Women Leaders at Deloitte Consulting and Simmons University Share 7 Practices for Greater Impact
Susan MacKenty Brady is the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women and Leadership at Simmons University. She is also the CEO of Simmons' Institute for Inclusive Leadership. Impressive titles, but only achieved by gradually understanding herself better, lessons reflected in her first book in 2018, “Mastering Your Inner Critic.”
"For the better part of my teens and into my early thirties, I was fairly unaware of myself and what was driving me," she told Startup Savant. "I was tenacious and had a lot of positive energy that carried me pretty far, but never felt that what I accomplished was good enough and was frankly a bit harsh with myself. I had to become more self-aware to manage myself better and become a more effective leader."
Janet Foutty is the executive chair of the board for Deloitte U.S., the largest professional services organization in the nation. Previously, she was the CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she led the digital transformation and growth to $10 billion in revenues. She is known as a passionate advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially for women in technology, and the need for more in programs for science, tech, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Lynn Perry Wooten, Ph.D., became the ninth president of Simmons University in July 2020 (and the first African American). She was recruited from her role as the dean and professor of management and organizations at Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
In the introduction to their book, “Arrive and Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership,” former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi noted that in 2021, the number of women CEOs of the Fortune 5000 hit an all-time high: 41 (with two Black women for the first time). But the pandemic put five million women out of work, shrinking the pipeline for future female leaders, she added.
MacKenty Brady's luncheon with Simmons' president Helen Drinan and Terri Cooper and Susan Esper of Deloitte in 2019 about their experiences as leaders ended with the hope to have the issues impeding or powering women's advancement addressed in a book. Drinan recommended Perry Wooten as a co-author, and Cooper referred Foutty.
"We have been in your shoes," they write, drawing on the experiences of other leaders who contributed to the book, including Gail Boudreaux, CEO of Anthem, and Linda Henry, CEO of The Boston Globe. And they recommend tools to help leaders of all genders advance their skills.
Practice 1: Invest in Yourself
Too often, executives give feedback to team members that emphasizes deficiencies that need to be improved. Strengths are taken for granted, the authors report, even though it would produce better overall results if in-depth feedback focused on taking those to the next level. Consequently, a survey showed that less than 20% of survey respondents used their strengths daily, so enlightened leaders should support more of their development.
Simmons uses the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE), which has helped thousands discover their potential, ideally facilitated by a certified coach. It's not only about self-assessment but encouraging feedback from others about when the individual has been working at her best, the authors write.
Another tool they recommend is Values in Action (VIA), which assesses 24 character strengths that correlate with the ability to flourish and is widely used in academia and business.
Perry Wooten also likes Gallup's CliftonStrengths, which identifies personal talents, while Foutty has found Deloitte's Business Chemistry a good way to identify different work styles to get the most out of teams.
"Two instruments that have had the biggest impact on my own self-discovery over the years have been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Enneagram, a system of personality typing," said MacKenty Brady. "My best advice about becoming a more effective leader is to first get curious about yourself."
Practice 2: Embrace Authenticity
Foutty wrote that as she rose in the ranks of Deloitte, she did things differently from other executives. Instead of taking her teams for happy hours, she invited them to gym workouts or backyard barbeques with her children present.
"I have had the privilege to lead in the way that wasn't overly worried about fitting a perfect norm or deliberately conforming to one," she wrote. "I didn't look, walk, or talk like many of my colleagues, I was being myself. When I was promoted to CEO, I quickly came to understand where some of the lines were, where some of the challenges lay, and how important it is, especially for women, to be thoughtful about embracing authenticity. We have seen some less comfortable being authentic, and less willing to share things they have grappled with personally and professionally."
She relates that her husband had built a backyard ice-skating rink, and when she shared a video showing her family at play with her team, it helped her connect with them in a more personal way. Another time she chose to maintain the ritual of escorting her twins to school on the first day instead of visiting an agency her company might be acquiring, calling into the meeting late. One of her bosses was not pleased, but when she had dinner with the agency's leaders later, they told her they loved that she had her priorities in order.
The authors advise making a list of your core values and prioritize them to make sure you keep authenticity at the forefront of your thinking and behavior (the book provides a long list to remind leaders of all the ways these can manifest).
Practice 3: Cultivate Courage
"Cultivating courage allows you to take risks not in the absence of fear, but despite it," the authors write. "At work courage is directed at moving the group toward better outcomes or embracing the personal risk inherent in practicing new behavior to get better at capabilities."
Men and women are naturally risk averse, so this can lead to trying to over-please their managers, which is unhealthy, they write. To build courage requires acknowledging that we don't know everything and adopting a growth mindset that thrives on failure as a springboard for stretching our existing abilities, they argue. Don't be afraid to ask for help since studies show that individuals underestimate the likelihood that they will get it by as much as 50%.
Perry Wooten loves "issues selling." This promotes four key drivers to use when you have an idea that requires a presentation to get others to buy in:
- Do your homework to understand the context for your audience.
- Develop a coalition of early supporters who can help you see the issues clearly.
- Frame issues strategically and tell the story as a win-win.
- Address concerns that may be emotion-based and focus on solutions.
Practice 4: Foster Resilience
Humans need resilience to overcome setbacks since otherwise, they will take a toll on physical and mental health and inhibit the ability to grow into new opportunities, they note. They cite research that the brain spends more than half its time in wandering attention or neutral-negative thoughts, which exhausts and stresses it. Give it a rest every 90 minutes by developing "intentional attention," focusing on the positive, such as your strengths. Take a break, practice meditation, get excited about learning something new, set boundaries, and prioritize self-care, the author advises.
When facing a problem, define it and the necessary outcomes, find out what needs to be done by those most impacted, discover uncommon behaviors in dealing with the issues that have been successful, and design an initiative to apply what has been learned.
MacKenty Brady likes the Micro Energy Audit to help anyone step back and recognize the emotions they are feeling. Wooten Perry co-designed the Resiliency Diagnostic to help workers and leaders to recover quickly from crises of confidence.
Foutty says she loves the Resiliency Road Map, which helps "bounce out of self-limiting thinking and paradigms and bounce up to our highest levels of potential and our most magnetic, impactful realization of leadership."
Practice 5: Inspire a Bold Vision
A team that can imagine a bold solution and take the steps to reach that goal needs to involve members with a diversity of experiences, skills, and ways of thinking. The leader needs to listen deeply to each and integrate their ideas with her own, then formulate a narrative that communicates confidence in a battle plan that is stretched, but achievable. The authors cite good examples, such as Nike, Patagonia, PayPal, TED, and Honest Tea.
Deloitte's "2021 Global Marketing Trends: Find Your Focus" found that organizations that know why they exist and which are built to serve customers are uniquely positioned to navigate changes such as the global pandemic. Connecting to a broader purpose is also important in the retention of talent.
"Part of inspiring people with a vision is not only painting it, but helping them understand how they participate in it, and how you get from here to there with optimism and enthusiasm," the authors write.
MacKenty Brady and Perry Wooten highly recommend the Leadership Practices Inventory, a multi-rater assessment tool that asks questions about 30 behaviors. It reveals that the best leaders who can inspire a vision have these traits:
- They talk about trends that will affect how work will get done and paint an exciting vision of the future.
- They show their team members how their long-term interests can be realized through a common vision.
- They speak with genuine conviction about the higher meaning and purpose of their work.
Practice 6: Create a Healthy Team Environment
Gallup found that highly-engaged teams show 21% greater profitability, and the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less turnover. A study by the Engagement Institute determined that disengagement of workers costs U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year.
"We suggest you use a strengths-based approach to intentionally promote effective delegation, successful partnerships, and deeper collaboration, among other outcomes," MacKenty Brady, Foutty, and Perry Wooten write. "When leaders focus on strengths, there is a 1% chance that a team member will be disengaged, as opposed to 22% when focusing on weaknesses."
They cite a survey conducted by Atlassian, which develops collaboration software, which found that when workers across many industries were encouraged by honest feedback, mutual respect, and personal openness, they were 80% more likely to report higher levels of emotional wellbeing.
The three authors say that when leaders assume positive intent by team members in their work, rather than blaming and shaming them for what may be perceived as a mistake, trust is built.
Their favorite tools for building a positive environment are the Team Strengths Exercise and the Core Purpose Exercise.
Practice 7: Commit to the Work of an Inclusive Leader
Women leaders have four common conflicts that stem from needing to be both tough and nice, which the authors call the paradoxes:
- Demanding yet caring.
- Authoritative yet participative.
- Advocating for themselves yet serving others.
- Maintaining distance yet being approachable.
"Being an inclusive leader provides you with a strategy for navigating the double bind," the authors write. "With it, you are able to build and prioritize relationships and to care for each person according to their needs. There are additional benefits because sometimes women suffer from the idea that it's easier to just do things themselves rather than delegating or asking for help, a recipe for being overwhelmed and burning out."
The path to being an effective and inclusive leader starts with self-awareness and understanding bias in all its forms. Equity is about systems that ensure everyone has fair access to opportunities and is treated according to their needs, as opposed to equality, when everyone is treated identically, regardless of historic and systemic barriers and privileges. Inclusion means that everyone's voice is heard and leveraged so they feel they belong. "Covering" refers to an individual hiding part of who she is that might disadvantage her.
Leaders can become sponsors and allies of promising candidates for advancement and can encourage organizational changes to achieve equity, the authors write. Inclusive leaders have a clear vision of their goals and are patient and persistent.
MacKenty Brady co-wrote and recommends the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership's “Inclusive Leader's Playbook” as a practical and action-based resource.
A book Perry Wooten co-edited, “Positive Organizing in a Global Society,” has a tool known as Capacity Building as a Learning Organization, which emphasizes four enablers of an inclusive culture: investing in collaboration cultures, designing measurement systems for inclusive practices, leveraging inclusion for product and service innovation, and seeing inclusion as a differentiator for competition.
The tool-rich wisdom of “Arrive and Thrive” has arrived none too soon: according to the American Association of University Women, women in the US will achieve pay equity at the earliest in 2093 unless changes are made to allow them to thrive.
About the Author
Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.