First, the millennials entered the workplace and now they are taking leadership roles.
And now their successors are coming too: the Post-millennials.
But who are the millennials and post-millennials. And what do they want?
The generational certainties that organisations have understood so well are becoming more complex as the early millennials are starting to make decisions, and the first post-millennials are entering into the workplace. But if you want to look to sociologists for answers, you’ll find they are most clear.
It’s often more honoured in the breach than in the observance. But, CSR (or Corporate Social Responsibility) has moved from a ‘nice to have’ add-on to being an obligation many of the world’s largest corporations are embracing.
Yet, while some do it with relish, others display more reticence. And it sometimes seems that no two of them have the same interpretation of what it means. After all, the centuries old profit motive is easy to define and straightforward to measure. But social responsibility… Is that about development, fairness, environmentalism, or what?
These two strikingly simple and obvious questions have been answered rather well, by two British management thinkers, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School and is a long term academic. Gareth Jones, on the other hand, has alternated between academic and corporate roles, teaching at LBS too, and also the University of East Anglia, Henley, INSEAD, and currently, IE Business School, in Madrid. But he has also held senior HR roles at Polygram and the BBC.
Their first collaboration was a relatively unremarked book, called The Character of a Corporation. But it introduced ideas that they were to return to in their second, breakthrough book, and then again in their recent fourth book.
Their second book was called Why Should Anyone be Led by You? It introduced a mass business audience to the concept of Authentic Leadership. This was emphatically not their creation, tracking back to classical Greek thinking, and the Delphic injunction to first know yourself.
But their articulation struck a chord. It came at the right time and was delivered compellingly. Goffee and Jones argued that companies are led in far too much of a technocratic way, by people acting as managers and bureaucrats. They lack sufficient human connection with their people, and self awareness about their shortcomings.
Real leaders, they argued, are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are not afraid to put that on show and constantly act with integrity in the way that they live the values they espouse. They are able to communicate well, and remain true to themselves, whilst still coping with and adapting to rapidly changing events. Consequently, they can inspire people to extraordinary levels of commitment.
Leading Clever People
The next book Goffee and Jones wrote addressed the challenges of leading an organisation or team made of smart, creative people. This is a typical challenge for many of today’s start-up businesses. It is also important for established businesses that want to bring together innovation teams, and for professional service businesses that want to create a great culture. The book is called Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People.
A summary of the do’s and don’ts might look like this:
Explain and persuade
Give people space and resources
Tell them what
Give people time
Provide boundaries (simple rules)
Protect them from the rain
Give real world challenges with constraints
Create a galaxy
Conduct and connect
Tell people what to do
Allow them to burn out
Tell them how
Give frequent feedback
Expose them to politics
Use bullsh*t or deceive
Build an ivory tower
Recruit a star
Take the credit as a leader
Creating an Authentic Organisation
Goffee and Jones’ latest book is Why Should Anyone Work Here? It applies many of their earlier ideas to making a great organisation. At its heart is a simple mnemonic that spells out the six ingredients they argue are needed for a ‘dynamic and future-fit’ workplace: DREAMS.
Diversity increases creativity, which decreases with uniformity. Don’t do diversity because legislation compels you to. Do it because it has a positive impact on the bottom line: more creativity, better decisions, happier workforce.
(I know – a bit of a fix)
The more open and transparent you are, the happier people will feel. And if being open is likely to expose unfairness that will anger people, radical honesty will compel you to fix the problem, rather than hide it beneath dissembling..
“You need to tell someone the truth before someone else does,” said Jones. “Think of BP’s failure to control information after the [Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. Reputational capital is much more important and much more fragile than we ever thought.”
(This acronym-building is tough!)
This is not just about improving the business; it’s about adding value to the people within your business… as a means of improving your business.
There it is… Their earlier work popularised the concept, so its front and centre here too.
But, reflecting on how the ideas have settled in over the years, Goffee and Jones note that in the US, authenticity is too often read as ‘be yourself… find your true north.’ But their view is that an effective leader needs to be ‘yourself more skilfully.’
This is about ensuring everyone in the business understands the real purpose behind the tasks they do.
(one last shoe-horn!)
Businesses need systems. But this too easily leads to over-bureaucratisation. Rules need to work for the business and enable staff to do what’s right, not just prevent every single possibility of doing wrong.
Psychologists and, before them, philosophers have spent centuries trying to divide us into types. Whilst their attempts have had somewhat less of the hocus-pocus and downright prejudice to them than the racial typographies of some early ethnographers, many systems have advanced little beyond Hippocrates’ theory of four temperaments based on the bodily humours.
Rigour in Personality Testing
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists had the statistical tools to analyse and understand personality with any rigour. Even so, the strongest, most widely used personality classification system – the so-called ‘Big Five’ Personality Factors – is still a matter of much research and debate as we reach approach the third decade of the twenty first century.
So perhaps the biggest change that the twentieth century wrought was not in reliability, but in accessibility and application. Personality assessment tools became widely popular and, through the second half of that century, widely used in workplaces to support selection, group development, team-building, personal development, marital counselling, and a range of other uses. Not all of the uses have been endorsed by the developers of these tools. And not all tools are widely supported by the more rigorously trained academic community of psychology.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
And so we come to Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs-Myers. Their tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is very widely used. Every day, trainers and development professionals introduce it to new cohorts of staff and managers. These employees often take full self-evaluation questionnaire and are then told what this means about them and their colleagues.
The moments of insight are a joy to watch. The MBTI certainly seems to capture something of our personality, and explain something of our behaviours. But does it? This remarkably resilient and successful tool started through nothing less than a mother’s desire to understand her daughter’s choice of husband. What mother can’t empathise with that?
Katherine Cook Briggs
Katherine Cook was born in Michigan, in 1875 and was home schooled. Her father was an academic. She went to college to study agriculture and stayed on as a teacher and academic. She married prominent physicist and administrator, Lyman Briggs.
As her daughter grew up, Briggs became interested in children’s educational and social development. This led her to create a vocation test for children, which she thought could guide a child’s future well-being. This thinking focused on four personality types: meditative, spontaneous, executive, and sociable. These are still present among the wider set of 16 MBTI types.
Her quest was to find one unifying theory, and she considered ideas from many philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. Her own big breakthrough was when she discovered the work of Carl Jung. He advocated for four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. This, along with our orientations to extroversion or introversion, give us the Jungian Personality Types, which Briggs and her daughter developed into their own type indicator model.
Isabel Briggs was born in 1897, and was home schooled by her mother. Following her mother’s discovery of Jung’s work, Briggs-Myers (now married) became interested in the work too, focusing on how character and personality influence the type of work we might thrive in. Together, they developed their framework and the questionnaire that goes with it. They began a long program of observation and discussion, refining their interpretation of Jung’s work.
During World War II, Briggs Myers wanted to help reduce conflict among people, but more pragmatically also to understand why some people hated their jobs in the military and others thrived.
It wasn’t until 1945 that they did some solid empirical research. With the help of Lyman Briggs, they ran their first MBTI assessment on around 5,500 George Washington Medical School students. Briggs Myers studied the results for years, searching for patterns among dropouts and successful students.
The Outcome of the Work
Briggs was the primary driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI from Jung’s original work. Briggs-Myers created the physical test itself, and did the work on validation and interpretation.
The result was one of the best-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Wikipedia reports that an estimated 50 million people have taken the MBTI. Whilst it is not widely endorsed by the academic community, and is based on largely desk-research and theorisation, rather than empirical trials, the MBTI remans popular. This is doubtless due to the ease of superficial understanding.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI
The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Briggs-Myers and Briggs claimed that we all fit into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, and that we have a dominant preference in each pair.
The Type Indicator is a test to assess which personality type offers the ‘best fit’ with the assertion that knowing your personality type that will help you succeed in life. The three original pairs of preferences from Jung’s typology (Extraversion and Introversion, Sensing and Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) are supplemented by a fourth pair (Judging and Perceiving), added by Briggs-Myers.
This is a phenomenally rich model and there are many excellent resources online. So here, we’ll only attempt a very superficial outline of the types.
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
This axis refers to where where we get our energy from, and where we direct our attention. This can be on people and things in the outer world; extraversion. Or it can be on ourselves and our inner world; introversion.
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
This axis refers to how we like to deal with information. People with a Sensing preference tend to focus on the basic information, whilst the Intuiting type prefers to interpret the information, and add meaning.
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This axis refers to how we like to make decisions. Thinkers like to make objective decisions, using logic and rationality. The feeling style is more subjective, considering special circumstances, and how people feel.
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
This axis refers to how we like to dealt with experiences and circumstances. The judging style prefers to make a choice, and stick with it. The Perceiver likes to stay open to new information and options, and respond flexibly.
Assessment of the MBTI
The MBTI correlates poorly with more robustly researched psychological traits or types models, like the Big Five Personality factors. So why do so many people readily endorse their MBTI type? The answer, I think, lies in a combination of two factors.
Firstly, while not a strong correlation with rigorous typographies, it is derived from extensive observation and the factors that make up the MBTI undeniably exist – regardless of whether they are truly the ‘right’ fundamental elements of personality.
And secondly, we have our old friend, the Forer Effect. This is the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements are highly general and could apply to many people. If this sounds worrying, it is. The Forer Effect (sometimes known as the Barnum Effect (after showman and huckster PT Barnum) is also the basis of much mentalism and fraudulent cold reading.
The MBTI definitely has value as a personal and executive development tool. But if the trainers and specialists who deploy it do not make its limitations clear, they are doing your organisation a disservice.
It’s not how intelligent you are that matters,says Dr Howard Gardner. Rather, what really matters is how you are intelligent. Howard Gardner is an eminent psychologist who gave us the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and is now working on an even bigger topic; what it means to be good.
Howard Gardner was born in 1943, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His parents had fled Nazi Germany before the war. He was a scholarly and musically able student and in 1961, he entered Harvard College to study Social Relations, gaining his AB in 1965. After a year spent studying Philosophy and Sociology at the London School of Economics, Gardner returned to Harvard University to study for a PhD in Social Psychology.
In 1967, during his doctoral studies, Gardner joined the new Project Zero research team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as a research assistant. He has remained a part of that project throughout his career, becoming a director and now Senior Director of the project. As a major research centre and intellectual powerhouse for researchers into education, it has been a superb base for much of Gardner’s research and thinking.
In 1979, Gardner was among a number of Harvard researchers who collaborated in the Project on Human Potential. This opportunity led directly to Gardner fully developing and publishing the theory he is best known for. That theory is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which he published in full, in 1983, with his book, Frames of Mind. This model has been widely welcomed in educational circles, although it has also been criticised, especially by some psychologists and researchers into intelligence. We covered multiple intelligences in an earlier article.
Gardner’s ample academic career is marked by hundreds of articles (both scholarly and popular), around 30 books, dozens of awards, a CV (dated 2012) that runs to 87 pages (!) and steady progress up the academic career ladder:
1971-72: Post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School, into Aphasia
1972-86: Lecturer at Harvard
1986-98: Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
1998- now: John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
In 1996, along with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner co-founded The GoodWork Project – now The Good Project. This collaboration researches into the meaning of good work, effective collaboration, digital citizenship, and civic participation. It sits within Harvard’s Project Zero.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences continues to dominate his reputation, and justly so. Wherever you sit on the scale of critic to convert, it has clearly had an impact on education in many places. And whether the model turns out to have an underpinning in the neural structure of our brains or not, the over-arching principle – that people have different abilities in different areas – is hard to deny. If that means we are better at valuing people for their various talents, rather than deprecating their lack of ability in one or two arenas valued by a selective system, that must be a good thing.
And Gardner continues to weigh in on many big debates in educational theory; not least the nature versus nurture debate. I suppose the biggest critique of Gardner’s approach – particularly in his work on Multiple Intelligences – is his focus on observation over experimentation. Much of his analysis results from careful intellectual (and therefore subjective) analysis of observation. But careful is the operative word. For many years, he has resisted wrapping new intelligences into his framework of eight – despite much advocacy from varying quarters. he does not find their cases compelling enough. However, his criteria are not clear and do not seem to have any testable, quantitative under-pinning.
The Good Project
In The Good Project, Gardner and his co-workers are interested to understand what makes ‘good’ work, ‘good’ education and so on. In this, he seems to be returning – with psychological and sociological methods – to the Greek fascination with what makes a good life.
Their conclusions can be summed up in three words. Being good in all the endeavours they have studied requires:
Interestingly to me, the first two very much echo the ideas Csikszentmihlyi developed in his theory of Flow.
Howard Gardner at TEDx in 2015
Here is Howard Gardner, ranging across his two primary interests; multiple intelligences, and what makes good work. You will see he refers to the work of Angela Duckworth.
In my naiveté, I have always thought the arguments for diversity were self-evident. One look at the politics of any nation, and of the world as a whole, is enough to prove that this is clearly not the case. So we must be grateful to people like Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who are making the case. Here is a woman who has established a research centre, writes extensively, consults with global corporations, and speaks out in the media.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett was born in 1946 and grew up in South Wales. She took her MA at Cambridge University and then went to Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar. She returned to the UK to study economics at the University of London, where she earned her PhD.
Hewlett returned to the United States, becoming an Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College. From there, she went on to become Head of the United Nations Economic Policy Council.
In 1987, Hewlett quit the role and started writing, which she has continued steadily. She has authored a number of books, and many articles in premium magazines and online journals. In 1993, she founded the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York. This is a not-for-proft research institute, which studies diversity and talent management. It is now called The Center for Talent Innovation, and its work has been widely published, particularly in the Harvard Business Review.
Hewlett followed this up by creating a commercial business, now called Hewlett Consulting Partners, which works with large corporations to implement ideas around diversity and talent management.
Hewlett’s Two Big Themes
There are two big themes in Hewlett’s work:
the value of diversity in driving good quality decision-making, and supporting long-term growth
how people who do not fit the current unpublished template their employers have for successful executives can cut through and succeed
Early in her career as an author and thinker on these matters, Hewlett’s primary focus was on gender. More recently, she has opened this out into many dimensions of diversity , such as geography, culture and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generation. Indeed, in today’s (autumn 2016, ahead of the presidential election) United States, it is not surprising to find a lot of her public comment focusing on the role of Latino workers, and also women of colour and the LGBT community.
Her most recent publication, a research volume published by The Center for Talent Innovation called ‘Growing Global Executives‘ argues that leaders need two core competencies:
the ability to project a leadership presence that can establish credibility with their boards and their stakeholders, and
the ability to harness the value of globally dispersed and culturally diverse teams by developing an inclusive style of leadership.
One of Hewlett’s recent books is 2014’s ‘Executive Presence‘, which I suspect is her biggest seller. Aimed primarily at women, but valuable for anyone who wants to be seen as a potential or actual leader, the book sets out three elements you need, to project ‘presence’. These, Hewlett suggests, are all learnable.
Filled with anecdote and structured checklists, this is one of the stronger books on a topic that is hard to pin down with real evidence. At what stage does a large body of anecdote become empirical data? I shan’t answer that question.
Hewlett’s three elements of Executive Presence are:
How you act (Gravitas)
How you Speak (Communication)
How you look (Appearance)
The books reports wide surveys of executives, that give evidence for what makes up these three overlapping dimensions. Curiously, a critique of the research is its bias towards US culture.
Gravitas, for example, is made up of:
Fundamentally, it is your ability to be seen and valued as a real expert in your subject matter.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett Speaking about Executive Presence
By far the majority of the top roles in politics, not-for-profit and corporate life are shared among fifty per cent of the population, and that cannot be good for society. One of the women who has achieved a leading role in business is Sheryl Sandberg, and her book and movement, Lean In, are an attempt to prompt, stimulate and support the change we need.
Sheryl Sandberg was born in 1969, in Washington DC, but her family moved to Florida when she was an infant, so she grew up in North Miami Beach. A strong performer at school, she went to Harvard in 1987, graduating with a BA in economics, in 1991, as the top student in her year. While at Harvard, she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.
After a short stint working at the World Bank, Sandberg returned to Harvard to take an MBA, which she was awarded in 1995. After a year with management consultants McKinsey and Company, Sandberg returned to the public sector in 1996, as Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury.
Her big move came in 2001, when she was appointed VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google – the year it received its patent for Larry Page’s PageRank mechanism and just a year after Google first started selling advertising.
During her tenure at Google, Sandberg first met Mark Zuckerberg who quickly became convinced she would make an excellent Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, which he had founded in 2004. Over the next year, they got to know one another better and he made her a job offer in 2008. She negotiated hard and came to work for Facebook. Her main brief at the outset was to make Facebook profitable, which she achieved in 2010. In 2012, the Board of Directors invited her to join the Board.
During the years from 2010, Sandberg became an increasingly prominent public figure, advocating compellingly for more women leaders in all walks of life. Her 2010 TED talk, ‘Why we have too few women leaders’, has been watched over five million times – you can see it at the bottom of this post. In 2013, Sandberg released her first book, ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead‘, which she co-authored with Nell Scovell. It focuses on the reasons why so few women (proportionally) reach leadership positions in business, and some of the things that need to change, to redress the balance. It has been hugely successful, selling well over a million copies.
Magazines and newspapers like Time, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times repeatedly place Sandberg high in their top lists of powerful and influential people.
What is Lean In about?
The core thesis that Sandberg puts in Lean In is that, whether you are a woman or a man who cares about genuine equality, complaining and making excuses won’t get you to where you want to be. There are barriers to women achieving their leadership goals and we need to address them… as a society and as individuals.
These barriers clearly start with systematic and individual cases of sexism and discrimination, and the realities of harassment that women face at work. Sandberg recounts Frank Flynn’s Howard / Heidi experiment. In this, he took a case study about successful entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. He gave the unaltered case study to half of a student group, while the other half received the identical case study with just a change of name to Howard Roizen, and changes to pronouns. He asked the students to rate their impressions of Roizen and students were much harsher in their assessments of Heidi than of Howard. They rated her as equally competent and effective but they did not like her and, crucially, they would not hire her, or even want to work with her. There is an in-built bias that we have, that women who are assertive are aggressive and we extend that to dislike of them.
The second big barrier that Sandberg acknowledges is the real desire many women have to put a lot of their energy into their home life and she concludes that the solution is not for women to value this aspect of their lives less, but for their male partners to contribute to it more.
Finally, and most controversially with some commentators, is an implicit acceptance by women of discriminatory stereotypes of women. This, she argues, leads women to have lower confidence in themselves – with higher incidence of ‘imposter syndrome’, and therefore to set lower expectations for themselves. Men are far more adept at faking capabilities they don’t have and benefit systematically from more promotion based on expectation than women receive. Women need far more to demonstrate achievements before being promoted.
Sandberg says we need to break down the societal barriers and women who choose to, need to address their personal barriers and strive for leadership roles. She acknowledges that her message will be easier to act on for women with the privileges of education, wealth and status, but points out that any progress will increase the prominence of women, make their leadership more common and therefore ‘normal’, and add their voices to public debate. This can only open up greater opportunities for the many women lacking the advantages that she herself had, early in her life.
Why we have too few women leaders
Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.
Sandberg’s talks about her experience of speaking at TED and her book Lean In with journalist Pat Mitchell, in So we leaned in … now what?
Also on the board of the Lean In organisation Sheryl Sandberg co-founded with Rachel Thomas, Debi Hemmeter, and Gina Bianchini, was her husband Dave Goldberg. He died far too young, in May 2015. Ms Sandberg’s public expressions of her grief have been dignified and thought-provoking. We can do nothing more than offer our genuine condolences for a loss that must still be raw.
Amy Cuddy is best known for her research on how non-verbal behaviours assert power…
I’ll start again: Amy Cuddy is best known for her remarkable 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are’, which has become the second most watched TED talk, with over 26 million views to date. You can watch it and add to that number at the foot of this blog. And you should.
Amy Cuddy was born in 1972 and grew up a small Pennsylvania town. As a result of a car accident during her undergraduate years, she suffered a serious head injury that doctors asserted would compromise her academic ability. Nonetheless, she graduated from the University of Colorado in Social Psychology (1998) and then went on to earn her MA and PhD (2005) in the same subject, at Princeton.
Cuddy took a role as an Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, teaching leadership to MBA students. She moved to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and then, in 2008, to Harvard Business School as Associate Professor, where she teaches MBA courses and executive education programmes, specialising in negotiation, body language, power and influence.
Amy Cuddy’s research interests have yielded nuggets of valuable knowledge for managers. Her most famous and impactful for many is the concept of the Power Pose, developed with Dana Carny and Andy Yap. But I will leave her to describe that far better than I ever could, in her TED talk below. Instead, I will focus on her research (with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick) on how we judge one another.
How we judge people
Cuddy’s research indicates that our judgements of people can determine how we will interact with them. This can affect our emotions, intentions and behaviours in hiring, promoting, electing, taking risks, giving to charity, and even persecution and genocide. Two trait dimensions are particularly salient in our judgements: warmth-trustworthiness and competence-power. This leads to stereotyping of racial groups, leading onwards to discrimination and persecution.
The first and most important judgement we make about someone we meet is their warmth: it is an attempt to assess ‘friend or foe?’ Then we try to assess their competence – ‘if they are a foe, how much care do I need to take?’.
Interestingly, competence in one arena leads us to infer a wider competence, whilst incompetence in one arena does not lead us to generalize in the same way. But it is different for warmth: one example of coldness creates an impression that this is our true character. This is how Cuddy describes it in one interview (with The Harvard Magazine):
‘You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that, but we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.’
Another generalization we make is pervasive and dangerous: we generalize our experiences across a whole social or racial group: gender, ethnicity, age, or nationality.
We also create another dangerous generalization: that warmth means not-competent and competent means not-warm. Too much of one trait leads us to suspect a shortage of the other. Hence the title of her much re-printed 2009 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb’.
Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for models and they don’t get simpler than four boxes. Here is one that flows from this, developed by Cuddy, Fiske and Glick.
As soon as you look at this chart, you can see how the people and groups seen as cold are also the ones whom societies persecute – particularly when they are under pressure – either as ‘soft targets’ or as a ‘danger to society’.
Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Amy Cuddy’s 26million+ TED talk that introduced the world to power posing.
Admiral Michelle Harris is the first woman and the first African American to be promoted to a four star role in the US Navy, and the first African American woman both to command a ship, and later, to reach three-stars. She was recently appointed to be the US Navy’s vice chief of operations – its second-highest-ranking officer. She was also the officer who masterminded the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates – later dramatised in the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips.
Michelle Howard was born in 1960 to an American father and British mother. Her father was a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force. She graduated from the US Naval academy and then earned a master’s degree in military arts and sciences in 1998 from the Army’s Command and General Staff College. When she took command of the U.S.S. Rushmore in 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the US Navy.
Howard was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) – equivalent to Commodore in the UK’s Royal Navy – in 2007 and to rear admiral, in 2010. She was promoted to vice admiral in 2012, and then, on 1 July 2014, she was promoted to four-star admiral with President Obama’s nomination (since unanimously confirmed by the Senate) to become the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
From her earliest days as a junior officer, Howard was recognised as an outstanding leader. On only her second posting, aboard USS Lexington, she received the Secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award for the one woman officer a year showing the most outstanding leadership.
But it has not always been easy. Howard said in an interview with Ebony magazine in 1999 that, in the course of her career, she encountered ‘individuals who didn’t want me at the command, or didn’t want me in a particular position.’
Speaking about the obstacles she has faced as an African American woman, she said in a 2010 talk about women and minorities in the Navy: ‘This is not for wimps. You have to keep a sense of humor. You have to develop stamina because there’s going to be tough days. Like the pioneering women of old, you have to let some things go.’
But, for this blog, the most valuable interview is the one that she recently gave to Forbes Magazine, which you can read in full, and watch extracts below.
The five leadership lessons that Howard offers are powerful indeed, not least because of the authority and careful consideration she brings to them.
If you want to innovate, first take a hard look at yourself–and be flexible about making changes.
Create space for creativity–you never know what could result.
A morning routine can boost observation, not just efficiency. (my own personal favourite)
An appreciation for the lessons of the past will help you better craft the future.
Create an environment where employees can meet personal goals and they’ll strive that much harder for the professional ones, too.