Not long ago, the CEO of a well-known IT company told me over coffee about losing a woman on his executive team who got hired away by another firm. The CEO (let's call him Dan) explained that this female executive had been the "voice of the customer" for the leadership team, and had recently told the group that their key customer was unhappy -- yet no one had listened to her. In fact, a fellow executive team member suggested that her assessment was off-base, as the company's sales figures for the previous quarter were in good shape. But he was wrong and she was right: not only did the company experience a regrettable loss of their key client, but this important customer ending up taking their business to a competitor.
"We all tended to discount her input -- not purposely, but I can see now that's what happened," Dan told me, somewhat embarrassed. "Now I see that the different perspective she brought to the table was invaluable to our organization. I think we need more balance among our leadership -- the type of balance that diverse styles of leadership can bring."
Dan's lament is not uncommon among senior leaders with whom I've spoken in SHAMBAUGH Leadership's leadership development and executive coaching practice. Even profitable organizations that have achieved measurable success may find themselves suddenly paddling upstream, falling behind the market and their competition. When I dig deeper into what's behind this disturbing trend, I consistently uncover the primary reason for the predicament of these companies: they're trying desperately to hang onto an outdated leadership approach that brought them success in the past.
I often tell these executives that while previous leadership models aren't "broken" per se, the reality is that these frameworks won't get companies where they want to go in the current business environment. Plenty has changed in the last decade, and what helped these companies become successful initially won't keep them successful going forward.
While many companies have gotten very good about "talking the talk" of the future, few are walking the talk. I believe that walking the talk requires willingness to release the old style and embrace a new leadership model. I call this model Integrated Leadership. When you hear this term, you may automatically think: "Our leadership team is integrated; we have plenty of different types of opinions around our table." But what type of balance do you really have?
Do your leaders truly possess a diversity of perspectives, styles, and traits that represent both left-brain and right-brain thinking? If not, your company may be operating with only half of its potential leadership capacity. Men tend to be left-brain thinkers with an emphasis on logic and critical thinking, but women's right-brain leanings toward intuition, collaboration, and emotional intelligence (EI) are equally important in the 21st century. In fact, a new way of thinking and operating has become imperative for organizations that want to achieve and retain competitive advantage.
Gender-balanced integrated leadership requires that today's leaders learn--both organizationally and interpersonally--how to integrate multiple sources of information into a more holistic perspective to determine the best course of action. Doing so requires not just strong analytical skills, but also a higher level of EI and the ability to truly listen to others and collaborate effectively with them.
Think about it this way: your business serves a diverse base of customers, with different needs and preferences. If you attempt to connect with that wide range of people with only one type of executive--whether all male or all female--favoring a single leadership style, you'll be limiting your potential to a narrow slice of the world.
When your boardroom lacks Integrated Leadership, you're positioning your company not to seize opportunities that are crucial to business success, but to miss them. In my recent book Make Room For Her, I quoted Melanie Healey, a senior executive at Procter & Gamble who said: "It's having this combination of very different perspectives that creates our next Wow! Solution--the ideas that no one has ever thought of before."
In my next post, I'll share how companies can begin to build a business case for Integrated Leadership.