You Won’t Read This Anywhere But Here

What Others Are Afraid To Say About: Women Leaders

I’m going to go out on a limb here because, I actually believe far too many not only cower from what I’m about to say; they disingenuously give reasons why they should.

Personally I’m not scared for talking about some “taboo” styled subject or idea. Maybe that’s because I’ve made a fool of myself more times than I would like to admit. I’ve had practice opening my mouth as in doing or saying stupid things when in actuality I was trying to be cordial or polite. As in: “So, when are you expecting?”

Yep – I said it – and she wasn’t. You probably can’t feel (or be) any more stupid than in those type moments. So trust me – I’m a little more cautious about opening my mouth than I was prior to that. (You’re never the same – ever!)

So with that said I would like to express some thoughts I have about (drum roll please…): Women leaders, and why I believe far too many have some convoluted image of them today. (Yeah, I know. Like I said – brace yourself.)

The real issue or problem at hand is for the many up and coming women leaders. Far – far too many are focusing on the past looking for their clues on what to do for the future. Most women leaders looking to move up the value chain are still acting as if there is some proverbial glass ceiling to be broken. I’m here to say – there isn’t.

That “ceiling” has not only been broken – it’s been shattered. We have women leaders today running some of the worlds largest corporations. Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg, Marrissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington, and more.

What women leaders of both today, and the future have to focus on is not some glass ceiling. Rather:

  • Why are there seemingly so many glass walls or partitions?
  • Why do we not have more of a cross-section of women leaders throughout corporations themselves, at every level, as well as across other markets?

Those are a handful of the questions at hand that should be dealt with and argued about. Not the ceiling.

Continually paying homage as to discuss or argue that a ceiling is still in place wastes valuable intellectual capital that would be better placed at real issues for women representation. And, that is at all levels. Not just the corner office.

Today’s typical business books or other literature designed or written for the so-called “Woman Leader” of today reads as if these leaders want some form of romance novel cross pollinated with this years catch-phrase of the business world. It’s pure sophistry, and the current women leaders of today know it, but again far too many of those trying to become one – don’t.

The business world is not a place where it’s a man’s or woman’s world any longer. It’s a producer’s world. Period.

Women who understand that point and focus on actually leading rather than continuing to focus on some exclusionary barrier will not only get ahead of the others – they’ll leap-frog over the countless numbers of others.

During my career I worked for two women CEO’s. Both of these women ran two of the largest food companies in the Northeast region of the US. In particular these women didn’t just own some company that competed in what is considered a dog eat dog – cut-throat – male dominated industry (the wholesale meat industry). They headed both the number #1 and number #2 companies respectively. Again, not from some also competed position. They were the competition.

During my tenure and interactions with these women leaders never did I see anything displayed that resembles what I’ve read on the topic of “Women Leaders” of today. To think that these women have some sort of “feminine side” that needs to be treated differently than their male counterparts to me is insulting. I also believe they would tell you the same.

Running and moving a company forward is the position that can only be filled for any length of time by a true leader. Not a guy leader. Not a woman leader. A leader. Period.

I’m here to state from first hand experience. Go into any meeting, negotiation, or anything else. Sit across the table from either the two women I knew personally, or any other true women leader today and try to address or treat them as some softer, delicate version of the stereotypical male CEO of the past. Not only will you be shown the door: Your head will be handed to you before you cross the threshold.

If we want to help more women to take up the challenges facing many areas of the business world. I believe many need to stop talking or writing from the viewpoint of leadership is only if you conquer the corner office. It’s not.

I will argue it’s more important to address not only women but their male counterparts that leadership is about leading. Not the location of your office.

This is a question that should not only be actively discussed and debated within the women community. It should also be addressed squarely by the women leaders of today as to help the up and coming crop of potential leaders in moving forward:

  • Is it somehow more important for women leaders to focus on and have only the corner office occupied by a woman; yet, the company of 50 – 500 – 5000 – 50K has so few women in leadership roles throughout the organization? And If so – why so?

Please do not misinterpret the above question as some form of convoluted argument for where a quota or something else should help fill this need. Nothing could be further from it, and I don’t subscribe to that model or theory. I’m solidly merit or results based only.

The overarching theme that should be addressed whether it be women or men for that matter is leading. In a business world currently in a state of flux unseen since the industrial revolution with its decentralized replacement. It’s more, and more incumbent on teaching leadership qualities that are imperative to anyone serious about moving forward.

Honest and open debate should be fostered while challenging any and all status quo opinions whether old or new. That is what’s needed today in my view. However, there are far too few willing to venture there. It’s considered “taboo” or worse “chauvinistic” when brought or argued in mixed company. Which proves my point.

When a discussion on or about leadership evolves as to then migrate into male or female formatted questions or answers in my opinion shows that the debate has gone awry. I’ll state it here once again because I truly believe this is not just the point, rather – it’s the only point:

“The business world is not a place where it’s a man’s or woman’s world any longer. It’s a producer’s world. Period.”

It’s myopic for anyone today that’s focused only on persuading today’s potential women leaders that their aspirations should revolve around a job or position that is becoming more and more irrelevant by the day. “The CEO in the corner office.”

What should be addressed – and I argue, is that today’s potential women leaders (and some current ones also) should focus on the leadership aspect. Not the title. True leadership begins and ends with the person or individual. Male or female it doesn’t matter. Especially in a business world that is becoming more and more fragmented not only by the day rather, every moment.

If I seem like I’m a little of base I propose this one thought experiment. What’s the more important answer to the following question:

Company A has a dilemma regarding an issue that could threaten a Billion dollars of their market share. They need answers in regards to their widget manufacturing that seems to be computer related, and they need it now. Do they:

  1. Call HP because they might have the possible solutions oh and by the way Meg Whitman is the CEO? or…
  2. Call Jane Smith. The one person organization where she’s the CEO of Jane Smith Inc. because Jane is regarded as the person with the possible answer.

Everyone, and I mean everyone if focusing on whether or not Jane Smith can rise to fill Meg’s shoes. I’m here to state that any woman leader worth their salt not only doesn’t want to be in that group. They want to be the person or answer to the second question. However, you won’t hear that from anyone else – but me.

True leadership currently has the ability to be expressed in the business world by true leaders irregardless if they sit in some coveted office with a title. Unlike anyone or anytime prior.

And, the quicker this gets figured out and internalized by the future leaders (and some that currently are) be it women or men for that matter; the faster we can get on with moving everything ahead. Better, faster, stronger.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr