A New Definition of Leadership

Lori Mackenzie, executive director of Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, looks at a new definition of leadership and presents a different idea of what success can look like.


A New Definition of Leadership

Christine Clements: [00:06] So much the way we talk about business education and the reasons for doing it, often, when we're talking about behavioral changes, it's really not trying to be more like their male counterparts. It's about thinking about those kinds of behaviors in a different framework.

Lori Mackenzie: [00:26] Exactly. I try to think about, What's my unique contribution that if I'm able to get that out there? I present a different role model or a different idea of what success can look like.

[00:41] If I do it only in the way that my male counterparts do, I'm not contributing to the landscape of leadership. If I bring my own ideas and self, and learn the skills to get my voice heard, I can hopefully start to shift the role models, that landscape of leadership, the ideas of what success look like for the future.

Clements: [01:05] Do you believe it's easy or becoming easier for women to find mentors and role models in the workplace to help them understand these kinds of behaviors?

Mackenzie: [01:13] I don't know if it's necessarily easier; I will say that it's become maybe more understood that it's important to have a good sponsor. Somebody who not just gives you advice, but stands behind you during those critical career decisions.

[01:31] I don't recall ever being given this insight when I went to business school in the nineties. What's really wonderful is for making all of this clear to young women so that they can figure out what they need to do to be successful in the workplace.

Clements: [01:49] Do you think that we will ever have an equitable workplace?

Mackenzie: [01:51] I love this line from Gloria Steinem: she says, "I'm a hopeaholic." I'm also a hopeaholic. Of course I do. This is why I do the work. I believe businesses will run better. Men and women will be happier if we have a more equitable workplace.

[02:08] When we think about equality, I also think about the very communal men who maybe aren't being heard as leaders. They are also being asked to conform to a very narrow definition of leadership. Society will thrive more. It's something I'm definitely always hopeful about.

Clements: [02:25] What you think happens to—you mention men—but both men and women who maybe unwittingly violate stereotypes or behavioral norms?

Mackenzie: [02:35] We have mechanisms that almost realign people into behaving in ways that we think are more acceptable. A very assertive woman might, for example, get a lot of feedback in her performance evaluation telling her to tone it down. Likewise, men—

[02:54] This would not be personal [laughs]. Likewise, a lot of men who might be assertive enough might get the opposite feedback to step it up, be heard, have your voice heard in meetings.

[03:06] Often, the feedback we get in something like a performance evaluation is having us conform to a more traditional definition of leadership. It's really important that we block bias in performance evaluations, or else we might inadvertently be forcing people to behave in a very, very specific way versus a very broad inclusive way.

[03:29] I really believe that this narrow definition of leadership that we believe leaders should be driven, assertive, problem-solvers, independent, limits inclusion because it's not necessarily what we value.

[03:46] We value leadership that is both inclusive, team oriented, collaborative, as well as driven, assertive, and hard-hitting. And yet, because we evaluate people more on whether they're assertive, we keep replicating a culture where that's the only way to succeed.

[04:07] I'd love to see a new definition of leadership. That's defined as inclusive and assertive, problem-solving, game-changing, and collaborative. I hope business schools will help teach this kind of leadership in the future.

Filmed September 2016 on site at the Annual Accreditation Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.