This is the second post on a series about Sandra Peterson, CEO of Bayer CropScience
Like many successful women I've met, Sandra Peterson, CEO of Bayer CropScience, describes herself as a leader who tries to "inspire an organization to achieve a higher purpose than just making sales and profitability targets." She also prides herself on being very collaborative, but also has high performance standards. She urges her team to reach for goals -- even those that they aren't sure they're capable of reaching. And then she helps them to actually get there.
I believe a great leader has better people working for them [who] can do their jobs better than [the leaders] themselves... I am very comfortable not being the expert and actually putting people who work for me forward. I don't need to know all the answers and I don't need to be the one who's out there up front. It's not about me. It's about the organization being successful and promoting those who work for me to give the board presentation or to be the one who talks about the work that's being done for the company.
Along with inspiration, Sandra holds people accountable for meeting their commitments and deadlines. She cites certain values that she will not compromise.
I don't compromise at all on how people lead and manage other people. I don't want to work in an environment where people are belittled and berated. I don't believe in management by fear. I also won't sacrifice the future of a company for a quarter. To me, the biggies are things about how you treat your customers. Do you respect and appreciate your customers and feel good about what you're doing? But it's also how you deal with people in your organization and how you deal with your customers and treat them with respect.
Three Steps for Helping Women
Sandra also says she actively works to create an environment where women will thrive. This is often not an easy task as many of the industries she's worked in have typically been very male-dominated. But she has succeeded in this effort by consciously doing three things:
I consciously make an effort to get to know some of the women who may be in the middle of the organization -- they're not at senior management levels -- and try to figure out whether there's a new opportunity they can take on that enables them to shine and succeed in a way they may not have in the past. I don't overly focus on the women, to the detriment of others, but give them some advice and counsel in that regard.
The second thing I do is to be very clear about any job that becomes open in the organization that we must evaluate a diverse slate of candidates. I have this basic belief that you can talk a lot about diversity, and you can do all sorts of networking and mentoring things, but unless you actually measure progress against it and have metrics being tracked and managed against, you don't actually see the change in performance in the organization. Simply put, people in business are trained from the beginning that what gets measured is what matters. So I ensure that the male leaders and managers also have this as part of their objective as well... I push very hard to take the extra time to identify the unusual candidate, which may be somebody who may have some inherent skills but is not the obvious candidate for that job.
And then the third one is I try as much as I can to talk to women as they go through different phases of their career about some of the issues and challenges that they may face and how to think about those. I also make an effort to mentor and support other women and give them advice, to the extent I can be a positive role model for these women.
In addition, Sandra structures meetings so they include more people from lower levels in the various teams -- not just the project or department leaders. This, she says, achieves two purposes. First, she gets unfiltered information from people in the trenches who are actually doing the work. And second, by enlarging the group, she automatically gets a couple of other women in the room.
I don't go out of my way to showcase [the women], but I may ask them a question so that their voice is also heard -- and so I'm not the only female voice in the room.
One piece of advice Sandra frequently tells women is that they should "avoid being the smartest one in the room." Why? Isn't that like a mother telling her daughter to hide her intelligence in school so she has a better chance of catching a husband? Sandra laughed at my analogy, but clarified her point:
It goes back to a fundamental thing that you make everybody else around the room uncomfortable if you're different than they are. First and foremost, they [the men] don't know how you tick; they don't know what to talk to you about during the breaks, because you're different than them. And then all of a sudden if you're the one who always has the answer and is always completely prepared it makes them look like they're not doing as good a job as you are. That doubles the discomfort level. And so being highly collaborative with other people, and working in a collaborative way and helping them, and putting them at ease along a number of different dimensions all of a sudden changes the dynamics.
The next post in this series will look at the perceptions and stereotypes of female executives.
This post first appeared on Forbes.com.