The Role Of Follower in Leadership

During our #KaizenBiz chat last week, Miriam Ahern tweeted that “…it would be a big mistake to assume your most influential leaders are at top of  hierarchy [sic]” This was a brief side thread. The gist was that while the nominal leader may be the one with the title president, CEO or managing director, true authority and leadership may lie elsewhere. Typically, the obvious top of the hierarchy is followed by everyone else. This got me wondering about the role of the follower. Continue reading


Is Leadership Harder Now Than Ever?

It might be said that leadership was easy once upon a time. You told someone to do something and it was done. Of course that works better if you’re medieval royalty and there is fealty involved. Or maybe we think our leaders should be some sort of archetypal hero who will save the day.

The obvious scandals of  Lehman Brothers, LIBOR or the News Corp phone hacking  undermine authority. But it isn’t just the public scandals that are eroding our understanding of leadership. Continue reading


Introversion, Extraversion and Our Ideas About Leadership

There is a great tension in leadership about what makes a leader most effective. Often the most vocal person gets labeled as leadership material. And yet, other skills are being demanded of leaders in large, medium and small organizations.

But we need definitions first

Here is a typical but not exhaustive overview of each style.


  • Tends to think a lot; processing in their heads and hearts privately.
  • Finds small talk difficult as they would rather have a deep and meaningful conversation with someone
  • Finds being alone a great source of energy; solitude is bliss
  • Reserved
  • Quiet
  • May be adept at socializing and enjoy being with people but returns home feeling tired and drained


  • Tends to think out loud
  • Often described as outgoing and gregarious
  • Gains energy from being with people;
  •  Finds being alone a source of stress
  • Tends to be more interested in what is going on around them
  • Takes action, often without reflecting on their choices first

All of us have introverted and extraverted aspects to our personalities. Carl Jung is to have said that a pure introvert or extravert would be insane. However, we have preferred tendencies in our personalities. If you are curious about where you might fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, try this survey

Has the emphasis on the vocal, charismatic and dominant leader run its course?

Maybe but don’t hold your breath. There have been recent discussion about how leaders should be better at listening, empathy, mentoring and using a more collaborative approach with their teams. In the post from Harvard Business Review, “Leadership Is A Conversation“, Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind state that leadership is conversational. This would seem to fit a more introverted person to excel as a leader. And yet, surveys tell us that senior level managers favor the extraverted candidate over the introverted one. So this construct perpetuates that a leader must be super-confident, aggressive, loud and action-oriented to be truly a leader.

On the ground, introverts are not promoted but research says…

In a 2010 Wharton School study authored by Adam Grant and his team, he noted that vocal, dominant action-taker may inadvertently inhibit his/her team by expressing enthusiasm or shutting down independent (and possibly innovative) initiatives by employees due to feeling threatened. Introverts, on the other hand, may produce better results by listening through to the end of an idea, reflecting on possible options and outcomes and creating space for employees to be proactive in their jobs.Grant also points out in is research that introverts are persistent and careful risk takers.

Even if the numbers don’t lie, we have cherished ideas about leadership

Maybe it does boil down to who talks a good game and who’s got good game. The extraverted leader may be visible and seen as getting things done. On the other hand, the introverted leader may be grooming people to be more confident, capable and engaged in their work. It may be less flashy but positive results are produced. Then there is the fly in the ointment…what if good leadership isn’t about whether someone is an introvert or extrovert?

Please join us on Twitter for this discussion on #KaizenBiz, Friday, June 22, 2012 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT. We’ll use these questions:

What ideas of leadership are currently encouraged?

How would you describe leadership in the current day-to-day business environment?

Where do you believe you fall on the extraversion-introversion spectrum?

As you think of managers you’ve worked for, describe how their traits seemed to support their success?

What underlying skills must any leader have regardless of where they land on the extraversion-introversion spectrum?

What would happen if we limited group work and allowed solitude?


Why Aren’t Women Leaders Making Progress?

Back in 1993, the movie, Groundhog Day, told the story of a weatherman who lives the same day over and over. The progress of women in high-level leadership roles seems to be having its own Groundhog Day. It can be disheartening reading some of the data, blogs and comments. There are references to a glass ceiling, the lack of women CEO’s and board members in major corporations or that somehow women are temperamentally unsuited for leadership positions. The topic of women as leaders seems to be a lightning rod.

Strong data for why women in high-level positions are beneficial to business

In 2007, two studies (Catalyst’s The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards and McKinsey’s Women Matter) reported that women in high-level leadership roles had a positive effect on the bottom line of Fortune 500 companies.

If you are really into data, here is some more information (from the MBA@UNC blog) about how women play integral roles in the success of organizations:
Women at Work Infographic Via MBA@UNC
Via MBA@UNC MBA Online & Women 2.0

Little to no commitment to fostering women’s leadership skills

A 2010 study by Mercer reports that 71% of organizations lack a focused strategy or philosophy for developing women in leadership roles. Their findings are certainly mixed. Some regions of the world are showing more engagement than others in offering initiatives but overall, the numbers remain low. In a more recent study by UNC-Kenan Flagler Business School, it was reported by respondents that most organizations did not give strategic value to developing women’s leadership skills nor intended to in the near future. This continues in spite of ongoing research, like in this 2011 Zenger-Folkman study, that women have the necessary skills.

So why do we continue to struggle with developing women in leadership?

This may be the real question underneath all of this data. There are certainly perceptual gaps between men and women about access to moving up into more powerful roles. Men report that things are progressing while women report that there is a lack of progression. It is likely that there is a more sociological explanation for the ongoing gender gap.

  • Unease with powerful women-This seems to be a prevalent theme in comments about women and leadership. Maybe the comments come from very unhappy people who have had extremely harsh experiences with a particular woman and have extrapolated that all women are (fill in negative stereotype). It could be something out of psychoanalysis resulting from the mother-child relationship.
  • Change in gender roles-For many societies, there is a strong tradition that women and men play specific roles. We have a mythology of what a “real man” and a “real woman” ought to be like. Women who avoid the stereotypes of being only nice or naughty create cognitive dissonance and push-back from those who value the perpetuation of traditional roles.
  • Workers are cogs in the machine-There is still a pervasive philosophy that workers, even high-level executives, are pieces of the machine and must devote their whole lives. (We talked about that in a previous #KaizenBiz chat.) Given that women are most often required to be the primary caregivers in their families, this societal expectation may interfere with developing women leaders within an organization and relegate them to the “mommy track” or some other limited path to power.

This isn’t an easy conversation.

We know logically that there are merely people who are leaders. Neither gender has a monopoly on being the “best leader.” It isn’t even men versus women. The limits being set on developing women as leaders comes from something else.

What are the primary skills of a effective leader?

What are you observing that prevents women from being trained and promoted into leadership roles?

What perpetuates the negative stereotypes of women bosses?

How do we break these stereotypes?

What can we do to foster women to embrace leadership roles?

Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 25th at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT to explore this topic.