Recently, I joined 5000+ women at the 25th Annual Professional Business Women of California Conference. The event was truly awe-inspiring; you can't get that many women together and not feel the energy in a room. The keynote speakers were exceptional -- ranging from veteran Madison Avenue legend Charlotte Beers and National Geographic explorer Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey to Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Arianna Huffington and Diane Keaton. There were also numerous concurrent sessions and it was wonderful to see Mark Gerzon fearlessly leading a session on global citizenship -- an area I too am deeply passionate about. Got to love any man willing to show up and speak up at a women's conference.
Over-Networked and Under-Influencing
Long bathroom lines aside, the event was an incredible success and one that I look forward to every year. This event, though, like Maria Shriver's Annual Women's Conference when she was First Lady of California, always leave me wondering if we're really doing enough to prepare the next generation of women to lead. To be sure there is no shortage of attention on these issues as the numerous women's conferences and networking events attest. And for all the collective energy and millions of dollars spent on women's leadership efforts, widespread mainstream media attention and numerous books on the subject, have we really moved the conversation forward? Are we having any impact?
I've been actively engaged in the women's leadership space for the past several years in large part by accident. I've spent most of my career in male dominated fields -- government, law enforcement, cyber security, foreign policy and global issues -- working mostly in male-dominated societies in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Most of those who have encouraged me, pushed me to be better and promoted me have been men with the rare exception being when I worked for Charlotte Beers during her tenure at the State Department. So when I was asked by the Hult International Business School to develop a course on women's leadership for their Dubai campus, I agreed on two conditions:
First and foremost, men need to be in the room. If we want this movement to go anywhere, men need to be involved. And second, the entire course had to be focused on practical skills that every student, male and female, could immediately put to work in their respective leadership paths. A series of hard skills that anyone who has succeeded in any leadership role practices every day though few talk about.
Mining the Gaps: What's Missing in the Women's Leadership Movement
There are three skill areas that successful serial global leaders (women and men) all have developed strength in:
1. Strategic Influence
Mastering the art of influence and persuasion are essential skills for anyone pursuing a leadership path. For too long, persuasion and influence have been seen as "soft skills" and an after thought in many leadership programs and seminars, if raised at all. Women who aspire to leadership roles need to master strategic influence. Doing so, like any skill, requires dedicated, diligent practice and focus. Endless networking will not get you there. The seminal book on the subject by Robert Cialdini is an essential first step to understanding the science of persuasion. Charlotte Beers' book is also essential reading in this space, I'd Rather Be in Charge though she comes at strategic influence in a different way focusing on negotiation and persuasion tactics she's honed based on her experiences shattering one glass ceiling after the next.
2. Gender Intelligence
Newsflash: Men and women are different... and that's a good thing. Beyond the biological, we are different in many behavioral and attitudinal ways that impact how we communicate, decision-make and ultimately understand one another. We need to better understand these differences so we can find the most productive ways to work together and leverage strengths of both men and women. Barbara Annis has pioneered gender intelligence work for decades and to better understand this space and begin mastering these skills her latest book Gender Intelligence: Breakthrough Strategies For Increasing Diversity and Improving Your Bottom Line is a must.
3. Social Capital
The term social capital comes from the groundbreaking Global Mindset work of the Najafi Institute at Thunderbird. Social Capital is not how many connections one collects on LinkedIn or Facebook. Social Capital involves leveraging a blend of emotional intelligence, interpersonal impact, and diplomacy skills to develop trusting, lasting relationships. This is one of the hardest skills to master and one that only comes with tremendous patience and practice. I bring this into any area I teach or facilitate on because it is such an critical often overlooked element of leadership that most women in particular are never taught. Thunderbird has an excellent diagnostic tool, The Global Mindset Inventory, that I highly recommend which gives an assessment of one's social, psychological and intellectual capital.
It's Not About Us... Preparing the Next Generation to Lead and Succeed
The key with each of these three skill areas is that they can't be taught in an hour, over the course of a conference, or in the reading of a few books. They need to be practiced and refined, practiced and refined over the course of many years to be fully mastered.
What if we put all of our collective women's leadership energy, resources and brain power into seriously preparing the next generation to master these core skill sets. We owe it to ourselves and the generations of women to come to move beyond telling them to lean in and instead get serious about teaching them the real world skill sets they will need to navigate whatever leadership path they choose.