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  • Writer's pictureSandy Burgham

What do the stand-out current leaders have in common?

In the last lockdown letter we pondered the characteristics of those who continue to thrive in uncertain times and thus it seemed appropriate to delve more specifically into what kind of leaders that we are seeing as more adept at navigating this sort of complexity.

As we all know, an emotional trigger will drive people to the polarities (and indeed the polls) and we know when dialed up too high in leaders they render the “leader” incapable of really delivering sustainable transformation as they will be caught up in what we term a ‘reactive loop’ – a return to a past pattern. This is the egoic need – a return to what is familiar. But paradoxically we are in an “adapt or die” environment on so many levels.

Right now, we are experiencing a moment in history where leadership is being judged by the “wellbeing” of people rather than by just traditional economic measures. And whose leadership is being touted as the most effective? That of women leaders. Interestingly,, the publishing house that has a focus on finance, wealth and investments, has recently published a number of articles in this area and hence it seemed appropriate to provide commentary on how the viewpoints expressed might link to our work. When we founded Play CoLab in 2016 it was to ensure that our work was indeed as inclusive as it could be, particularly in the area of gender – we wanted to play with all types, no matter their gender identity. And so you will know, Play CoLab has worked with the notion of gender deliberately in our work to help inform what we do and what we can share on an ongoing basis.*

So how true might it be that those countries with women leaders, are faring better in terms of controlling the virus that is destroying the global economy. You see, in a pre-Covid world that was how success was measured – the financial economy of a nation and its comparison on a global basis, even if fundamental measures used globally like GDP are questionable as they ignore the unpaid and often unseen contribution of women (do read the groundbreaking contribution in this area of NZ’s very own Dame Marilyn Waring who amongst many other contributions to national and global leadership, was a Director of the Reserve Bank for 5 years).

Because of this focus on financial measures, as can be expected in the pre-Covid world, arguments for more diversity in leadership were often reduced to the economic impact of more women leaders i.e. companies with more women in leadership fare better financially – a type of market feminism – Get more girls in and we will make more money. And the argument against gender diversity was often reduced to a meritocracy argument – it should be an even playing field and those who perform better should get the job. Hence using both of these logics and as evidenced by who currently runs businesses predominantly set up to deliver financial returns to shareholders, it must be that the better leaders are mainly white men sitting amongst a sprinkling of white women. But this defies the research on leadership effectiveness (let alone common-sense).

As you know the kaupapa we serve is to raise the consciousness of leaders – at the end of the day, as noted in our last two lockdown letters, it comes down to being able to have an order of mind to navigate complexity. And thus, we are enamoured with The Leadership Circle not just because it is the only 360 that puts leadership into an adult development framework but also because of the extensive and ongoing research that underpins it.  And putting a gender lens* to the data tends to challenge how leadership has traditionally presented itself.

The Leadership Circle’s extensive research with up to 2000 businesses looks at performance criteria including revenue, market share, sales, profitability, quality of product and services, new product development and overall business performance. It shows that if leadership effectiveness can be improved in the way it proposes, there is a 38% probability of seeing that improvement translate into higher business performance. Great stuff. And this is where the gender lens is interesting.

What makes a leader effective tends to be consistent across genders and cultures i.e. in essence, women score on average in the 59th percentile in creative competencies and men in the 40th percentile. Women also were rated slightly higher in the overall leadership effectiveness bar. And while there was no real discernable difference, male vs female, in 17 of the creative competencies, there was a significant difference in one measure –  Caring Connection, where women did score noticeably higher (whether the latter is nature or nurture is debatable) i.e:

One of the reasons that women do have higher scores is because those women that are in a position of some influence (and hence within The Leadership Circle database) in many ways have already had to navigate complexity when finding themselves in a system which tends by and large to be patriarchal and male-dominated because of traditional cultural conditioning.

Of course, we all know than assuming that just because you are born with a womb does not make you a better leader, more inclined to promote women or have natural emotional intelligence. Plenty of men are all three of these things and plenty of women are not. But it does indicate, as organisations attempt through agile methodology and other means, to move from patriarchal to partnership cultures that the leadership of women needs to be prioritised. And this could be relevant in any structure – an organisation, a family or a nation. So, it is not body parts that determine a leader’s ability to purposefully lead in the integral space, but other factors that might include a broad experience of the world and of inequity, and the openness to learn from this coupled with a desire to make the world a better place.

And, again, what kind of leadership will we need in a post-Covid world? We will need conscious leadership and that will encourage greater unity rather than divisiveness, a subject we will explore next week when we start to imagine what it indeed could all look like. Because there is one thing for sure – in the post-Covid world, it will not be business as usual.

So before we emerge from our respective cocoons into Alert Level 2, how about imagining what kind of post-Covid world you would like us to move into?  

Gandhi once said Be the change you want to see in the world

So what is the change you want to see in the world? Aside from the Unprecedented X project we encourage all to contribute to, we would love you to answer this simple question here and we can report back next week. It will take less than a minute of your time. It is time to go forward not backward, and this means imagining potential in an unchartered territory.

We really look forward to your response to this call.

Thanking you in advance.

Here when you need us.

Best Sandy, Jenny and all at Play CoLab

PS For more information about how leadership effectiveness and how it pertains to business performance we recommend: Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results by R. Anderson & W. Adams. 

PPS For those interested in reading some of those Forbes articles: 

*We also deliberately play with diversity in other ways to inform our work on an ongoing basis (a story for another day)

** We are unaware of any specific leadership research that looks at this with an ethnic identity lens, possibly because ethnic identity is even more complex than gender (again, a story for another day). But will keep looking!

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