: And finally, how will you know if you’re successful? What are the measurements of success? Write it down.

Then, get ready to recreate that on a continual basis. For me, that is a focusing exercise, and then I will present that back to the company on an annual basis. I will show them where I’m going, what I want to do, and I will ask them to do that back [to me] so that it’s a collaborative exercise.

I think that if you’re an entrepreneur you need to over-communicate and over-share those things. The leader needs to set the organization forward so together we can get what I call alignment. That is a huge challenge. But it builds a lot of trust in the organization if your employees can see that this is what you’re doing.

Of course, you’ve got to walk your talk. If you’re gonna write it down and say you’re gonna do it, you better do it -- or your employees are gonna walk out and say I’m going to find somebody to follow who’s going to actually get this done. Transparency builds trust. And collaboration builds trust. These are kind of modern values that we need in the entrepreneurial organization.

I have these entrepreneurs who somehow end up in my world and I work to facilitate the V2MOM with them -- and it’s tough for them. We’ll go through the exercise and then I’ll send them away and they’ll come back. We’ll start off and they’re all over the map. Then I send them away and they come back and present it to me. Then maybe two or three weeks later they’ll say: we’re working on x, y and z, and I’ll say, how does this relate to your V2MOM? And they’ll be like, well it doesn’t, and I’ll be like, maybe it should be brought in then or maybe it shouldn’t because I think they have an issue of disfocus. So you have to swing them back in line on purpose and vision.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Just the Facts Ma'am

According to American Express OPEN 2012 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report
Between 2002 and 2012,
  • The number of all women-owned firms grew from 6.5 million to 8.3 million
  • The number of women-owned firms with $1 million or more in revenues grew from 116,985 to 151,900.
  •  The number of women-owned firms with $10 million or more in revenues grew from 8,110 to 12,700
In 2012, the 4% of women-owned firms with $500,000 or more in revenues account for 78% of all of the revenue generated by women-owned firms,
In 2012, women-owned businesses earning $1M or more in revenues totaled 151,900 (1.8% of all women-owned businesses) and also exhibited the following,
  • Employment -- 4,909,100  (63.8% of all employment by women-owned businesses)
  • Sales ($000) - $906,603,400 (70.2% of all sales of women-owned businesses)
In 2012, 68.6% of all women-owned businesses earn less than $25,000 in revenues per year.
The US poverty level for a family of 4 in 2013 is $23,550
In 2012, women-owned businesses represent 29% of all businesses, employ only 6.3% of all employees, and earn only 3.9% of all revenues.

Where Do Women Go?

Where do women go when they leave the corporate pipeline?

They retire.  They take care of the grandkids, parents, spouses, or kids because that is “more meaningful” to them.  They join non-profits and volunteer at socially-satisfying entities because that too is “more meaningful” to them.  Or, they opt out entirely.

What if, instead of quitting, more women re-engaged in and re-energized corporate life on their perceived “better terms?” What if women dared to build the kinds of companies they so cavalierly expect men, society, or culture to develop to serve their every wish and interest? 

Could women entrepreneurs do this profitably enough to pay the salaries they argue are appropriate to the flexible hours they also argue are appropriate, resulting in some measure of performance which is yet to be determined?  Would they pay competitive rates for mixed-gender companies as suppliers, vendors, or subcontractors?  Would they pay the taxes required of modern corporations by local, state, and federal governments, today? Would they invest, as men do, through angel and venture capital entities in the formation of new women-owned businesses?  Would their selected businesses address the serious problems and challenges of modern society? Or would women persist in the limited sub-sectors of the economy, producing yet more jeans, lingerie, soft goods, and make-up of every ilk?

Would women form the diverse boards they tell men “they must”? Or would they bring on board their friends and family-members, as too many men do because of funding or familiarity or trust? 

Perhaps Dr. Bart should interview the men and women serving on boards of women-owned businesses (the 1.8% earning $1 M a year or more) and tell us more about the decision-making skills and competencies that exist among those few entities.

Would women-owned businesses divert precious corporate funding to subsidize the “required investments” described by Harvey Nash’s suite of recommendations?  Would the women-owned businesses welcome these recommendations or would they, too, conclude that such measures constituted an unwarranted intrusion into their business affairs, requiring a level of investment unjustified by the payback anticipated?

Where WOULD women go?

More Dueling Studies

In March 2013, Dr. Christopher Bart co-authored an article, published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, regarding his survey of 624 board directors polled in Canada at The Director’s College training program.  The survey results suggested that women were more likely to use “co-operation, collaboration and consensus building” when dealing with complex decisions, while male directors more often made decisions by using “rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business.” Of course, the headlines told a much more dramatic and sweeping conclusion, “Women on corporate boards better decision-makers than male directors.”

A closer examination of Dr. Bart’s study reveals a far more limited sample size and scope of the survey, suggesting that – once again – the headlines are far more exciting (or excited!) than the research itself.

Dr. Bart reported that 25% of the survey respondents were women or about 156 women compared to 468 men.  This small sample is hardly a population from which to generalize to the entire board of director marketplace.  Even so, what exactly did the survey study?

“Directors who participated in the Directors College training course for corporate directors in Canada ... completed a decades-old standardized test known as the Defined Issues Test, which measures how people make decisions on complex matters.”

"The good news for investors is that both male and female directors did well on the test, which means directors on average are good decision-makers. But women proved better on average at applying “complex moral reasoning” factors in decision-making, which involves considering viewpoints of multiple groups, using co-operative and consensus-building approaches and applying decisions in a consistent and non-arbitrary fashion."

"A greater proportion of men, by comparison, relied more on making decisions based on rules, regulations, or traditional ways of doing business or getting along, according to the findings, which have been published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics."

So, the results actually determined that men directors in The Directors’ College passed the test one way, while the women directors in The Directors’ College passed the test a different way.  Which approach produces a successful business strategy or better company results, was not tested.

The sample size of the women directors selected by boards is too small to generalize. Canada has somewhere around 9% to 11% of their top board seats held by women.  The number of women attending a given class of The Directors’ College typically is smaller.

The outstanding quality of experience and competence of sitting women directors is not representative of the pipeline of women in the executive marketplace who might aspire to be a director candidate. It’s like interviewing the winning team of the Super Bowl, but expecting the results to apply to any player in the entire Pop Warner ball player population.  It’s a survey of the best in the business.  And the survey just tells us how those few women who were interviewed performed on this particular test.

There are a host of explanatory factors contributing to the outstanding performance of the select group of currently sitting women directors.  Potential women candidates certainly could learn lessons from their experience.  But, it will take the same hard work, education, and competence as the sitting women directors were willing to undertake.  The real unanswered question about the so-called “pipeline of women executives” who aspire to board roles is whether they are willing to make a similar investment of their time and efforts or if they simply want everyone else to make it easy for them.

A great deal of evidence is supporting the hypothesis that significant shares of women in that pipeline prefer the latter over the former.

In yet another study of over 600 board level women and men directors in 21 countries, Harvey Nash Executive Board Search examined the problem of “the leaky pipeline” – the ever diminishing number of women executives at higher levels of corporate structure.  Harvey Nash asked the question, “What are the motivations (of women) for opting out of corporate life?”   This is what they learned:

“Over 44 percent of respondents said that women want to devote more time to other activities, interests, and commitments, and 39 percent said family responsibilities reduce the amount of time they can spend at work, meaning they are less visible and wield less influence than their male peers.” [Emphasis added.]

To put it another way, as Sheryl Sandberg has found in her research leading up to her book and advice to women to “Lean In:”  “… [women] lose their enthusiasm for corporate life and disengage.”

These survey results raise serious concerns about the amount of effort and inducement that would be required to persuade these clearly recalcitrant women to re-engage in corporate life.  Significant numbers of women (almost half in one response and almost two fifths in another) state that they “don’t want corporate life” and that the only inducement they might consider is that the entire world change to accommodate them.

Harvey Nash specifically asked “What would have to change?”  The answers were pretty much “everything.”

- corporate culture would have to change
- societal norms would have to change
- the nature of work, itself, would have to change and (presumably)
- all men would have to change.

The study authors tried to winnow down these overwhelming challenges to the following possible recommendations:

- top-down management change
- ensure a “sustainable talent pipeline of women candidates at the executive level”
- formal and informal networks
- ensure recruiters present balanced shortlists
- provide sponsors through the organization and
- gender bias training

Maybe it is time that we asked ourselves the question, “Is it really worth for us to change everything to accommodate women executives today who appear to prefer to be doing anything else other than participating in corporate life?” What if we implemented all of these changes (and there are a host of companies that have done so), only to discover that all that effort STILL did not persuade women executives to re-engage in corporate life?  Where would we be then? 

Maybe it’s time for us to try the other hypothesis:  if women really want to develop the skills and competencies required of board and governance leadership, then they will build their own companies and constitute their own boards of advisers/directors.  They will “show how it could be done” or they won’t.  Sort of a “put up or shut up” hypothesis. At least it might provide an interesting change of pace.