There is a difference between being a manager, even a really excellent manager, and being a leader.
Explaining why that is come down to what George W Bush famously described as The Vision Thing.
Women are underrepresented at the top of businesses and are often described as being less visionary than men. I think that the two things may be linked.
When I left my first management job to join another company in a much more senior role the parting words from my old boss were, “being good at your job will never be enough.”
At the time I was puzzled and, quite frankly, annoyed. I took it as a slight. I had been a very good manager; hard-working, conscientious, on top of all the details, got on really well with my team and the rest of the organisation. And I was now moving to a better job. Being good at my job was clearly more than enough.
Over time I came to think that he was referring to politics and the games that are played within some organisations. I really could never be bothered with the Machiavelli like manoeuvrings of some of my colleagues and so, who knows, had I stayed in big corporate business then my reluctance to play may have held me back.
I now think that he probably meant the vision thing.
At that time I didn’t have a vision. I had clearly defined goals, – mostly around earning loads of money, buying an even bigger house and driving an even flashier car – I was only 24 and I did grow up! And I had clearly defined strategies which allowed me to reach my personal goals and achieve success for the businesses I worked for.
Quite honestly the idea that you needed a vision hadn’t occurred to me and even if it had I would probably have dismissed the notion out of hand.
The reason for recounting my own early experience is that I suspect that I am not alone amongst women. Women, generally, do not put much value in the vision thing. We suspect anything that may be seen to favour style over substance. As Margaret Thatcher elequently put it, ” If you want anything said ask a man. If you want anything done ask a woman.”
This feeling is rooted in the fact, as in my own experience, that we feel that we absolutely have to master the detail, to be 100% sure of our position before taking the lead. There is a parallel behaviour in recruitment where it is acknowledged that women need to feel they can fulfill every aspect of the role when applying for a new post whereas men will apply if they feel they fulfill just some of the requirements.
By focussing on the detail and being more sensitive to gaps in our experience we become reluctant to put our head above the parapet or to form a clear vision for ourselves and our organisations. We feel that we have to choose between competence and vision, and usually choose the former. In practice we, our companies and our communities need both.
I have always been competent, growing teams and businesses for over 25 years. I’m a late adopter of the vision thing.
A vision can be, indeed it has to be, something of substance. It isn’t, as I used to think, about mission statements and vacuous slogans such as such as the Metropolitan Police “Working for a safer London”. Goodness knows who thought that was a good idea and how much paint has been wasted putting that on patrol cars!
I have a vision for the3rdi magazine. Working in partnership with a team of truly amazing women and men we will create a community intent on changing the way the world does business.
Having a vision is one thing, communicating it is another. It means putting yourself, and your hard won reputation for competence, on the line. It requires confidence and belief in your ability to deliver.
Here too, might be another piece in the jigsaw. We may be seen as less visionary as we lack the confidence to put our hands up and be counted. The issue of womens confidence and self-esteem is a huge one but in the discussion of the vision thing we do need to see that self-belief and the willingness to share what we believe is vital.
And we don’t have to wait until something is perfect. Imperfect action is OK sometimes. My vision for the3rdi changes. This is fine. Being able to deliver a vision means sensing and responding to new opportunities as they arrive.
Women seeking more senior roles must be seen as visionary. We must be seen as having a vision for ourselves and for the organisations we lead, or would like to lead.
I never, ever thought that I would be grateful to Dubya but we really do need to address THE VISION THING