‘Leadership Is a Feeling’

Leadership expert Betsy Myers

Most people don’t think about leadership as a feeling, says Betsy Myers. According to Myers, a successful leader creates a feeling among employees of being valued, appreciated and included. That’s the basis of her new book, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.

“When we feel valued, we’re more productive. That’s what my book is about,” Myers says. “The most successful leaders I’ve met are those who take the time to have coffee, have lunch, ask their people, ‘what can I do to make your life easier?’ ” Such a leadership style builds trust, Myers says, adding “It’s not done once a year; it’s done over time. You have to have some way to have interactions with your people.” For example, when Myers was chief operating officer of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, she met for lunch with 10 people from different departments every week. In larger companies, she notes, the interaction might occur through teleconferences.

“You need to be conscious of what you’re doing that causes people to be willing to work with you, for you — or against you.

Before working on the Obama campaign, Myers was President Bill Clinton’s senior advisor on women’s issues. She is the former executive director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and now serves as founding director of the Center for Women & Business at Bentley University.

According to Myers, 18 years after Clinton assumed office, women still haven’t made the inroads they should have in the corporate world. That’s why Myers hopes the Center for Women & Business can partner with corporate America. A lot of companies already are bringing her in to talk about her book. She hopes they will take it a step further by taking advantage of what she calls a road map to help corporations diversify.

“People are talking and doing research, but no one has a road map like we do,” she says. “That’s what’s going to be different.” Myers’ goal is to teach women and students how to avoid behaviors that get in the way of being promoted. Both men and women, she says, “have [behaviors] that keep them stuck to the floor.”

For changes to work, the CEO of an organization has to make people accountable, and make it a key part of the company’s mission. “It has to be more than just talk,” Myers says.

What do women have to do?  Women have to find the confidence to ask for what they want and be strategic about achieving it. They have to determine how they go about getting the job they want. And they have to decide what compromises they’re willing to make. Myers points to one cancer researcher who chose to give up her Afro hair style “because she loves her work, and that’s more important than having big hair.”

Myers believes you can make significant inroads by working from the inside. You might have to make some sacrifices to get there, says Myers, “but once you reach the top, you can make changes.”

“Most Fortune 500 companies are still mostly men — and that’s a significant drawback, according to Myers, “because all the studies show that companies with a diverse workplace are more productive. It’s more than a nice thing to do,” she emphasizes. “In 2020, companies without a diverse workforce won’t be as competitive.”

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