Our CEO Suzanne Bates recently led a panel at the Boston Club’s annual Corporate Salute event, on the topic of Four-Year Fast Track:  Developing Corporate Leaders in the 21st Century. The focus of the conversation was how will we develop our corporate leaders in an age of uncertain job tenures and job security from the top, through to the bottom of the organization. 

This is a subject near and dear to our hearts, as we work with leaders every day who are trying to set a course for themselves and for their teams and organizations now, and looking forward.  Suzanne and the panelists – Michelle Barton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, Questrom School of Business, Boston University; JD Chesloff, Executive Director, Massachusetts Business Roundtable; Nicole Sahin, CEO, Globalization Partners; and Corey E. Thomas, President & CEO, Rapid7 – shared a great set of insights, highlighted here.

Setting the stage: the Boston Club Census

To set the stage for the panel conversation, we heard the highlights from the Boston Club’s new 2017 census on gender diversity on corporate boards, which has analyzed the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts for the last fifteen years. They reported that the percentage of women directors in the 100 largest public companies in Massachusetts is the highest it has been in the fifteen years of research; however, the percentage is still only 19.2%. Sixteen of the Census companies have no women directors, and 47 companies have no women executive officers. Meanwhile, women make up almost 52% of the population in Massachusetts. They own 33% of the businesses, and are a majority of the workforce and the college graduates in the state. 

Bridging this divide, and preparing women for the challenges and opportunities that top leadership has to offer, is core to the Boston Club’s mission, and was underlying the perspective shared by the panel in how they recommend that companies and leaders respond.

The call to action: it’s all our responsibility

Suzanne kicked off the discussion with her personal perspective on the talent and leadership challenge by sharing the three dimensions she brings to the conversation. The first as the founder and CEO of a leadership development firm for 17 years; the second based on the firm’s work with senior executives in some of the top companies in the world; and third routed in Bates’ recognized, science based model of executive presence.  Her view is that the deeper we go in exploring what it takes to build successful, impactful companies, the more we understand that at the heart of it all is great talent, and great leaders.  This takes hard work and focused attention from all leaders – it is not something for today’s corporations to shuffle off to HR, we all have to get in the game. This need for action from the top was echoed in the panelists’ remarks.

The talent challenge: recruiting and growing a great team

The panelists agreed that talent – recruiting and nurturing it – is one of the biggest leadership challenges, and one that today’s leaders need to make a priority and work at consistently.  Themes included:

  • Embrace inclusion and incubate the next round of hires – leverage those who are already there to bring the next round of people along and integrate them into the culture
  • Culture is key to both attracting and retaining a great team – people want to belong and work at a great place
  • The work comes in taking it from the advertised culture to the lived culture, or what actually happens every day, and what takes the real work for leaders to maintain
  • Focus on developing an environment of learning and curiosity to feed the lived culture: the days of the playbook are gone
  • Develop two critical new leadership skills required to lead in today’s team-based, uncertain environments: situated humility and relational resilience, attending to the emotional resilience of the organization and deliberately building that in to the organization

Stand up and be counted: building a diverse culture

The panelists explored the important question posed at the start for building and developing a diverse culture. The group continued to emphasize the role of hard work on the part of leaders, and offered these observations on what we all need to do:

  • Keep the issue, and a mindset focused on the need for diverse employees and leaders, at the forefront of the leadership conversation
  • Actively put aside the “lazy” approach and cultivate diverse personal networks. Leaders must rigorously move beyond the familiar in their own networks to embrace different perspectives and experiences, and translate that into the workplace
  • Leaders hold the key to shape culture change through the critical lever of the system view: create the support systems to deliver on the change and make diversity part of the strategy
  • Start with a small goal to change, and trace it back through the system to uncover the path for the change
  • Embrace and contribute to the power of community to deliver on change
  • Cultivate a culture in which emotion is valid, accepted and discussed
  • Banish silence and nurture a culture that supports transparency and accountability

The leaders of today – and tomorrow – must be deliberate in their actions and be willing to personally keep up the battle to drive change and create cultures that embrace diverse ideas, transparency and integrity.

For advice on creating urgency around needed change, see this post.

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