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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Leadership, Women and Vision

There is a big difference between having ideas and having a vision. The year 2009 was named the Year of Creativity and Innovation by the European Union with a strong focus on idea-generating techniques. Executives these days are, however, increasingly exposed to a wealth of ideas as a result of all that training in brainstorming and related techniques, but what is in short supply is visionary thinkers who are capable of making sense of this abundance of ideas and stimuli that have to be translated into actions, preferably through a unified and compelling vision.

Inspiring others to follow your vision should not be underestimated and it should certainly not be  taken for granted. A clear mission and consistent message is what attracts, directs, and motivates followers, and without followers, of course, no powerful results of your vision. But let’s first untangle some related concepts: purpose, goals, and vision. Purpose is generally described as your reason for being, it is timeless. Goals are the objectives you want to accomplish, usually in 1 – 3 year increments, and vision is a vivid description of what you will do with your organization (or your life), over a decade or even a lifetime.

In the remainder of this post I’d like to share thoughts and wisdom from Insead on leadership and vision. The Global Executive Leadership Inventory (GELI) is a 360 degree feedback instrument developed at Insead’s Global Leadership Center by Manfred Kets de Vries, Pierre Vrignaud, and Elizabeth Florent-Treacy. To identify significant dimensions of exemplary leadership the researchers interviewed many senior executives over the course of three years. The resulting questionnaire was validated on an international sample of more than 300 senior executives and MBA students. The result, the GELI, measures degrees of competency in twelve dimensions of global leadership, 10 of which were analyzed in the research on leadership ability in men and women

1.    Envisioning – articulating a compelling vision, mission, and strategy that incorporate a multicultural and diverse perspective and connect employees, shareholders, suppliers, and customers on a global scale.

2.    Empowering – empowering followers at all levels  of the organization by delegating and sharing information.

3.    Energizing – energizing and motivating employees to achieve the organization’s goals.

4.    Designing and aligning – Creating world-class organizational design and control system and using them to align the behavior of employees with the organization’s values and goals.  

5.    Rewarding and feedback – Setting up the appropriate reward structures and giving constructive feedback.

6.    Team building –creating team players and focusing on team effectiveness by instilling a cooperative atmosphere, promoting collaboration, and encouraging constructive conflict.

7.    Outside orientation – making employees aware of outside constituencies such as customers, suppliers, shareholders, and other interest groups, including local communities affected by the organization.
8.    Global mind-set: inculcating a global mentality, instilling values that act as a glue between the regional or national cultures represented in the organization.

9.    Tenacity: encouraging tenacity and courage in employees by setting a personal example in taking reasonable risks.

10.  Emotional intelligence: fostering trust in the organization by creating – primarily by setting an example – an emotionally intelligent workforce whose members are self-aware and treat others with respect and understanding.

The other two dimensions that were not included in this study are life balance and resilience to stress.

In an article in Harvard Business Review OnPoint, winter 2010, Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru state that, using this GELI, women (scoring higher on almost all of the dimensions) are judged to be significantly less visionary than men in 360-degree feedback. It may just be a matter of perception, women might just use different processes than men do to shape the future, or maybe women do not buy into the value of being seen as visionary, but this negative judgment on women and vision, the authors argue, stops women from getting to the top. If leadership is essentially about realizing change, then crafting and articulating a vision of a better future is certainly a leadership prerequisite.

If  you google Insead or GELI you will find more information on this research, the questionnaire and it’s many results and conclusions. In this post, I have two reasons for touching on the topic. First, for all leaders and aspiring leaders, whether female or male, you can contemplate on your functioning on the 12 dimensions and seek feedback from all around you on how people score you on the said dimension and what suggestions they have for improvement. Second, all (aspiring) female leaders out there, take the results (and there were many more than just “Female leaders and vision”) of this Insead research project to heart and develop, if necessary, your visionary qualities. Maybe gender stereotypes are at play, as the authors suggest, leading us to expect emotional, collaborative women and rational, directive men. When men communicate from the heart or manage participatively, it’s generally taken as an added plus. Women’s emotional communication or inclusive process, by contrast, is implicitly viewed as proof of an incapacity or unwillingness to do otherwise, even if the situation calls for it. Or maybe all is well because the results might just reflect that women come to their visions in a less directive way than men do. So it might be perception more than reality that women lack visionary qualities. But since perception is reality in many ways, and therefore it’s still recommended to work on your visionary skills so that they can be seen and understood by people around you.

Saving the best for last, what is an essay on a topic without defining that topic? I’d like to use the definition of Stew Friedman, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, also author and former head of Ford Motor’s Leadership Development Center. Friedman states that a useful personal leadership vision is a vision that:
-       Focuses action
-       Provides direction and
-       Inspires your stakeholders to move in a direction you choose.

1 comment:

  1. I really connected with your "Envisioning" paragraph, Carolien. Very thought-provoking article...