Focused L&D Interventions for Women Leaders?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook & author of a landmark manifesto on Women empowerment “Lean In” ends her popular TED talk on an evocative note, by dreaming of a world where half of the nations & half of the organizations will be led by Women leaders.

The reality, however, is not so encouraging. Consider this, as per a 2006 report1, women comprise only 2% of the CEOs and 8% of the top earners at Fortune 500 companies. Though there have been great strides in women moving in & up the corporate hierarchy since then. However at today’s pace it will take 25 years for gender parity at Senior VP levels and one hundred years at the C-suite, as per as a 2015 report2.

The world where there are more women at senior leadership levels helming business divisions and organizations will definitely be a gentler kinder world, however it won’t come into being by default. It needs a nudge to come into being.

Many progressive organizations today are taking initiatives in the field of women empowerment & creating the right policies & incentives to ease & propel the forward movement of deserving women in the leadership pipeline.

Furthermore, some organizations are coming forward and initiating learning interventions which can empower women to be more effective and move up the corporate hierarchy. Mentoring and coaching programs, woman leadership programs, emotional intelligence, etc. are some of targeted learning initiatives which build specific mindsets and competencies, among identified women managers, are being taken. However, insufficient focus and attention is being paid to this dimension.

Now a question arises whether learning & development initiatives

should be taken specifically for Women leaders? Why not club these initiatives with general L&D interventions? Is there anything diametrically different in the male & female leadership development construct?

It turns out that there are many valid reasons for such targeted initiatives. One of the first reasons is the power of cohort. Once identified, middle level managers are put together in a group which is a forum where common issues & challenges can be identified & solutions brain-stormed. Senior women leaders can role-model and share their personal stories of challenges and triumph, to inspire & motivate these groups. The resultant camaraderie & bonding are reasons enough for such initiatives.

However, it turns out that there are gender differences in terms of certain expected leadership behaviors which can be enhanced through

women specific workshops and coaching interventions.

For example, there is ample research3 that women as a group consistently under-rate & under-represent their contribution to the success of an endeavor compared to men. This has obvious ramifications for women being identified for top projects and future promotions.

Similarly, women as a group are more reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing that good job performance will naturally lead to rewards, Carol Frolinger and Deborah Kolb, founders of Women Negotiating Inc., call it the “Tiara Syndrome”.4

Also women as a group are at a disadvantage while negotiating for higher compensation, benefits, titles, and other perks. There is little downside for men when they negotiate for themselves, but since women are expected to be concerned for others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavourably.5

Targeted L&D interventions for women leaders need to address the above mentioned underlying issues and empower them to choose growth on their own terms, offer their greatest contribution s and earn their deserved rewards.


Designing a Breakthrough Business Conference

Organizations routinely undertake to organize a business conference at an exotic location, either as a yearly or a half-yearly event. These are often termed as a strategy meet, a sales conference, annual team meet, etc. and organized for varied team sizes. The purpose of these events is part celebration and part business planning (i.e. reviews, goal setting, visioning, strategy formulation, action plans, etc.). Organizations invest a significant amount of their resources (both time and money) and some team members make huge efforts in making such events, a remembered one for all attendees.

This article would like to provide insights as to how organizations can optimally leverage the collective time and power of the teams to achieve higher impact at such events. These get-togethers offer a unique opportunity to collectively move the organization forward. It can be a platform to literally invent the future, rather than keep living in the past. It can also be an opportunity to unleash the cumulative creative energies of the teams & foster greater ownership. It can be a magical event, rather than an outing to remember!!

All it takes is as much focus on planning & designing the conference, as is given to the selection of locations, booking of resorts & tickets. We, the authors, have had some experience in designing & conducting successful business conferences & would like to share our experience & offer some practical insights, which can help turn your next such outing into a high energy event with tangible outcomes.

The greatest contribution that the Learning & Development (L&D)/ Organizational Development (OD) function can offer to the Business/Function heads is to help identify a methodology which can underlie the design of such a conference. We, at C2X, have deployed certain systematic methodologies and the one that we have successfully deployed most is known as Appreciative Inquiry (AI); especially a powerful, applied and experiential variant of the AI methodology known as AI Summit. AI emerged from the doctoral work of David Cooperrider & Frank Barrett at Case Western Reserve University where they were working under the guidance of their thesis supervisor Suresh Srivastava. To appreciate means to ‘value’ & to inquire means to ‘ask questions’. At a fundamental level, AI seeks to uncover what creates value in the organization as of today. And in this process, also create greater value & propel the organization forward in the future! In the past few years, it has gained significant traction as a positive methodology for organization change & development.

The starting point of AI is the unconditional positive question, which moves the inquiry towards what is working well, what is giving life to the organization; to discover the positive core. For example, try out a positive question for yourself: Think back to a time at work that you recall as a highpoint of your career at your current organization (or your previous organization) and answer: 1) Please describe what happened & what made it so memorable? 2) What did you learn about your strengths and gifts?

In an AI Summit, which is typically a two day event, teams discover this positive core and utilize the AI methodology to co-create a compelling future, which they want to live into. Compared to the traditional top-down approach where the leader typically does a “tell & sell” of his/her vision, AI seeks to get the vision co-created. In the Tell & Sell approach, the leader tries to galvanize the team, whereas AI is an organic process where the very act of creation & contribution fosters a sense of ownership. In today’s context, where organizations grapple with releasing the creative energies of members & ensure “discretionary effort”, such an approach towards business planning can be quite empowering.

There is another quagmire in which traditional business planning conferences get stuck. Very often while planning their objectives teams turn to the past & start setting “incremental” goals. This is akin to inflation linked goal setting. This can quite literally create a “gravity pull” which can be quite difficult to escape.

The AI Summit approach side-steps this quagmire quite beautifully. Once the positive core is identified, the teams move into creating the vision of the long term future. Known as “dreaming” stage, it literally transposes the teams towards releasing their fondest hopes & deepest desires. This future, once envisioned, can & does have a “magnetic pull” for the teams which have contributed towards creating it.

Once this compelling future is envisioned, the business goals/projects/initiatives emanate from this imaged future, leveraging the best of the past and the “gravity pull” of past is defied. Hence this vision of the future provides the organization with the ‘escape velocity” to move into the next orbit.

Though the AI Summit methodology is quite powerful on its own, we, at C2X have added another powerful dimension to it i.e. Experiential Learning. In essence it is about creating a few experiences for the group & then correlating the data generated then & there, with validated & researched models/frameworks. The leadership team gets involved with the entire team and they together experience it. Genuine bonding happens.

Participants are able to see beyond other persons daily behavior, acceptance and a need to help each other emerges. The team members feel validated, valued and a part of the entire growth story. This makes it a unique experience for the entire team!!

The “A-Ha” which happens literally fuses or creates new neural pathways & insight gets generated.

Real insights changes the “seeing” & “being” of the participants. With this mindset, we have introduced “Experiential learning” into the AI Summit.

Through carefully designed & intelligentlyfaci litated “learning interventions” before & during the AI Summit, we “prime” the participants & empower them with empowering beliefs & ways of being. This enhances the level of participation & possibility of success of the conference & also the follow through. Such a mix of the powerful and experiential AI framework & insightful learning intervention results in engagement, fun, camaraderie creative work, provides memories and long lasting learnings.

A blue-print of the compelling future, based on bed-rock of past success & embodying the fondest desires of the entire group is created. This serves as a template for the organization for years to come as they work towards making this future a reality. An important point to also note is that we live in a dynamic world and it is imperative for teams to be flexible in finding out their paths for implementing actions for intended co-created outcomes.

We hope that we have been able to showcase that organization’s can turn business conferences from an outing to remember to a magical event. Our role is to empower business leaders with the possibility that there are methodologies which can help unleash the true creative energies of their functions/ businesses. All we need to do is to pay as much attention to the design of the conference as we do to booking the tickets and hotels!! All organizational members deserve it!! Let’s become a catalyst to create conferences which are memorable & captivating!!


Pygmalion Effect

Have you ever heard team members say “We will exceed the goals of our manager?” Have you witnessed a team outperforming others just because their manager believed so?

It is seen time and again that even an average performer, when he joins a winning team becomes an outperformer. One classic example I can think of is the Indian Cricket Team. When Dhoni was made the Captain, the Indian cricket team was not performing very well. If you watch any interview of Dhoni at that time, he used to wholeheartedly praise the team and always said that he had high expectations from the team. This conviction actually made each & every member perform to their full potential leading them to win the much-awaited World Cup in 2011.

It’s very common to see that if the right leader joins the organization, he can turn around the company with his positive expectations from the team. In Greek Mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who once made a beautiful sculpture of a lady and fell in love with her. He started believing that the sculpture is real & one day that sculpture actually manifested into a real lady. On similar lines, the way managers treat their employees is the employee’s reality. If the manager believes that the team will do very well, the team’s productivity soars high & if the manager’s expectations are low, the team actually underperforms.

This is known as the famous Pygmalion effect and the corollary is known as the Golem effect, both of which are self-fulfilling prophecies.

Pygmalion effect has been tried and tested through number of experiments by behavioral scientists & has been proved right. Thus, when we are looking to improve the productivity & performance of a team, it is very important to study the manager’s attitude towards his team.

Managers beware! The next time you tell your team that they are not up to the mark, say it with caution, as they may actually prove you right!