Women and Leadership - Part 1: The Australia Connection

Before I get started, I think it's fair to say that this topic of women and leadership is going to be an ongoing conversation.  Thus, the Part 1 bit.

Because so many years after women have taken their place in the workplace - whether working their way up the ranks, starting their own businesses or running countries, for that matter - there is still the odd misconception of what women and leadership have to do with one another.

It all depends upon how you look at it.

On the face of it, "women and leadership" has no more meaning than "men and leadership."  Leadership is leadership.

Moreover, it shouldn't matter, particularly if the assessment of the need of the enterprise is to ensure the greater good for all stakeholders - customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders, alike.  Then the only measure you're working to is the ability of the person stepping into the role.

It's also important to note that because organizations evolve over time, so do the leadership needs within the enterprise.  And, once again, we come back to the same conclusion: It isn't about gender.  It's about ensuring that the organization has the leadership it needs as it goes through its evolution and all its iterative processes to ensure its ongoing success.

Success isn't gender-based - and neither is leadership.

Yet we're still confronted with this quandary about the role of women in organizations.

For my part, I think we should be well past those sorts of arguments by now.  In fact, it's bothersome to me that so many years after women entered the leadership ranks across sectors that this is still something that requires discussion.

Unfortunately and evidently, however, it does.  And, evidently, will for the foreseeable future.

How do I know?  Blame it on Australia.

Last week, Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister, stepped down.  In his place, Julia Gillard became the first woman Prime Minister of that country.  The first, mind you.  That's important.  It must be, given the number of times it was repeated - often in the same news story.

The fact that Ms. Gillard has no plans to change the current policies from the former PM got some play.  But never as much as the fact that she is the first woman to hold the position.

And that Mr. Rudd, in making his speech about his decision to step down, "blubbered."

Give me a break.

This was not coverage from the blogosphere, either - although the bloggers had a good time with the information as well.  The details I'm describing showed up in everything from the international pages of reputable newspapers to online financial publications.

After all, we're talking about a country, here - with issues ranging from carbon and mining taxes (it's rumored that the mining companies orchestrated Mr. Rudd's demise) to its commitment to keep its troops in Afghanistan, hold its current economic stability (one of the few countries not severely impacted by the global downturn), keep its currency stable, address integration problems - not least with its Aboriginal population....

And did I mention that she has red hair?  That's important too.  Evidently, even to her - because when asked her response to being the first female Prime Minister, she said, "Well, first woman, maybe the first redhead....I'll allow you to consider which is more unlikely."

Which brings us to Carly Fiorina and her run for the US Senate against incumbent Barbara Boxer.

Ms. Fiorina made a derogatory comment about Senator Boxer's hair.  On an open microphone.  Then she made it worse - because the next day, when asked about it, she said she was just repeating something someone else had said.

Middle school, anyone?

We're talking about taking one of one hundred positions in one of the most important legislative bodies in the world.  And she's taking shots at her adversary's hair.

It is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Yet, when it comes to what women bring to the enterprise, there's no arguing the success of the women who have stepped into the most senior positions around the world.

Like social media?  Hate it?  Want to know who to thank?  Or blame?

Put it on Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay.  Only the thing to understand is that she didn't know that that was what she was doing.  At least not directly.

All she was doing, when she took eBay from its earliest, just after start-up days and turned it into a multi-billion dollar global presence, was creating "communities."

Welcome to women's leadership.

Fast forward to today and look at the global organizations with women sitting as their Chairmen and CEOs and you'll see the same thing.  The best and easiest cases in point are Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon.

Completely different women from completely different backgrounds, yet, consistently in the way they speak and in the way they're spoken of, one sees and hears the same thing.

That they bring a different feeling to the organization.  One of collaboration and community.  Even fun, for goodness sake.

It's all within the context of business, of course, and their respective organizations have rarely looked so good - on the balance sheet or to investors.

Interestingly, on the political front, Hillary Clinton gets the same rave reviews as U.S. Secretary of State. Same leadership orientation.  Different sector.

Because leadership is leadership - and no matter the gender or the purpose of the organization, excellent leadership is priceless.  Particularly to the people who work within the enterprise.  It is then they who translate your leadership into success - in every way you define it.

So let's change the conversation.  Let's not make it about gender, hair color or any other silly, external criteria that have no real meaning to any enterprise.

Let's just make it about creating success for everyone involved.  Now that's a win.