EVENT REVIEW: ‘Lead Like a Woman’ - from The Centre for Synchronous Leadership
Aboard the HMS President, moored-up on the Thames, the burgeoning Lead Like a Woman (LLAW) community re-gathered to continue on its journey recently. A ball room full of exciting names and faces – predominantly women – assembled to share ideas and experiences and push the conversation on women and leadership forward.
The event, second in a series, centred around and reacted to a set of leadership stories told by a panel of top women leaders. And while the stories were unmistakably the stories of women in leadership (for example one decision point came with the protagonist 3 months pregnant, in floods of hormone induced tears, underneath a duvet – in the midst of a £6 billion deal) – most of the challenges faced were by no means exclusively challenges for women. Associate sabotage, sandbagging, undermining of authority, questioning of one’s ability, self-doubt, soul-searching – universals, in short, that both male and female executives – and males and females the world over - can relate to – and must live with and overcome if they are to succeed.
Organizational Psychologist Doyin Atewologun sparked proceedings off with some mind-engaging thoughts on the pluralities of ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’ alive and at work in all of us. The provocation worked wonders. Pre-conceived ideas on male and female leadership styles were sent down the gangplank as the audience was eased away from society’s ingrained binary notions of masculinity and femininity, and into a space where they were ready and willing to draw from both those parts of themselves in order to: ’lead like me.’ ’Lead like me‘ means reaching into yourself and selecting the right action for that situation – regardless of what package you come in. ’Lead Like Me‘ may just as appropriately have been the title of the event – though as LLAW Initiative Founder Justine Lutterodt noted – it is not nearly as provocative.
Justine expanded on this idea that binary notions of masculine and feminine leadership are hopelessly outdated in today’s global, complex business world. She pointed to the shortcomings of the typical women’s self-help business book – which seem to deal exclusively in projecting masculine qualities onto female leaders, and in essence creating and playing on the perceived ‘weaknesses’ of women. The received wisdom for years has been: cut your hair short, power dress – in short defeminise yourself.
Three panellists then shared their stories – each tied by a common theme of facing a challenge with the real prospect of failure as a potential outcome. The speakers on the night; one leader from the banking sector, one from an accountancy firm, and another a partner at a major law firm – were each inspiring role models in their own right. The stories told resonated strongly with a like-minded room. Each story broke at a crux – a decision point – often with, by the nature of the storyteller’s role in a large organization: hundreds of millions of pounds at stake. Then it was the turn of the participants – with the decision point turned back to the floor. What action would you take if you were in that person’s shoes; faced with those challenges and with the real prospect of failure? Which path would they take?
These were real-life stories with real-life knots, nuances, dead-ends and eccentricities. There were no easy answers handed out at the end – no right and wrong answers at all – and that is what made the event fascinating: these were complex problems, with complex motivations and complex solutions. It was exciting to see intelligent, creative thinkers form and make the argument for their own solutions. They were all valid, but as you might expect – very few foresaw the real-life outcomes, in all their complex reality.
The enduring outcome of the evening was certainly the people, the community – the knowledge that the LLAW network will push forward together and be there to equip one another to solve future complex problems. This is a formidably rich resource of ideas and experience for likeminded souls to turn to, and draw from, and add to.
The Lead Like a Woman events – and by extension the dynamic, supportive community that grows around them – are quietly providing a powerful, organic forum for women leaders (and men – with male participation keenly encouraged) to share ideas, help each other and inspire one another on to further glories.
Justine Lutterodt on Mindfulness: A Tool for Leadership of the Future in Developing Leaders magazine