But how on earth does IBM expect women to advance in their careers if they don’t answer some of the most important questions young women have, when aspiring to become managers:
- What does it take to become a good manager (at IBM)? Is it emotional intelligence, the ability to execute, be tough, raw intelligence?
- Where and how can I learn the required skills? After all being a leader is a profession like a teacher or a surgeon.
- Being a leader is a totally different task. What does it mean to deliver high performance as a leader (not an individual contributor) and how can I accomplish that performance?
If being a leader is a profession just like that of a surgeon or a teacher (and it is) then we know that nobody is born a leader. Would you let a surgeon operate you if that person hasn’t received adequate training? Probably not. So why let somebody manage a team without proper training? The result is foreseeable and yes, I have seen this happen at IBM too: a woman is appointed manager with no preparation whatsoever. The next week she is a boss and has to perform a totally different job: manage a team. But she is left with no clue about HOW to do that:
- How do I setup my team and choose the right person for the job?
- How do I motivate my team to deliver top performance?
- How do I develop and communicate a common mission? etc
As a consequence the morale and performance of her team decreases. It usually takes many months, sometimes years until the situation is resolved and she is “promoted” to a non managerial job. An unnecessary and frustrating experience for all parties involved: the woman, her team and her boss. And by the way the story is the same for many young, helpless male managers that are not taught how to lead.
In order to become good leaders women (and men) must learn the basics of leadership:
- how to put a great team together,
- how to make their team more productive,
- how to shape a common vision,
- how to build a high performance culture and
- how to create a work place where people just love to work and give their best.
Strangely the IBM study doesn’t mention any of the above, although I am sure all these things matter for IBM, as they do for every other company.
Dear women, don’t kid yourselves: if you want to become good leaders, all these topics are key for you. Since we are not born with these abilities your companies will need to provide some serious training BEFORE you become managers. And if your company doesn’t, I suggest you go out and learn it anyway. I have done it and I can tell you it will raise your self worth and it will make you better leaders by learning relevant things you never heard of at university (all the bullet points I mentioned above) as well as some extras:
- how to give straight feedback and not hurt (frustrate) the other person?
- how to fire somebody with decency?
- what it takes to implement a high performance culture?
Good bosses (women and men alike) excel at all of these.
Dear IBM, I am afraid that individual performance, visibility and work/life balance will NOT build a female leadership pipeline as suggested in Kim’s article. To me it actually sounds like a self-centered plan around “me, myself and I”. By contrast good leadership focuses on others. Or as Jack Welch puts it: "when you become a leader it is no longer about you, it is ALL about your team". Does IBM really need more self centered leaders?
Dear women please don’t let that be you!