Recently, I read an article in a leading business publication that explored the women of Silicon Valley. I expected the piece to highlight women’s contributions to the expanding digital and technology landscape. Well, let’s just say the content drifted in another direction. After several breathtaking pages of text, I decried the fact that the article was more interested in gauging how the men of Silicon Valley treat their female counterparts than actually highlighting all the important things women do in the tech houses of the Valley. Cue the clip from Mad Men.
Today, I’m not going to waste your time with a tome about glass ceilings, sexual impropriety, and salary discrepancies. Everyone reading this piece knows that we are a long way from true gender (as well as racial and other) equality in the workplace. Count me among those waiting for achievement to become the standard for advancement and acclaim instead of gender. While we wait for the corporate locker room to integrate and get a scrub down, we can spend some time celebrating the influence women bring to high-tech. Let’s start with leadership.
In my view, effective leadership requires three things: a plan, a process, and a voice. Women who have these tools and use them masterfully will always be tapped to manage people and projects and will potentially move into executive positions. The plan piece of the leadership equation should seem obvious. While it goes by many names like mission, vision, goals, core values, etc., the “plan” is also very much about aspiration. An effective leader is an aspirational leader.
Women who emerge as effective leaders in technology and other corporate environments craft a vision for their business and corresponding vision for their role within the business. Again, it’s about aspiration. Where do we want to be in three, five, ten years, and beyond? Where do I see myself within the larger corporate vision? After the leader dreams the big dream, there must be a workable process in place to move the dream from imagination to action. The leader identifies the assets that are needed to bring the vision to life, including both human and nonhuman assets. Women, especially, are wired to use their intuition at this point. Can my team handle the vision I’ve put before them or do I need to retool the team? Of course, all of this presupposes that the leader is equipped to “voice” the vision to the team and its stakeholders. If you’re lacking confidence in your “voice,” seek a coach to help you in this area. While you may be the most creative person in the business world, if you can’t articulate your ideas in a credible and compelling manner, you’re sunk.
Let me be brutally honest…effective leaders are pushed, challenged, opposed, and attacked. If you are truly helping an organization think strategically – move forward – you are going to take some hits. There’s no need to make a biology lesson out of this, but let’s remember that the human brain is designed to mitigate risk and keep all systems in a status quo setting. Said another way, people loathe change. Ironically, even the most robust businesses must embrace change, or they will eventually rot on the vine. When’s the last time you picked up a VHS tape from Blockbuster? Exactly.
Effective leaders create and manage change. Was does this entail? For starters, keeping the vision out in front of the team during the good times as well as the lean times. Effective leaders also inspire, support, and comfort the team. Some call this “shared suffering.” If the business is being rocked by an adverse economic cycle or an unexpected obstacle in front of the corporate game plan, the effective leader must be willing to join the team in the pain. For example, if you’re managing pink slips and payroll reductions, you must lose some comfort too. Leadership also means you’re the one tasked with envisioning a new plan when the original route is no longer working. Did I mention accountability? If you are the leader, you are responsible for the actions of everyone working for you. When mistakes are made, you own them too.
A Note on Creativity
Women making inroads into the high-tech world recognize that creativity is part of the leadership portfolio. Indeed, creativity breathes life into the colorful visions that propel great businesses into even healthier situations. Do you see yourself as a creative leader? While not all leaders are born with a deft creative touch, all effective leaders take the time to expand their creative potential through continuing education, quality selfcare, and strong mentoring relationships. Bottom line? Do what you need to do to stoke the creative fires. The real genius of leaders like Indra Nooyi lies in their ability to see what others can’t see yet, and then pass on that creative vision to the organization.
Yeah, some of the guys (and gals for that matter) within your sphere are struggling with your success and influence. They’ll get through it. In the meantime, keep doing your thing on the path toward even greater success and influence. And remember, a new generation of young women look to you as a beacon in their own rise of leadership. Share what you know with those who are behind you.