Is it your turn to become leader of the pack?

our turnKirstine Stewart wrote the book I wish I’d written. In fact, I could write a book about everything I loved about this book. At around two hundred pages Our Turn is a quick read that’s jam-packed with valuable information and advice anyone would do well to heed. My copy is festooned with sticky page-markers as I was reluctant to deface my author-signed copy with copious highlighter streaks. I’ve had the book since last fall when I attended a book launch hosted by ELLE Canada magazine featuring Ms. Stewart as guest speaker. Throughout her presentation my head was bobbing up and down as my brain screamed “yes, yes, yes” and I mentally fist-pumped the air at everything she had to say.

The author began her working life as a “girl Friday” at a film distribution house after earning a degree in English Literature at the University of Toronto. Through initiative and hard work, she progressed through a series of jobs to become head honcho at venerable CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and eventually to her current position as the first managing director for Twitter Canada. And she’s the mother of two daughters. Like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, it was not an easy journey. Women in business are still paid less than men, still carry most of the home-front workload and are biologically designated to lose their place in line when they take maternity leave. It’s difficult to achieve that holy trinity of balance between job, marriage and parenthood.

When I first retired it was my intention to write a similar book sharing my own experiences gained during forty years in the corporate world. I was fortunate to work for a liberal employer who gave me plenty of latitude to show them what I could do. I learned a slew of valuable lessons along the way and while Kirstine Stewart was ambitious and savvy enough to put them in a book, I took to blogging. While I’ve shared much of my own wisdom on BOOMERBROADcast for more than two years now, there are so many things Stewart and I agree on. I’m not going to give everything away, but here are five choice observations:

  1. Women's leadership approaches may be quite different from men, and that's a good thing.
    Women’s leadership approaches may be quite different from men, and that’s a good thing.

    Women are better communicators than most men which is a defining facet of the new leadership era. And, our “collaborative, information-intensive approach is more likely to result in sound decisions”.

  2. Personal achievement is more often tied to taking chances than setting a career goal. By stepping outside our comfort zone we’re more apt to discover strengths and talents we didn’t know we had. This includes advocating for yourself in salary negotiations and responsibilities and doing more than is required by your job description.
  3. Don’t be shy about speaking up. If you’re at the table you’re considered to have worthy ideas. While you can’t withdraw from criticism, you could score major points.
  4. Become an expert and respectful user of social media. Reputations can be won or lost through Twitter, Facebook, teleconferencing and other media (consider Gian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby).
  5. Hierarchical management styles have been replaced by customer-driven “flat” management. No room for large egos in today’s successful businesses.

I could write a whole book on the pros and cons, misconceptions and effectiveness of teams and teamwork. While men traditionally grew up heavily influenced by their experiences playing football, hockey or baseball (remember, there’s no “I” in team), women’s activities tended to be more collaborative and subtle. When someone “quarterbacks” a project, perfectly good ideas or contributions may be quashed by one or two alpha males. Women-led teams distribute the load more evenly and encourage equal participation and input from all members.

Women are not the only ones who are often cast as scape-goats in a bad situation.
Women are not the only ones who are often cast as scape-goats in a bad situation.

Stewart describes the “glass cliff” which is not the same as the  “glass ceiling”. In the interests of demonstrating that they are equal opportunity employers, male managers often throw a women into a losing situation, then blame her when it tanks. An example of this is appointing Kim Campbell as Prime Minister when the Conservatives were facing a losing election, or Mary Barra to run General Motors when their ignition switch crisis was linked to dozens of deaths and multi-million-car recalls. A similar example is Barrack Obama being elected President amid one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history.

There’s just too much great information in Our Turn” to do it justice here. It would make a great gift for young women you may know who would benefit from Kirstine Stewart’s experience and wisdom. Although she rose to the top of the corporate ladder she does not suggest everyone could and should do the same. We each have our different comfort level and that should be respected. While I’m totally on-line with everything she has to say, she said it much better than I probably ever could have. Buy the book and read it for yourself, with your yellow highlighter handy. Call it a business expense that is well worth the investment.

Women in business face a unique set of challenges and obstacles men will never understand. For another perspective on this issue, read Maureen Sherry’s “Why aren’t women doing better on Wall Street?” from a recent issue of The New York Times.




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