Female corporate leaders are rising to the challenges of leading during crises. They are helping their companies address pandemic and social justice issues, and focusing on adjustments in where and how we work. In exploring successful leadership practices, Joy Taylor
, national managing principal in Grant Thornton’s Organizational and Operational Transformation practice, hosted a virtual conference featuring women executives who shared hard-earned lessons in leading with agility and realism, embracing failure as a step toward growth, managing with confidence, focusing on the long term, and evolving into a more diversity-welcoming organization. In a testament to how women’s roles as leaders have expanded, the event attracted more than 600 executive women.
Lead with agility and realism
"Women executives have been pivoting and will continue to pivot to meet the reality of the times."
– Joy Taylor
National Managing Principal
Organizational & Operational Transformation
Grant Thornton LLP
The objective of the conference, Taylor explained, was to “explore how women executives have been pivoting and will continue to pivot to meet the reality of the times.
“Women as corporate leaders are rising to the challenge of what we now know is a strange new world of 2020,” she said, “revealing new paths of thoughtful mentors, serious leaders, devoted family members and ambitious navigators of our own careers.”
Taylor led a conversation that dove into leadership styles and approaches that can bring positive results from some of the grittier issues faced by those responsible for their organization’s key decisions.
Embrace failure, and manage with confidence
“Being a female executive — and particularly being a CFO in the oil, gas and energy industry — makes me a little unique. I’m not scared of failing.”
– Carolyn Burke
Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.
“Being a female executive — and particularly being a CFO in the oil, gas and energy industry — makes me a little unique,” said Carolyn Burke
, CFO, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, referring to the dearth of women executives in the energy industry. Burke described having learned that she needs to fail a lot. “I am not scared of failing. Failing is growth for me, and I try to instill that in folks.”
Burke expanded on resisting a fear of failing, citing the opportunity to deliver returns not only in times of smooth sailing but also in rough waters: “There is a tendency in organizations and teams that when times are volatile, to be more pessimistic and risk averse. When times are good, markets are up and the economy is rocking along, folks tend to be more optimistic. You should, in some sense, reverse those behaviors.” Everything is cyclical, she said, and business leaders should take advantage of both highs and lows. “During good times, risk management should be on steroids. Maintain a strong balance sheet, have no complacency about continuous improvement, and work your assets. At the same time, look around the corner at what could go wrong. If you do that, you’re well-positioned to manage through the down times and periods of change and uncertainty.”
The opportunities in economic downturns, Burke said, include lower prices, less aggressive competitors and openings for M&A. “If [preparedness] becomes a practice and a mindset,” she advised, “you’re going to be able to move quickly.”
Burke advocated for one other perspective that appears counterintuitive but, she said, proves to be the effective choice — running toward, not from, chaos: “My career has advanced most during times of crisis or chaos and uncertainty. Learning to manage in uncertain times and leading through ambiguity and volatility are a unique skill set and experience. Bringing teams through an uncertain path with confidence, humility and at times failures will make you and your team stronger.”
Focus on the long term, and welcome diversity
“Be intentional. Working remotely or in a pandemic should not inhibit you from continuing to be a driver of your career.
Be intentional, and go get ’em.”
– Erin Horvath
President of Distribution Services
Another strength for your business and your career is adopting an unwavering focus, said Erin Horvath
, President of Distribution Services, AmerisourceBergen Corporation. And in working toward a better future, be ever ready to evolve your teams and yourself.
For the sake of the business, she advised, “double-down on strategy. You can get very consumed with the day-to-day, but as leaders we’re driving the ship. You’ve got your three- to five-year strategy. What’s the commitment to that strategy this year and making sure everyone’s clear about it? We have to bring our voice to the table and ensure we’re building the future of the enterprise together, and then bring that back to our teams to execute.”
Horvath described the rapid evolution of her organization to understand and welcome diversity under the guidance of a diverse team: “With all the events that have transpired this year related to social injustice, what we did was an incredible example of innovation. Our employee resource group called BOND, Black Organization for Networking and Development, acted as sherpas to guide the organization in navigating the difficult circumstances in a corporate environment. They helped inform the organization, in partnership with HR, to come up with a ‘leader listening program.’ All senior leaders were required to engage with associates in cross-functional, multinational conversations that opened the door for associates to talk about their experiences with social injustice. It was incredible and opened this door really wide.”
Horvath had words of encouragement in a period of turmoil: “Be intentional. Working remotely or in a pandemic should not inhibit you from continuing to be a driver of your career. Be intentional, and go get ’em.”
National Managing Principal
Organizational and Operational Transformation
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