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Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

October 10, 2012

Get the Purpose Right

  1. Gender Physics
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“If our organizations get their purpose right, there will be no need for special programs to promote women”.

A newly minted female CEO made this statement at a presentation to a group of executive women and then paused to measure the reaction. “I know this may not be a popular position," she continued. "But I really believe it”.

After thinking about it for a minute, I had to agree with her. In fact, throughout my entire working career I always knew that if I found a boss who focused on the organization’s purpose and its results, I would do better. These were the leaders who put me on their team and promoted me. It was never about them, it was about the organization. Their vision was broader - they focused on things outside of themselves. Things that were larger than themselves.

The Opposite of Purpose

You see, my own goal was always to improve the organization, which was a threat to a boss with a gargantuan ego. Management guru Jim Collins said the most despised trait of leaders is self-absorbed narcissism, which is the opposite of purpose. This is a notion I heartily endorse.

If you believe in an organization and come to work every day wanting to make it better, you’ll be engaged and look for others who want to do the same. You'll have purpose. Leaders who share this purpose have a greater acceptance of new ideas and a greater tolerance for a contrarian position. Leaders who want praise and adoration will seek employees to tell them how wonderful things are, rather than those who want to create change.

Richard Leider, author of “The Power of Purpose,” says that without purpose you find a certain lethargy he calls “inner kill.” Because my purpose was improving the system, I felt this tired, unmotivated “inner kill” when I wasn’t supposed to question or suggest changes. In my experience not much happens in organizations led by people without purpose, as they want others to believe that their leadership is without fault. Obviously this makes it difficult - nearly impossible - to change or improve.

An Asset For Positive Change

Thus, if leaders are focused on getting the purpose right, they’ll naturally have more women in their organizations, especially in management. They’ll view the diversity of opinions women bring forward as an asset for making positive change happen. After all, the best talent is scarce these days and women are statistically more highly-educated. Companies with only men in management are not only squandering talent, but are probably maintaining the status quo. There is no innovation or progress there, only mediocrity!

“Women can be active agents of change and bring something qualitatively different to the table, along with improved performance to the bottom line” says Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who authored the book, “Why Women Mean Business”.

“The low representation of women in senior leadership is a scandalous missed opportunity," says Wittenberg-Cox.

"One Of the Best Survival Tactics"

Development Dimensions International, a worldwide talent management consultant, agrees. They were quoted as saying “In today’s sagging global economy, helping women move up the organization ladder could well be one of the best survival tactics that an organization could undertake.”

Clearly the “glass ceiling” isn’t simply a “women’s issue”- it is about companies making the most of their potential. It is about getting their purpose right. I mentioned this to the speaker at our meeting of senior women executives, suggesting that from now on we should be looking at companies with no women in management and asking, “What is wrong with them? Have they no purpose?”

She agreed and recounted a personal story. Her previous employer had offered her an overseas position, which she seriously considered. It was touted to be the route to her company’s global management board...yet she had doubts. Not only would the move have been disruptive to her family, she had no confidence that when “push came to shove” her company would actually promote a woman to that board. They had never done it before and there was a certain inertia regarding change within company culture. Ultimately, she took another position with a different company instead, ultimately making huge headway for the competitor.

Companies with purpose are those who value women. They make attraction and promotion of women a priority. They make women in their organizations feel accepted and valued. It’s not about making women feel better, it’s about making businesses better. Next time you see an annual report board photo with only men in suits, question their commitment to the purpose of their organization. If they want to get it right, they will be standing shoulder to shoulder with women -contributing, questioning and acting as agents of change.