The 3% Leadership Revolution: A (Missed) Opportunity For Women in Leadership?


There is a quiet leadership revolution going on, a shift in the definition of success from “what” to “how.” In times of major change, the underdog has a strategic opportunity to end up on top. In this revolution, the women-in-leadership underdogs have a unique opportunity to capitalize on it and use it to define our leadership careers – to play a leadership role in the revolution, so to speak – or miss our chance at squeezing out from under the dominant culture that keeps women and men (both!) from valuing what women bring to leadership table.

The Leadership Revolution

Leadership gurus have long espoused Character as a core asset of any good leader, however bully bosses are so common in high-performing companies that it feels counterintuitive that “good guys and gals finish first.” I mean, even the guys at Harvard Business Review working diligently to show that CEOs that look at the big picture outperform those who don’t, struggled to find a strong correlation between CEOs running “socially responsible” companies and market performance. I suspect that this is because many companies with “social responsibility programs” don’t take that attitude to the level of their corporate culture. I have no proof of that… however…

Some wonderful new research by LRN (get the free report) shows us in clear detail why this is. LRN has done extensive research that shows amazing correlation between healthy and values-centered corporate culture and market performance. LRN identifies companies whose culture relies on Self Governance instead of Informed Acquiescence or Blind Obedience. It shows that Self Governance companies outperform Informed Acquiescence companies by 19% in terms of financial results, 25% innovation, 24% employee innovation and 17% customer satisfaction. They are also 27% more likely to have employees report misconduct.

You’d think we’d all be tripping over ourselves to become Self-Governing Companies, wouldn’t you? Self Governing companies are determined by the presence of the following factors: mission-driven, collaborative, transparent, trusting, open communications channels (less shoot-the-messenger) values, operational efficiency, resiliency and inspiration. Can you see bully bosses thriving in this kind of culture? Of course not. If you work in a culture that is decidedly not Self-Governing, you’re not alone. The LRN research also showed that only 3% of companies studied qualified as Self-Governing. 3%!! Chances are, you don’t work at one of these companies.


3%… where have I heard that statistic before?

Will This Leadership Revolution Benefit Women in Leadership?

Until 2011, women represented 3% of the Fortune 500 CEO list (now we’re at 4% – woot!). Now, if you’re reading this and your hackles just went up because you think that I think that women are responsible for Self-Governing corporate cultures, that’s not at all what I’m saying and there’s no evidence to support that position. I believe that women in senior management are both cause and effect of more open and innovative cultures that, as this research demonstrates, perform better. I believe this is the dynamic behind all the research that shows that companies with 30%+ women on their boards outperform those with no women on their boards.

I believe that the same corporate culture “habit” that is keeping Self-Governance at bay is also working against women’s interests in getting to the top.

But here’s the good news – these 3% ARE the revolutions. Do you know any revolution that started out at 51%? Do you think that the eruption of Tahrir Square or the American Revolution came out of thin air? Without years of the early signs?

True, those revolutions were violent and the Feminist movement has been brewing for longer than either of them, however, I don’t believe it’s the Feminist movement that’s going to win this revolution. I think it’s going to be women and men moving – enabled by technology and human evolution – towards Self-Governance, which I call InPower.

But here’s my question. This leadership revolution is being run by the amazingly enlightened men at LRN (no women on their executive team), at the Harvard Business Review (16% women board members) and the leadership establishment as a whole. Where are the women? When you read women’s publications, they don’t talk about leadership all that much. There are plenty of women leadership gurus (trust me, we’re out here), and plenty of women in business and finance who are integrally part of this revolution. But the “women’s media” is focused on challenges to “women’s leadership.” While I think women have unique leadership challenges, and am basing my InPower Coaching practice on that premise, women arn’t going to launch ourselves into the 50% ranks by naval gazing. But women’s leadership isn’t the same as leadership. (This is why I advocate against “Women’s Leadership Training”) Women’s leadership gets stuck on why women are such a small percentage of business world, instead of how women can establish thought leadership in the sea change that’s about to happen in business world.

While I do believe that women in leadership will benefit even if we “do nothing” and don’t become a larger presence in the thought-leadership leadership revolution, I also know that thought leadership itself is a core competence of getting to the top. Let’s stop doing and start thinking.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about this and part of my vision for InPower Women is to build a generation of women who are thought leaders in leadership and every other field of influence. I’m in the early stages of figuring out how to do this, and I welcome your ideas and partnership. Are you one of these leaders? Then let’s talk. At a minimum, you should be on InPower women (as a blogger or an interview subject).

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