Tag Archives: women leaders


Leading Change: What We Can Learn from Helen Keller’s Teacher


Anne Sullivan

 By Dan Leidl & Joe Frontiera

While we all know the general story of Helen Keller, it’s worth exploring a slice of her early childhood and the impact of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Keller lost her ability to see and hear before her second birthday, and was imprisoned in her own mind.  She was unable to communicate, isolated by the inability to see, hear or talk, and began lashing out as she grew older.  There was little hope for the young child who became increasingly hostile and ultimately dangerous.

 As her frustrations from her inability to communicate grew, her outbursts became increasingly aggressive.  At the age of five, she overturned the cradle holding her infant sister out of jealousy (who was caught before hitting the floor by her mother), and once locked her mother in the pantry for three hours.  She was becoming desperate, determined to somehow overcome her lack of senses but with no way of knowing how.  She writes in her triumphant autobiography, The Story of My Life, “Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came – my teacher – who was to set my spirit free.”

 Helen Keller first met Anne Sullivan when she was six years old.  Through a mix of desperation, persistence, and hope, Sullivan strove to give Keller the keys to communicate.  Immediately Sullivan would use her finger to spell out the names of objects in the palm of Keller’s hand.  It wasn’t smooth.  Keller notes moments of frustration, a complete lack of understanding for what Sullivan’s efforts meant, and how it could help her.  But Sullivan never stopped.  She kept trying different words and different ways to build associations.  She kept trying to help Keller break out of her own head, and escort her into the surrounding world.

In her autobiography Keller recalls how Sullivan pumped a stream of water over one of her hands while spelling out w-a-t-e-r into the palm of the other. It was her first understanding of what Sullivan was trying to do and she says that “That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!” There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

Ultimately Keller went on to learn more words, how to write, eventually graduated with honors from Radcliffe College, and became recognized as an American icon, if not hero.  But her path forward started with some simple steps. Sullivan’s early efforts were the foundation for all of Keller’s eventual achievements.  At the initial stages of helping Keller to reconnect with the world around her, the process was rather straightforward: Sullivan used her finger to write letters in a young and desperate girl’s palm.  It’s not glamorous, and in many ways it doesn’t even make sense.  There was no guide for Sullivan to follow, she was just following her gut and not giving in.  Her first attempts failed to produce, and her subsequent attempts failed to help Keller. But in not quitting, Sullivan and Keller eventually connected, Keller’s behavior began to change, and history was made.

In many ways, Sullivan provides a powerful and tangible example of what the most effective leaders do. Whether it’s leading a new sustainability effort within a large organization, working one-on-one with a high-potential subordinate, or teaching a young girl who is both blind and deaf how to communicate, a leader sees a path forward and continues to work and persist until others see that path just as clearly. Sullivan started with small steps, and she repeated her actions again and again and again, until the path was finally illuminated for Keller.

For all effective leaders, like Sullivan, it takes a degree of faith that efforts will eventually pay off, especially when results aren’t immediate. It also requires blinders, the ability to disregard the constant banter from others that a given task is too hard, impossible, or should be abandoned. But it’s in persisting that we break through barriers and eventually broaden the awareness of others. More importantly, in broadening the awareness of others, change becomes both possible and desirable.

Previous post:  Profits & Purpose: Soccer for Good

Dan Leidl & Joe Frontiera are co-authors of the Washington Post Leadership Playlist. Dan and Joe are also managing partners of Meno Consulting and authors of forthcoming book, Team Turnarounds, to be published in July of 2012 by Jossey-Bass.


Europe’s Boardrooms Step Closer to Gender Equality

by Shealyn Kirts, edited by Monika Mitchell

Seats in corporate boardrooms are finally opening up for women. Female representation is reaching new levels as European countries adopt quotas for more women to be placed in high-level positions. This remedy seems long overdue, especially since European countries currently have women in positions of power overseeing the affairs of their countries. The boardroom shift marks a milestone for female equality in the workplace.

In 2003, Norway adopted a law requiring 40% of all board members of state-owned corporations and publicly listed companies to be women. France, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain followed suit and are adopting similar quotas. Germany has pledged to raise the amount of female participation by 30% or greater by 2013.

The idea of countries focusing on gender equality sounds hopeful, but will companies follow the new regulations? Will this affect bottom-line profits? According to France24 International News, France became the first model of success in 2011 by appointing 20.1% of women to boardrooms after implementing the law the previous year. This is a 13% increase from 2004. French banks and telecom companies also decided to follow the law, even though they were not mandated to. The quick response by French companies demonstrates the speed at which this change can occur.

The new policy is not only a mandate for equality, but a business opportunity as well. According to CWDI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and advocacy for women on boards globally, companies with women in leadership roles have higher levels of financial progress and success. In the CWDI 2011 Report on Women CEOs Opening Doors to Boardrooms and C-Suites, CDWI proposes the question: “Does it make a difference if a woman is in charge?” The answer: A resounding yes! The study analyzes 112 women CEOs in 39 countries.  Three important points obtained from the research are as follows:

1. Top companies led by women have more women directors in boardrooms and in executive officer positions.

2. Companies with women CEOs have 22.3% women on their boards. This is compared to the 9.8% average on boards of blue chip companies.

3. Women-led companies have a higher percentage of women in senior management at 24.3%. The average representation of women in executive roles in peer companies is 12.2%.

Further supporting the CDWI study is evidence of the “feminine skill set.” Daily Finance delves into the importance of a woman’s attributes, such as communication and flexibility to a company’s success. A team composed of male and female members produces better results concluded researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.

However, there are concerns that the quota system might not be wholly effective in establishing female inclusion. Companies might simply appoint women to abide by the law, but not take them seriously as part of the board. Ultimately, will the inclusion of women in top corporate positions improve the companies themselves?

Alex Edmans, a finance professor from Wharton, states, “The problem with quotas is that they are a one-size-fits-all solution.” Edmans is referring to the problem that people who are not fit for the job may be placed there because of the law and, consequently, the business will suffer.

Some nations, such as Finland and Sweden, have decided not to use quotas. Instead they have had public discussions to increase diversity in the workplace. The percentages of women in the corporate board in these countries have now reached 26%.

Regardless of which steps are being taken by various countries, the need for change in the corporate boardrooms will continue to be a major issue.   The European Institute quotes Anna Ford, a former broadcaster who sits on the boards of J. Sainsbury, the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, and N. Brown, a large British home shopping retailer is quoted saying “I think women have waited long enough.  We’re half the population.”

Hopefully these steps toward increasing gender diversity will continue to spread globally. It appears that the glass ceiling for women has cracked substantially with their entry into the boardroom. Perhaps the day is near when board positions are based on qualifications and experience and not discrimination.  For now, this is a large stepping-stone for women and the companies they wish to represent.

(Editor’s Note: The U.S. is far behind Europe on the trend to include women in top C-Suite and boardroom roles.)

Next Post: Can Environmental Sustainability Save European Economies?

Shealyn Kirts is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in International Relations.

Leadership: It’s a Female Thing

by Monika Mitchell

Last week, I found myself on Manhattan’s far west side in an exquisitely decorated loft owned by Winds of Change philanthropist Shamaya Gilo. Sixty powerhouse women were gathered together for wine and cheese and to strategize how to support women’s leadership through cold-hard cash. The loft was filled with talented and accomplished women of wealth – women who were personally wealthy or those who pulled the strings at some of New York’s top financial institutions. Present in the room were wealth managers, venture capitalists, fixed income and equity traders, professional investors, lawyers, quants, mutual fund managers, bankers, heads of family foundations, philanthropists and market makers of all kinds and a couple of sympathetic males thrown into the mix. We had one thing in common: the drive and ambition to push more capable and accomplished women into the ring.

What is the “Ring?” It is the corporate boardroom, the C-Suite at Fortune 1000 companies and top levels of financial institutions. The ring includes politics, finance, business and generally anywhere that women have been traditionally marginalized, which let’s face it, is everywhere that matters aside from the home front. The question we are asking is why are women deliberately kept out of key roles in world affairs and what can we do to change that?

The New York event of high-powered women, organized by Criterion Ventures under the direction of the indefatigable Jackie VanderBrug, encouraged women to invest in each other. Speaking to the crowd of well-heeled power women were Nada Jain (Golden Seeds), CJ Juhasz (ISIS Fund/Women’s World Banking), Jo-Ann Tan (Acumen Fund),  Georgie Benardete (Multicultural Capital), Sally Boulter and Noelle St. Clair of Calvert Foundation who detailed each organization’s mission to empower women. The event marked a shift in action – we are tired of waiting for men to open the door for us. Ladies and gentlemen…in the 21st century, we are opening the doors for ourselves.

What makes the world go around is money. The Criterion Ventures model aims to put money behind women-centric ventures and entrepreneurs. (Women investing in Women.) We have seen how money in the wrong hands, evidenced by the global economic crisis, has thrown the scales of power completely out of whack and left behind whole portions of the population on both sides of the Atlantic. Women, it may come as no surprise, have fared worse than average. The poor are getting poorer and the majority of poor in the U.S. and around the globe are women. They are the last to get hired and earn substantially less than their male counterparts.

I am not going to pretend that I don’t think women should have seats of power. I am not going to play nice and say it doesn’t matter. I am not going to quietly and apathetically marginalize my own gender by politely acknowledging that men are wonderful and capable of handling world affairs without us. Yes, many men are wonderful and ladies what would we do without them? But what we would do with them as co-creators of the world is the real issue.

The first and critical question is: What would men do without women?

I’ll start by answering that from my home turf in the U.S.

In the last twelve years since the end of the 20th century and the birth of the new, America has started two wars that have cost millions of people their lives and changed the world order permanently. We have given birth to a devastating global financial crisis that has plunged millions of innocents into starvation, joblessness and homelessness. The wars and the economic collapse have resulted in international chaos and unrest and launched movements of desperation like the 99 and 1%. All of these disastrous events were done largely by men with little help or input of women. Incorporating women into top leadership positions would bring an important element of collaboration and cooperation into the picture. Women are often by necessity, if not nature, geared to resolving conflicts rather than creating them. Yet women continue to be disenfranchised from key economic, civic, and political decisions.

So enough…Enough of violent and aggressive response, whether it is the violence of economic greed or the guns of bloody wars. It is time for western civilization to enter the enlightened age. Non-violent women and men are the key to a more sustainable world in the new millennium.

Why are women key to changing the world for the better? Because very simply: we are life-givers, not life-destroyers. It is in our DNA to create and nurture life, not desecrate it. Yet somehow, despite the fact that we carry, create and protect life, women are raped, murdered, mutilated, marginalized and humiliated every second of every day somewhere in our world. The issue becomes which kind of world do we want to carry forward – one that destroys life or one that creates it? If the choice is the latter, then the inclusion of women is essential.

In my work at the United Nations over the past several years, I had the honor and privilege of knowing one of the great men in this world and a true champion of women: Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury. As President of the Security Council in 2000, the Ambassador introduced Resolution 1325 which endorsed urgently needed economic and educational opportunities for women. The resolution was the result of his experience as a diplomatic leader in Bangladesh where women were routinely violated physically and materially. His work has greatly advanced the plight of rural women around the globe.

Yet our work in this decade necessitates more than helping women. In very direct ways, the world desperately needs women to help it. We need every bit of TLC for people and planet we can muster. For most women, this is second nature. Strength is no longer measured in an enlightened world by brute force. True courage can be seen in the stoic stamina, tolerance, patience and big-picture vision of women and men.

Something Ambassador Chowdhury once said stuck in my mind. He explained that at UN mediations to resolve global conflicts, the men at the table invariably wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?” They would ask how the solution would affect them personally in power and privilege before giving their consent. Women, according to the Ambassador, were more concerned with what kind of world they were leaving for their children and generations to come.

The stark difference in thinking jolted me and I realized this was true. Women more often than not think in terms of creation and cooperation, not domination and aggression. These qualities, however, are a double-edged sword. In one way, this is precisely the reason we have been held back. In many ways, we have held ourselves back. We have not fought tough enough or hard enough to say: This is our world too; no one had the right to destroy it for me or my children.

In this century of women, we – the feminine gender – and the men who see us as friend not foe, need to pool our resources, money, votes and support and put these ideals behind women in leadership roles. Only with the inclusion of women can we build a more sustainable world based on mutual cooperation and constructive solutions.

Hillary Clinton said of empowering women, “It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.” Jackie VanderBrug explains why: “Gender diversity [in companies, on corporate boards and in leadership roles] works for all of us. It allows you to see things that you would not otherwise see.”

The time to step up, step out and make our voices heard is now. Not a moment should be lost, because without  the feminine sense of balance and wisdom women naturally bring to problem solving, the world is a sad and sorry place. Our only hope for a better future lies in the power, appreciation and inclusion of women.


Charlene Li: Social Sustainability

One of the highlights in this year’s powerhouse World Business Forum was the presentation by Social Media Maverick Charlene Li. Business mogul, thought leader and mother of two—Charlene Li represents the new wave in business innovation—women as titans of industry.

Charlene Li has helped make formerly sterile corporate culture and its correspondingly dull marketing, a down-home kind of personal statement. Getting to know you, getting to know all about you is the new mantra for media savvy execs. How personal can it get? As deep as you want it to go. Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to creating a loyal customer base in today’s interconnected social media world.

It should not surprise anyone in the wake of the global financial crisis and the decade before of seemingly endless corporate scandals, that trust is your most valuable asset in business. Charlene Li’s model for social media success is all about creating trust between your company and customers.

Ms. Li says social media is “sharing” information from a place of integrity to an infinite universe of invisible webbies. The job of CEOs in the current climate is to create a personal relationship with consumers. That’s not easy to do for corporate execs after years of remaining distant. Li says part of her job is to help execs get past the learning curve of vulnerability. Yet as distant as we have become in today’s virtual world, that is how close we have become too. People want to know who you are through the limits of time and space. Your job in modern marketing is to let customers learn to trust your products and services by developing confidence in you.

While creating a social media experience for customers, executives have to learn how to give up control. On the web, you can’t control the conversation if customers are allowed to freely comment. Charlene says for many moguls that is often “the hardest thing to do.” But execs must learn the balancing act of “how to give up control and still be in command.”

Through her company Altimeter Group, Charlene coaches CEOs on how to create a social strategy between employees, customers and the corporate office by developing their blogging style. She states, “Bloggers are leaders. They have people following them.”

To get past the hurdle of feeling exposed to millions of unseen users, Barry Judge, CEO of Best Buy wrote his first blog. “Phew glad that’s over.” This says Ms. Li was a “huge step” for Judge. He was able to step out of his comfort zone and share his thoughts across the web. As he gave up control of the conversation, “He discovered his voice and started talking about decisions and asking for advice.” In the process, Barry created a loyal community between top management, employees and customers.

Ms. Li asked, “What happens if someone writes a negative experience about your company?” She used the example of Dell Computer and CEO Michael Dell’s response to a laptop explosion captured on video. What could have been a death knell for the tech giant was minimized by Dell’s blogging response. Dell posted a photo and blog called the “Flaming Notebook.” By calling attention to the dangerous battery problem rather than ignoring it, the company explained the problem and how they were fixing it.

Michael Dell said his company was “focused on relationships”— creating new ones and strengthening old ones. According to Li, “The world of business it is really about relationships.”

So why do I say that the future of business innovation will be helped through women’s leadership? Women understand the basics of the new socially sustainable business model from an inherently organic level. Business, like life, is all about creating solid and long-lasting relationships based on shared and mutual concern for others. From Charlene Li’s view, that is the winning formula of success for 21st century business.

Note from Editor: A petite, sharp-minded and warm woman, Charlene Li is as lovely in person as she comes across in her blogs. I was fortunate enough to spend one-on-one time with her during the World Business Forum and interviewed her on her current and future business plans. I also spoke to Charlene about how she juggles her demanding career with the all important job of parenting two children, ages 10 & 12. Look for this interview next week on Good-B.

Monika Mitchell

©2010 – All Rights Reserved


The Century of Women

Last week, I was invited to speak at a United Nations NGO conference on the role that women play in the changing world order. The CONGO Committee of Spirituality, Values, and Global Concerns and its working group “Values and Business” presented an inspiring two-day conference. (GoodB will report on the events and speakers next week.) The first day of the conference was devoted to The Divine Feminine, Rapprochement, and the Culture of Peace As a passionate change agent in the field of “better world business” and believer in the role that women must play in creating the new paradigm, I share with you an excerpt from my presentation on the growing influence of traditionally feminine qualities like compassion on the global economy.

The world is changing.

Every institution we have, every model created for human behavior is under scrutiny. Our political structures, economic systems, financial and religious institutions are being examined and challenged.

Humanity is at a pivotal moment of transformation. How we proceed from here will determine the level of suffering we will endure or the level of peace we can achieve in our lifetime.

The more strife and hardship experienced by our world, the more we question the status quo. We have not arrived at this moment by accident. We are part of a growing force of voices that yearn to bring about change.

Humanity has suffered tremendously in the 20th century.  The traumas of wars, conflict, and injustice over the past 100 years have taught us great lessons. From these painful moments we have made great advances in terms of human rights. The second half of the 20th century brought forward a consciousness for the urgent need  to protect the innocent and to “right” the many wrongs of society. Before this shift in thinking, human rights was a fringe idea held by a small group of brave and enlightened souls. The creation of the United Nations and the hundreds of advocacy groups that evolved from it represent the dramatic change in our cultural beliefs. We have gone from killing each other to saving each other. At least some of us have.

What this proves is that it is possible for human beings to change in a fundamental way. As change agents, this is important for us to remember as we move through the often frustrating process of transformation. While it can be slow, plodding, and exhausting, when we look back over the last century we see enormous progress in the way human beings relate to one another.  In spite of those who wish to maintain the status quo, change does come.

One of those areas of progress is the treatment of women.

Beginning half a century ago the plight of women as second class citizens was brought to the world stage. We discussed civil rights, education, and economic rights, and made serious political and social advances. Most of all a consciousness grew that refused to relegate women to the simplistic roles of submission and subjugation we suffered as a gender for the previous 2500 years.

If you remember the progress we have made in recent years (after more than two thousand years of repression and suppression), we recognize as a species human beings have advanced further than we think. Yet the fight is still on…

We hear of young girls subjected to vicious attacks as they fight for their right to be educated. We witness the violent abuse of women worldwide as they struggle to take their rightful place along side of men. All of these challenges reawaken us to a simple fact. There is still so much to do.

We have arrived astonishingly in this new century at a crossroads of spiritual and cultural evolution of the world community. The advancement of women is a crucial part of that evolution.  If we wish to advance as a species, the 21st century is poised to become the Century of Women. This will be the century where women fully participate in the decisions and direction of their own lives.

I worked in the financial industry in the U.S., here in New York, for several years—a traditionally male world. For all the progess America claims in the advancement of women, the world of money in the United States and across the globe is still controlled by a small group of men. The proof of this unilateral control was exemplified by the financial crisis that began in the U.S. in 2008 and spread around the world in a matter of days. It continues to wreak havoc today. Hundreds of millions of innocent people are struggling to survive due to the aggressive and predatory acts of a few thousand men.

I am convinced (and I am part of a growing consciousness) that the only thing that can right this great wrong will be the addition of women to the economic and political systems in a real and integral way.

Greed is not the sole province of men. Women are prone to this human flaw as anyone else. Yet what are traditionally recognized principles of feminine energy – compassion, love, receptivity and conscious humanity – are exactly the elements missing from the current economic structures of the world. These human qualities are precisely the factors that can fix the financial system and prevent another collapse from occurring at the hands of greed.

Compassion and business are not supposed to mix, but a human social system (whether political, religious, or economic) that does not include compassion is forever destined to destroy and not create.

The world needs love. The absence of love is the catalyst behind all human-made suffering. When we forget about love for humanity, we become violent, detached, and destructive. We needlessly create pain for others, because we falsely believe that caring about them will make us vulnerable.  The absence of love inevitably becomes a virulent hate; this is the greatest tragedy of our civilization.

Women are lovers. Women know that love makes us stronger. We understand in our deepest core that love not hate has the greatest power to heal. While hate destroys, love rebuilds.

We are mothers. We nurture our children who create the future of the world and give them strength to face the challenges they will meet. We are the givers of life, not the takers of life. In giving life, we give love with it.

Women are healers. Our job is to offer strength, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom to help repair our world.

In this Century of Women, it is not that women will replace men. It is that men by our example will open themselves to the compassion women embody. Men will find the courage to open their hearts to the love women innately feel for the planet, for our children and communities.

In this Century, women will finally face their fears of annihilation and find the strength to step up and take our rightful place as leaders along side of men.

It is only in true partnership of men and women in government, spiritual traditions, and in our economic structures that we can heal the suffering of our modern world.

Monika Mitchell – Executive Director    editor@goodb.net

©2010 – All Rights Reserved