Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired. This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode. In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history. Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”
Cheryl offers: I frequently hear people talking about our young generation graduating from college these days. Many times the comments just aren’t generous. My teaching experience at SMU has been just the opposite, so I’m often puzzled by this apparent gap in perceptions. The story coming out of Indiana from the University of Notre Dame to be precise is just another reminder that today’s young people are hard working, smart trailblazers. Katie Washington, will be the first black student to graduate with the honor of being the class valedictorian. She’s a biology major with a minor in Catholic social teaching carrying a perfect 4.0. And I can tell she’s a leader; her comment regarding her honors tell it all. “I am humbled. I am in a mode of gratitude and thanksgiving right now.” Does that sound like someone who feels entitled, is lazy, or lacks a work ethic? Not to me. And if you think this is no big deal, think again. Research tells us this is a monumental accomplishment because being a woman of color “combines the stereotype about race with gender stereotypes to present even greater challenges for women” according to Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah L. Rhode. I cannot fathom how much hard work, determination and guts achieving this great honor must have taken this young woman. She’s off to study medicine at Johns Hopkins and some day she’ll likely be a great researcher or physician. I can only hope to live long enough to be the recipient of her good work.
Cheryl offers: The world has been transfixed by the image of a young 27 year old Iranian woman dying in the recent presidential election protests. I must admit, I cannot bring myself to view the video because it hits too close to home. My own daughter is 27. However, it has been the topic of conversation for days now everywhere I go. This was a woman of courage, conviction, and strength.
In fact, in the few photos coming from Iran, I’ve seen the faces of many women adding their voices to the protests. It brought to mind the story about other strong, determined women documented in the book Followership by Barbara Kellerman. In February 1943, the German Gestapo had arrested about ten thousand Jews. While most were sent immediately to Auschwitz, about two thousand were detained in Berlin on a street named Rosenstrasse. These were men married to non-Jewish women. As the news of the arrests circulated across Berlin, hundreds of women gathered in protest, shouting “Give us our husbands back!” Less than a week later, Goebbels himself issued an order that released not only their Jewish husbands, but also their children who had been taken. Who knew the Nazis ever backed down? Who knew it could be because women joined forces to create real change?
Being rational, physically strong, assertive, ambitious, confident, analytical, and courageous are words frequently used to describe great leaders. They are also words I would use to describe the actions of women like Neda and the Rosenstrasse protesters. Recently I heard someone say a sign of leadership was someone who could “See a need; fill a need.” Indeed, Neda has shown us all how that is done.
Sara adds: Amen.