Boardroom Superheroes

Some of the biggest block busters churned from the film industries across the world are centered on superheroes with fantastic powers. Is it possible that there are some leadership lessons we can derive from these popular superhero movies? Since in our work spaces, strive as much as we want, we cannot always be the smartest, wisest or the best.

Watching the movie ‘Doctor Strange’ from the Marvel house of superheroes was a recent addition to my list of ‘things to do’. This list was started to draw up 10 things that I normally don’t do and see if I could push myself to do it. I am not a superhero movie fan to say the least and have often wondered what draws people to them with such fervour. I was soon to find out with this one.

Dr. Stephen Stranger’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a practising Neurosurgeon. His life changes after a car accident leaving his surgery performing hands useless. He is grappling with ways to heal himself. With western medicine offering him no cure to his condition, he reluctantly threads down the path of mysterious enclave and finds himself in Kathmandu seeking his Karma-Taj. He soon learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence. As someone who is not obsessed with superheroes and Marvel Comics (unlike so many people I know) it is easy to brush it off as violent, unrealistic and clichéd. Over the years I have learnt that a movie holds only as much meaning as we make out of it. What we can imbibe from it can make all the difference between good and bad.

In my view that there are there are some great leadership lessons we can learn from it.

1. Our pride limits our possibilities.
Dr Strange is an accomplished doctor and is “full of himself”. With no means to a living, he is forced to give up his pride and look for new ways to find a cure, a new identity and to really find himself again. He must give up his pride and ego and surrender to the ways of his new mystic world to learn about it and become a sorcerer. Although confidence is a necessary thing for most of us to succeed, an excess of it makes us believe that we are invincible. As we see with the outcome of this car accident, Life has its ways of forcing us to step down from the mantels we place our selves upon. The swift and tactful blows it offers, force us to reinvent ourselves. This is inevitable and clearly out of our control. Yet, keeping our pride at bay and etching clearly the line between confidence and vanity will define how quickly you can realign and adapt to new circumstances.

2. Learn from others who threaded the path before.
The good doctor needed to learn at every step of the way. He was not born gifted with his skills to save the multiverse from the dark forces. He had to ask and receive. He had to admit that he did not know it all. And he had to understand that there were others who have faced the strife that he has. We often tend to believe that the whole world revolves around us, our experiences and our feelings and thoughts about it. We forget that this universe if a few million years old. There is more than a good chance that some one has had to go through the same thing before. Others have suffered before what we suffer now. Others may strive to overcome and surely a few would have.

This awareness will also help us realize that we may not always have to create solutions; we merely have to discover them or learn them from someone else. Seeking guidance from those with similar experiences saves us precious time and will offer insights which may elude us while we are in the midst of our journey. As they say “Seek not just the answer but its keeper as well”.

3. Determination Determines your destination:
As is quintessential to most superheroes, Doctor Strange is set apart from his peers by his resilience and unvarying determination. I believe that the factors that determine our failures are the ones that can define your success as well. Like how entrepreneurs fail because their passion blinds them to reason. They also succeed because of their unfazed passion and “Never Say Die” attitude . Our failures and our success are two sides of the same coin.

Doctor Strange is determined and never loses sight of his goals. While he may not be the most knowledgeable sorcerer or the wisest of them he clearly hits a home run with determination.

What we can be is the most determined and the one that puts in the most effort with the goal in mind. We must keep pushing to overcome barriers and find solutions and tackle the challenges on hand to take us a step or two closer to the goal. Solutions tend to present themselves by the very virtue of having relentlessly tried.

Embrace Diversity: Leadership Lessons from the beach

I sit on the shores of the beautiful Arabian Sea, in a remote south end of Goa. Coconut palms, a humble shack with f & b choices and a sprawling expanse of nothingness, dotted here and there with some humans, animals and some picturesque boats and nets. A quintessential escape for the overworked and stressed urbanite.

Paradoxical that the relentless noise and energy calms us. It is a time to pause and reflect. A time to leave the city and its perils behind and look inwards.

However, given that your work persona closely trails you no matter how far behind you may want to leave it, I look for leadership lessons and learning possibilities from the sea.

I watch the waves ebb and tide, some big, some small. Some come in it with some much gusto (only to break like all others ) and some quietly flow by. Some strong and determined, some weak. One came in right out of nowhere, broke long after the others and took back with a large chunk of shore-lined assignee’s.

So much like the sea of employees within each organization. Some shake things up with their presence, some quietly come in and slink into work, some last longer, some crash before their time. They come in all shapes and sizes, flowing in tandem yet each one uniquely different.

As someone who has been in the learning and training industry for over a decade, I can’t help but think, how, if at all, could we tame such a diverse sea?

Is there a typical wave that can be used as a bench mark? Must we benchmark at all and strive for semblance? Does the greatness of the sea not come from its diversity? Is it the ease of administration that makes most leaders treat all employees the same, apply the same tools and techniques and administer the same processes to all? A one size fits all approach to managing, training and talent development?

Perhaps we must take time to notice the differences. Respect the uniqueness in each individual. In quite the same way as the very exercise of mapping a typical wave seems like an unreasonable one, striving to mould each employee into an ideal one, will be a waste of time.

Organizations will benefit from leveraging the differences and uniqueness that each employee brings to the table. Individual coaching and mentoring can help identify individual strengths and enhance performance.

Like being by the sea side, coaching and mentoring can bring about self- awareness and deep listening. For each individual, the way forward is inevitably the one that can be achieved by looking inwards. To reach for purpose and align our individual goals with that of the organization and find the inner reason for competence. The drive from within to reach our full potential and to create impact.

Much like the old adage, “ You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” leaders must learn to surf and understand each wave to be able to ride them with ease.

Engaging men in women’s leadership issues

What are the responsibilities that lie on the shoulders of men? How should they show their support (apart from words)? How and where can they start advocating for women? How can they bridge the gaps that lie between the sexes at the work place?

With the #MeToo# campaign coming to a head in the last few months, over Sunday lunch, I recently heard a female friend (and a mother of 2 boys) say how times have become tough for the good and decent boys and men nowadays. It was not surprising that most people in the group pounced upon her misplaced sympathy for men and felt a strong urge to be supportive of Women. Yes, there is no doubt women must be supported especially the brave ones who have had the gumption to name and shame their offenders.

But that cannot take away from the fact that there most definitely are the few good and decent men out there who are respectful and supportive of women. We all know a few of these creatures, in our homes and work places. The #MeToo# movement has created some unforeseen gender dynamics in the workplace, including some anxiety on men’s parts to mentor or work alone with women. Also many men who may actually want to show their support are unaware as to how to do so.

These are perhaps conversations that are yet to take centre stage at most organizations. There is a pressing need for organizations to put together information and open dialogues on how men can, on a daily basis, advocate for women and work towards a gender neutral work environment that provide safe, equal and unbiased opportunities for both the sexes.

Here is a pre-emptive list of things men can do.

• Create a culture of respect. Demonstrate respect towards all employees especially women. Culture begins at the top and often trickles downwards. Be mindful of personal spaces, use politically correct language and choose your words carefully when speaking and working with female colleagues

• Men cannot aspire to make a positive contribution without first fully understanding the issue. Find a female colleague with whom you can have a conversation, and seek to understand her experiences as a women working in your organization and on your team

• Communicate to your teams that all concerns and issues will be received equally. This will allow everyone on the team (including the Women) to find their voices and be okay to discuss problems and issues without being judged

• Conversation and getting a women’s perspective will allow one to understand the many under lying biases that prevail at the workspace. Seek to understand mindsets that may be consciously or subconsciously marginalizing women and robbing hem of growth opportunities

• Encourage women to push the envelope and take more risks and ensure they receive the needed support to succeed.

•  Advocate and support equal opportunities and pay

•  Encourage other men to understand the need for elimination of biases and the need to create a culture and environment of growth and respect for both the sexes.

By engaging both genders in women’s leadership development initiatives, we can create more inclusive cultures, yielding better results for individual leaders and for the organizations they lead.

Changing the Ratio: Women Leadership

Why Second guessing themselves becomes second nature to women executives – and what can be done about it. Research has found that women executives spend over 25% of their time trying to “stay on track” and use a checking mechanism to ensure that they stay in the safe zone and leave no room of wrong assumptions and interpretations. This is valuable time lost that could have been used more productively.

Ever worn a great new outfit to work and had someone ask “so who is the guy you are trying to impress” or had to deal with snide remarks/ stares for friendly banter exchanged with a male colleague? Ever wondered and worried if something you said or did would be misconstrued too quickly as being “ flirty” or “too forward” ? Or worried about gossip that can be fuelled from working long hours on a new project with a male colleague?

While office gossip is inevitable, do women spend more time than warranted on second guessing themselves and managing perceptions? Short Answer : Yes.

Should women executives really have to think twice before shutting the door when they need to have a conversation with a male colleague on a sensitive issue? Should they dress down to seem less “in your face”? Should they carefully choose their words, outfits and demeanour so that basic interactions are not misconstructed? Short answer: No

Research has found that women executives spend over 25% of their time trying to “stay on track” and use a checking mechanism to ensure that they stay in the safe zone and leave no room of wrong assumptions and interpretations. This is valuable time lost that could have been used more productively.

More importantly, this checking mechanism grows into a habit for most women and impedes self expression and consequently individual growth. This also creeps into other realms of the work life and lowers productivity and work quality. In short: second guessing equals short changing ourselves!

While we may have no control over the mindsets of most individuals (male and female ) and their perceptions, women executives can control their own reactions and how they approach such unstated and underlying sexualisation of women. The best reaction would be to not react: to remain unaffected and focus on results and work quality. Not reacting saves you time, teaches you resilience. Most of all, not reacting and being unaffected also takes the fun away of targeting you. Given that humans are wired to not do the things that are no fun, this could be an effective strategy.

We must also ensure that we do not fall prey to judging other women and propagating mindsets that we would not like to be at the receiving end of. Given that the ratio of women in the work force is surging and trends northwards, women executives would do well utilize this 25% of their time to hone their leadership skills and advance their careers.

Series on Examining Biases and Mindsets – Group think & Confirmation Bias

Why is that perfectly rational and logical men and women, when part of a group, question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it. Read on to understand the unconscious bias that Group Think creates in minds of many…

Great sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, Grand Slam and the Olympics, capture the World’s attention and offer us many insights into the human spirit and mindset. The recent US Open that concluded with 20 year of Naomi Osaka beating Serena Williams, who holds 23 Grand Slam titles, in an unprecedented win, has opened doors to much speculation and controversy. While Serena’s behaviour on court and the repercussions it led to, is a whole new plane of discussion, what was disturbing, was the crowd’s behaviour. The pro-Serena crowd seemed to have grown a new-found fondness for booing. While booing every time she was given a penalty can be understood, they continued their booing well into the award ceremony. The booing was so persistent, that the young Osaka who deserved every bit of her win, actually apologised to the crowd for winning. She said she knew they expected a different outcome and was sorry for how it turned out!!! Unbelievable and just plain Sad!!

But this really can’t be the first time sport fans have behaved in less than desirable ways. Every country has its share of embarrassments for fans going berserk: torching items, destroying public property, becoming unruly and violent and much worse behaviour! The interesting part being that many individuals who are part of these mobs are likely to be very reasonable, law abiding and sensible individuals who use logic and reasoning as a precedent to most of their actions. Yet, we will find them booing when a part of them knows it is wrong, going berserk and violent, when they actually do know that it is not something they normally do and most likely don’t subscribe to such behaviour in general.

What then are the triggers?
Psychologists have studied this behaviour termed such phenomenon as mob mentality
Mob mentality is the mentality by which people adopt the behaviours and opinions of their peers. They are unable to take a stand that contests that of their peers and go with the flow
We see a more refined version of this mentality at the work place as well, commonly known as “group think” & “Confirmation Bias”.

Take for example, the American Auto Industry in general. American Auto Manufacturing Industries as a whole, for decades viewed their enormous growth, productivity and profit, as an unbeatable economic force. Over a few decades they cultivated a culture and leadership that believed that they were the undisputed leaders and that they knew exactly what car loving Americans wanted.

Despite the rising influence, innovation and appeal of the energy-saving small cars being marketed by foreign automakers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, American manufacturers continued producing the vehicles they thought would perform best-huge fuel-inefficient SUV’s and Minivans.

As the markets shifted, the auto industry slumped. Same with Swiss Air. The money spinning airline made a series of wrong organizations changes only to wreck it’s future and empty it coffers, with the full support of all its top leaders and key stake holders.

Then one stops to wonder why no one saw it coming? Why were brightest minds in the Auto Industry and a leading airline, blind to the perils of their decisions?

Psychology Professor Irving Janis studied many such fiascos. He concluded that members of a close knit group cultivate team spirit that often supersedes the niggling voice in their head that could be telling them that they should inspect and analyse before agreement. Instead they question their own thoughts and believe that if everyone thinks in a certain way that MUST be the way to do it.

Janis documents some symptoms of group think, as quoted by Psychologists for Social Responsibility:

1. Illusion of invulnerability – Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical / moral consequences of their decisions.

4. Stereotyped view – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous. Continue reading

Changing the ratio – Women Leadership

Is there something about sports that sets Women up for Leadership roles? An Ernst & Young survey of 821 high-level executives and found that 90% of women sampled played sports. Among women currently holding a C-level position, this number rose to 96%. Leaders who stand up and hold their heads high every time they fall, leaders who push, cheer and string their teams to success, unbroken spirits that have clear goals and victories in sight. Girls who knew they could win. Girls who would not give up.

I recently was at my son’s state level basket ball tournaments and had the pleasure of seeing some determined young boys and girls playing ball like their life depended on it. The tournament comprised of teams from various towns and districts of Karnataka, spanning the length and breadth of the state.

The most intriguing of the lot was a girl’s team, from an interior town of Karnataka. Every single girl on the team had short cropped hair and an iron will to make every move count and every ball through the hoop. Their resilience and grit showed on their faces and passions ran high. One girl suddenly had an Asthma attack and had to be carried off the field. Despite her condition, she tried her best to stay on the field insisting that she will be okay very soon. And rightly so, within 7 precious minutes of the ticking field clock, she was back to her ball handling position and ran the court like she had the wind beneath her feet, adding more fuel to the passions of her team mate. I could see in their young 13 year old faces, capable and strong leaders of tomorrow.

Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of the swim team and also played university lacrosse, tennis and basketball. She is quoted as saying that she often uses her on field game strategies to run her company.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket in college. Sunoco CEO Lynn Elsenhans played on Rice University’s first women’s basketball team.

Many women leaders who have played competitive sport agree that sports has been fundamental to their success as business leaders. Research has found many reasons why playing sports can boost the odds of success in either business or in the corporate world.

Sports builds character and fitness:
Playing competitive sports keeps one mentally and physically fit. Players get used to strenuous and regimental schedules, exercise and play sessions which create positive associations with hard work and results. Sports promotes integrity and teaches one early on that hard work , sincerity and steadfastness form the basic tenets of a winner.

Sports promotes resilience:
Everyday day on the sports ground is a lesson in failures. Children in sports learn from a young age that when you fall the ONLY thing to do is get up, brush yourself off and play again. Failure and success is part of an everyday routine. This lesson takes them a long way in life. They learn resilience and that no failure is big enough to give up.

Its okay to want to win:
This by far is the biggest reason why girls need to be exposed to competitive sports early in life – because playing sports makes it okay to Want to win, okay to be competitive, okay to not compromise, okay to beat the odds, okay to defy the naysayers and plough on to success. Women leaders of today acknowledge that without this basic mindset, women succumb to societal expectations of compromising and feel uncomfortable being competitive.

Leaders of tomorrow are born on today’s play grounds and sports must be encouraged and boosted at the school level to empower our women to be significant and prominent contributors to tomorrows workforce.

Stereotyping of women in leadership

Women in leadership positions face several types of stereotyping. As a 21st century workforce striving for equality between the sexes, we must begin with awareness and sensitization to workplace mindsets, biases and dynamics that affect women in ways that are unseen and often unnoticed.

In an article, Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was described by her staffers as “impossible to work with,” and “not approachable” This was just a few days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes, the third highest number of Pulitzers ever received by the newspaper.

No eyebrows were raised. This is a commonplace stereotyping of women leaders. High achieving women are easily branded as “too aggressive”, just one of the many different types of stereotyping women are faced with… Although over the recent years women have scaled many rungs of the corporate and political ladder and continue to hold key leadership positions as heads of state and billion dollar companies, they are never too far away from careless and hackneyed stereo typing based on their gender that subverts their status and abilities. Most women leader have risen to their positions of power despite the stereotyping.

Gender and career experts have examined the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious.

Too Aggressive or Too Weak : While women often do well in collaborative leadership, when it comes to taking an authoritative position, women leaders are quickly labelled as too tough, too aggressive and Egoistic. Just being assertive or knowing her mind and speaking it has women leaders being perceived as to aggressive.

As a flip side to this same coin, since women leaders tend to be more compassionate and understand that getting results are a collaborative effort, they tend to strive at inclusion, and research has shown that they get easily branded as “Too Weak”. A label that affects their opportunities at moving upwards towards higher positions with the organization that may require tougher decisions.

Heartless Power Mongers: In the movie “The Devil Wear Prada”the protagonist is painted as an unsympathetic and ruthless slave driver. This character was loosely based on Vogue Magazines Editor in Chief Anna Wintrow, who is one on the most powerful personalities of the fashion world and whose personality has been exaggerated by the media (and the above film) as ruthless and power hungry. She however, does not consider herself as intimidating or powerful. In an interview, she says that she “Just keeps her head down and does her work to the best of her ability”.

Masculine: It is now well known that Margaret Thatcher made a transformation of her image, particularly in the way she dressed and her voice, in order to be heard and perceived as a distinct voice of power in a “man’s world of politics” she was groomed to make appearances only in sober monotone suits and abandon all “frills, dresses and jewelry”She only got to keep the string of pearls because she absolutely insisted on it. She was made to drink warm water with lemon so that her voice would be less strained and acquire a lower pitch when she makes her speeches so that she does not sound like a “shrill, high pitched and excited woman”.

In more recent times we can see this form of “masculine” dressing in Indira Nooyi, Head of Pepsi, where the only hint of femininity comes from single pearl drop earrings. Even powerful and smart women leaders are often forced to conform to male biases that being too feminine is a deterrent to be being perceived as strong leader.

Gender Biases and Stereotypes- A real life case study in the Silicon Valley

Most women, as they rise to positions of power, face a bastion of stereotyping, focusing only on their gender and belittling their achievements. Read on how even stalwarts like Sheryl Sandberg also faced the same.

In 2012, at the time that SAP bought out Ariba, a much read technology investor and writer on Forbes Magazine, Eric Jackson, wrote an article captioned ”Sheryl Sandberg is the Valley’s IT Girl – much like Kim Polese”. A highly opinionated article which compared Sandberg’s social prominence and “not Camera Shy” persona that leads from the frontlines, as COO of Facebook, to that of Kim Polese.

Nearly a decade before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” made waves, Polese was known as the “superstar of the internet” and the “Madonna of the tech world”. Polese, at age 35 had successfully founded an internet company called Marimba that sold for $239 million, 15 times the venture capital raised for it and had become the golden girl of the silicon valley.

Jackson, in his scathing article went on to highlight the similarities between the two women (and there were quite a few) but the main premise of the article was that Sheryl was falling into the same trap as Polese, who, he claims, neglected internal operations of the company in favour of focusing excessively on “external Stuff” such as media and outreach. Jackson somehow thought it in his place to warn Sandberg of becoming a forgotten “has-been” just like Polese (factually incorrect because Polese continues to be on several technology boards and continues to do outstanding work in the technology space).

He advised Sandberg – “If I was a friend of Sheryl Sandberg and she asked me for my advice, I’d say: you don’t want to be the next Kim Polese. Maybe you should tone down the public appearances for a while and just keep your head down at Face book. There will always be some new Fortune Magazine cover to do, or award for being the most powerful woman executive in the world to accept. Yet, you’re ultimately going to be judged for your – and yours alone – business accomplishments. So, don’t take your eye off the ball.”

This is just one of the examples of stereotyping that women face. Since this involved high profile people it became more noteworthy, but is very much on the lines of what women face at the work place all too often. Pretty face, not much more: Jackson, in the very title of the article, calls Sheryl Sandberg an “IT girl” of the Silicon valley. According to the Collins Dictionary an “IT girl” is a loose term used to to describe a young woman who is well-known because she goes to the most fashionable places and events and knows famous people. In this context, it trivializes Sandberg’s achievements as a top executive who has earned her place in the spotlight. It objectifies her and brings focus merely to her femininity, which should rightfully be irrelevant in the face of her achievements.

Being at the right place at the right time: In the same article Jackson, has a whole paragraph dedicated to why he thinks Polese did not deserve her place on the Times magazine list of 25 most influential people. He attributes it to luck. If we look at most success stories be it Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve jobs, we will have to attribute much of their success to being at the right place at the right time. But the point is that they were the right people as well, who had earned their spot. Yet, this tag is most vocally and casually attached to women leaders, taking away all the credit they deserve for their hard work and attributing their success to luck and at being at the right place at the right time.

Good catch: In the original article, Jackson had a line saying Sheryl Sandberg’s husband was ‘super smart to boot’. A line he soon removed due to the heightened back lash it received, as did the rest of the article. In this case, Sandberg was a Harvard graduate, worked at the World Bank and US treasury and was Google’s Vice President before Face book – a pedigree that is hard to match- and none of which had anything to do with her husband. Yet women, like Sandberg get stereotyped- making it seem like they got to their positions of success and power because of their association with powerful, smart men – again taking away from their efforts, brains and leadership attributes.

Eric Jackson has since issued an apology to both women and his readers for a sloppy inaccurate article. We hope that all the feedback he has received has given him the opportunity to reflect on his thought process.

If work place genders ratios are to changed one must change their mind set. Rethink their assumptions, notions , conscious and subconscious biases and let women do their jobs, with the spotlight on their Jobs and not on their gender.

Finding your inner Goddess – Leadership lessons for women from Athena

If you have ever had the good fortune of visiting the ancient city of Athens, Capital of Greece, you will be immediately struck by its ancient and dominating history. Athens dates back to 7000 BC it is, one those places whose present is much entwined in it glorious past, a past that follows you around no matter where you go. According to legend, the Athenian King Cecrops named the city after himself but the Greek Gods, seeing how beautiful it was, felt it deserved an immortal name. Read on to discover who the city was eventually named after…

King Cecrops decided to have a contest amongst the Gods of the Acropolis, the winner of which will lend their name to the glorious city. The two most promising and prominent Gods of that time, Poseidon and Athena, naturally were the fiercest contenders.

The contest between them was so intense that they nearly went to war with each other. However, just when they were about to attack each other, Athena had an idea for a different approach. She proposed that she and Poseidon enter into another contest, where whoever presented the city with the best gift would become the patron. King Cecrops and the people of the city would decide the winner.

Poseidon struck the Earth with his massive trident and presented the city with the gift of water. He was the God of the Sea and the gift of water, in the form of a massive foamy stream, excited the people. But they found out, a little after, that the water was sea water and quite unfit for human consumption.

After much thought and wisdom, Athena, in turn presented the city with an olive tree. Her gift was presented as a seed sown in the earth, and people had to wait to see what comes of it. The olive seed bore fruit and proved to be a wonderful and practical gift. It provided the people with sustenance, fuel, wood and a crop that was tradeable. Athena’s gift was much loved and she was proclaimed the winner.

Thus Athens got its name and Athena’s wisdom was immortalised, in the city of Athens, which to date bears the olive fruit which is much loved world over.

Athena is considered to be the Goddess of Wisdom as well as war. She was a prudent and wise battle strategist. She had creatively turned what could have been a destructive war into a gift for the people. She had ensured that the outcome of their rivalry and irrespective of who won the contest, the city and people won and benefited by default.

Athena is also considered the Goddess of strength, leadership, crafts (specially spinning and weaving) and was known for her generosity and kindness.

As women, in leadership roles much can be imbibed from these myths and legends of Athena. She embodied courage, wisdom as well as kindness and domesticity. For us women striving to balance the home and workplace, we could, like Athena, embrace our femininity and yet, fiercely lead from the front line.

In 1982, much inspired by Goddess Athena, speaker, author, and successful entrepreneur, Martha Mayhood Mertz spearheaded a leadership award program: The ATHENA Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess. An award for individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities, and helped rise up other leaders, especially women. Mertz’s book traces the ATHENA history and illuminates 8 ATHENA principles: Live authentically, Learn constantly, Advocate fiercely, Act courageously, Foster collaboration, Build relationships, and Give back, Celebrate.

These eight distinct attributes reflect women’s contributions to leadership. While these can be applied by both genders, women demonstrate these personal traits more intuitively. These intuitive traits, when combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership – taking risks, assertiveness, hard work – could prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.

Series on Examining Gender Biases

I recently attended a Women Entrepreneur conference. There was a lady, a successful venture capitalist that was delivering the keynote address. While talking about biases at the workplace, she related a story that stayed with me for many days.

In a previous job with a Fortune 500 company, the HR team conducted an experiment. They sent 2 CV’s for the same job description for a fitment check. The interesting part of the experiment was that the CV actually belonged to the same person…the name on one CV was male and on the other was female. The fitment results for the CV which had the male name was much higher than the CV that had the female name.

The audience that these CV’s had been floated to did not think they had a gender bias. It was an eye opener for them too. This set me thinking and I thought we should dedicate our next series on LinkedIn to gender empowerment and gender biases.

Trust you will enjoy this series….it was fascinating for us to put it together.