The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features an article on leaders with "higher ambition" who are able to turn companies around by appealing to workers' desire for meaningful work that contributes holistically to society over the long term.
While the leaders in the article profiled are all men (Mervyn Davies and Peter Sands of Standard Chartered Bank; Leif Johansson of Volvo; and Doug Conant of Campbell Soup) I would argue that their leadership styles are actually what successful women entrepreneurs have been doing for decades. The article's three authors (also all men) deserve kudos for discovering a more "female leadership" methodology -- my words, and what I call the "female quotient."
So what is a "higher ambition leader?" According to the article, a higher ambition leader builds a community of shared purpose, downplays his own role in the organization's success in favor of giving credit to his colleagues, and communicates actively with multiple levels of the organization to embed the focus and long-term goals of the company. Such leaders create "shared values, strong emotional attachment, and high levels of mutual trust and respect [to] enable organizations to operate at elevated levels" thus achieving the strategic vision and goals.
One example is how Standard and Chartered Bank bested its main competitors, Citibank and HSBC, during the Great Recession by getting all its employees to "do what's right" for the bank as well as its customers. They achieved this by using a number of traditional management tactics (cutting costs, strategically paring operations, co-locating key managers, etc.) but also by living the values necessary to build collaboration across multiple countries and cultures. The CEO and CFO (Sands and Davies) made sure that people were coached in collaborative skills and knew how to make effective decisions that involved multiple parts of the organization. They also launched a global charity effort that restored sight to millions of blind people around the world. By getting employees at all levels involved in the larger mission, the leaders showed them that they could make the same kind of difference in business for their customers.
These traits and tactics sound very much like those used by successful female managers and entrepreneurs I have studied over the years. Most women entrepreneurs start their companies to fulfill an overarching goal or value that drives their management philosophy. Take, for example:
Sue Allon, founder and CEO of Allonhill. Sue Allon, a serial entrepreneur, founded Allonhill (and before that, Murrayhill) with the goal of bringing ethics, transparency and accountability to the mortgage industry. Her company analyzes and verifies mortgages for investors and institutional clients so that they have third party assurance on the quality of loans they are buying. Allon's relentless quest for ethics and quality has propelled her company's hypergrowth from a startup in 2008 to its projected $36 million in revenue this year.
Marie Moody, founder and president of Stella and Chewy's, an innovative raw pet food manufacturer. After rescuing a sick shelter dog (Chewy) Moody started her company under the premise that pets are healthier when fed a high quality, raw, nutritionally complete and balanced diet that is guaranteed safe from pathogens. She pioneered a unique high-pressure process that eliminates bacteria from raw meats. Moody backs up her commitment to shelter animals by donating a portion of all profits to rescue groups and no-kill shelters.
Linda Mason, co-founder and Chairman of Bright Horizons, a child-care and education company that runs child development facilities for corporate clients. Mason, along with her husband, developed the company's mission of providing high quality education to children. It permeates how they manage their employees (who are paid 20-30 percent above industry average) and guides decisions based on a charter of social responsibility. Her experience as an aid worker in Cambodia cemented Mason's desire to put her passion first and help children under 5 get the right start in the world. Passion and perseverance turned the company into a $1.3 billion acquisition by Bain in 2008.
I applaud all of these higher-ambition leaders. And maybe now that the concept has made it into the Harvard Business Review, women's natural style of understated and values-based leadership will gain more respect.
This post first appeared at Forbes.com.
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