Making it to the Top

On Thursday, November 15th 2018 we held the CSL Autumn Seminar (Lead Like a Woman) with our community of leaders at the beautiful Vintner’s Hall.  The topic of the evening was “Making it to the Top” with a focus on structural power.  Too often in organisations – as in society – we find that the people most keen on structural power are not the ones we’d want to be led by.  The seminar explored how to be worthy of structural power, how to attain it, and how to use it to make a difference.

As always we used live case studies, carefully constructed to provoke transformation, that featured three inspiring leaders:

  1. Nell Scott – Partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
  2. Bukola Adisa – Managing Director, Chief Controls Office at Barclays
  3. Angela Darlington – Group Chief Risk Officer at Aviva

All three leaders overcame obstacles to attain senior positions in their field and had pioneered initiatives that empowered others to achieve their potential.   We worked in teams to explore different approaches to the scenarios presented.  As we did, the diversity of their stories helped to clarify the common elements that were key to their success.

For those interested in this topic, here are some top tips from CSL Director Justine Lutterodt:

  1. The best way to gain structural power with integrity is to demonstrate your value in a way that others can feel.  As a starting point, you must show that you are worthy of the power you already have.  Otherwise why would someone want to give you more?  This involves meeting the expectations of your role or re-negotiating a new role where you feel motivated to do this.  However, this also involves going beyond the expectations of your role to anticipate the needs of those around you and determine how you can make life easier for them.  The person who makes your life better is the person you are more likely to follow.
  2. Once you have established your value, you are in a good position to ask for additional resources.  For instance, you may need greater decision-making authority to improve efficiency, a larger team or budget to amplify your impact or a higher salary to stay committed in the midst of other job offers.  In certain environments you will be offered these resources automatically, which makes life easy.  In others, you will have to make your case, which is essentially a sales job.  This is no different from entrepreneurs offering you a free sample, doing their market research, and then asking for a fair price so that their offering is sustainable.  Selling comes naturally to some and is uncomfortable for others.  However, anyone can learn the basics.  You can also find others to sell on your behalf – i.e., sponsors.  If you skip over this step you risk being stifled or burning out.  If you face bias, this skill becomes even more important.
  3. To attain high positions of structural power with integrity, you must be trusted as a credible steward.  To do this you must demonstrate that you are focussed on everyone’s needs, not just your own, and that you are not attached to structural power for its own sake.  Otherwise, your sales job is inauthentic.  Think of a doctor whose primary focus is to heal her patients with the best treatment versus one who uses mediocre treatments so that her patients will keep coming back.  Once people realise that your motive is to serve your own needs at their expense you cannot be trusted.  Ironically, those most worthy of structural power demonstrate this by at times being willing to give it up.

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