By Rachelle Miller, Deputy General Counsel – US Funds
When I was in Law School, I had a mentor that can only be described as exuding life. She was a mother, a wife, and the highest-performing attorney moving up in the large corporation where I was interning at the time, but as I sat across from her at happy hour at a local burger joint it occurred to me that you wouldn’t know any of that unless you asked her. Though she wore different hats throughout the day, she never lost her muchness as it were – she was always entirely herself but still tactful in any given situation.
Upon observing her as well as a number of high-performing women around me in traditionally male-dominated industries, there are a number of consistencies that may or may not be coincidental among them. While these clearly do not represent a one-size fits all approach nor do I believe that even exists, these are simply anecdotal observations that I have seen work for them.
They value performance and drive above credentials or background. On their teams, they cultivate an environment where different backgrounds add diversity of thought and not competition because the value being added is far more important than years of experience or a certain pedigree. They do this in a number of ways, and all have different styles, but consistently they value time. Time, as Simon Sinek put it in Leaders Eat Last, is the only equal and non-redeemable commodity. Even the busiest people in the world, prioritize what is important to them – it’s not that they do not have time (everyone has the same 24 hours in a day), it’s that some things take priority over others. When these women prioritize time with people from different backgrounds, they are communicating that they recognize the value in those people even if the value is different for each person.
They surround themselves with others that value organizations in which people are chosen and moved into positions of influence on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit. They enjoy being around those of equal or greater talent than themselves because they are not threatened by talent but are made sharper by it. To that end, where they see potential in others, they go out of their way to develop that talent not because there is a direct incentive for them, but because they genuinely care about the people around them. Though many try to create a façade of transparency and interest in their teams, when leaders do not care about the people around them, those people know.
They are result-oriented and don’t get caught up in what everyone around them is doing or getting. They focus on what needs to be done and take whatever approach is best suited to reach the goal. Their immediate response when posed with a problem is “How do we make this work?” not “We can’t do that” or “Why can’t so-and-so do that?” They are focused on what they can control, what they can improve, and adding so much value that at the end of the day, everything else works itself out.
They have male teammates and/or mentors that do not treat them differently because they are female. Many companies, even in male-dominated industries, have leaders that value men and women equally even if not everyone at the company or in the industry does. These women seek those people out and build a network of male colleagues they can call upon if needed, and if they find themselves in an environment that does not have those people, they simply leave.
They sit at the table both literally and figuratively. While I’m not necessarily advocating the content of the whole book, in Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg illustrates the conundrum that men and women alike are familiar with, where to sit in a conference room meeting. While, of course, there is something to be said for reading the room, if these women are invited to the meeting, they act like they belong at the meeting regardless of whether they feel like they do, and that translates to every opportunity they are given – they don’t wait for permission in other words.
As I reflect on the above, it occurs to me that in reality these are simply approaches to leadership that I have seen be effective regardless of the leader in question, and isn’t that really how we should be approaching this whole discussion? Great leaders are great leaders, and in time that is all that will matter.