“The most significant professional challenge that I faced was understanding my value as a leader”
A lifelong learner or the perfect combination of passion and dedication to continuous development. That’s Lynne Murphy-Rivera, managing director for the Americas at the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC). For over 20 years, she demonstrated experience driving business growth across the public and private sectors, with extensive experience in non-profit industries. She is currently co-chair of the New York chapter of the Quorum Initiative, a professional organization dedicated to the advancement of women executives in business, culture and public policy.
According to the latest Women at Work report, the number of women in C-suite positions grew from 17% to 21% between 2015 and 2020. We are making progress, but there is a long way to go to achieve equality. Thinking about your personal experience, as a top executive in renowned companies, what were some of the difficulties and struggles that the small number of women in leadership positions have to go through?
As I reflect on the past 30+ years, the most significant professional challenge that I faced was understanding my value as a leader. Like many women, I did not fully recognize my strengths nor my capabilities. Over time, with a combination of assessment tools, great mentors, and career coaches, I began to identify and leverage my skills in business development and relationship management. Part of the struggle in attaining a leadership role for both women and men is to first identify your strengths.
Most are overly focused on “areas of improvement” or perceived “weaknesses” instead of growing or
extending the power of one’s natural abilities aligned with organizational value. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Making Yourself Indispensable” by John H. Zenger, Joseph Folkman, and Scott Edinger, “… cross-training for leadership skills is clear-cut: (1) Identify your strengths. (2) choose a strength to focus on according to its importance to the organization and how passionately you feel about it…”
There are several circumstances that may or may not lead a woman to take on executive positions. But if you could name three key factors, what would they be?
In many cases, women are overlooked for executive positions because of three key factors:
1. They have not cultivated a diversified network of contacts – representing diversity of industry, gender, ethnicity, and culture.
2. Their organizations do not foster inclusive behavior as a key leadership trait.
3. They underestimate their abilities.
What are the greatest learnings that your executive career has brought to your life and that could be an inspiration to others?
In my experience as an executive, I have found it essential to explore leadership development programs either through an executive coach or through continuing business education. It is imperative for all leaders to make their ongoing professional development a priority. It is not enough to take a course and then 20 years later consider yourself an expert. The path of leadership is a lifelong endeavor.
Secondly, it is important to have a mindset of continuous improvement and lifelong learning. Staying attuned to new trends through building relationships both inside and outside of your organization keeps your perspective fresh and adds value to those around you.
Finally, the executive who values listening learns the most about how to motivate and inspire her team –
listening is a vital component of active communication and leadership.
Talking about the executive life itself, for the collective imagination, leaders are symbols of power, strength and courage. They are extremely dedicated professionals with a busy routine who study for hours at a stretch. Inevitably, they leave many moments of relaxation and leisure aside. Is there any truth in this? How do you see the life of an executive? In order to understand better this profession, could you detail a little bit your daily routine?
The greatest wisdom that I derived from one of my executive coaches was to develop a morning routine that included a self-care regimen of exercise, reading, listening to informative podcasts and journaling. To quote Oprah Winfrey, “If you want to accomplish the goals of your life, you have to begin with the Spirit” – the morning routine serves to pause and get ready for a productive day.
Having female leadership role models in companies is considered one of the most effective practices to inspire the new generation of women into important leadership positions. But beyond that, what else can companies do to give women the same chances as men?
Women, like men benefit from mentorship and sponsorship. However, because men are placed in vastly more power positions that women, the onus is on them to become better allys for future women leaders by listening to and understanding women. The power of diversity, equity & inclusion is the act of “including”. Talent drives an organization; diverse talent is on the minds of corporations around the world, how to better reflect your stakeholders. My organization, the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) established a Diversity Pledge (signed by over 100 member firms) to signal to both current and future generations of corporate leaders the business imperative of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the profession of executive search and leadership consulting. The pledge states “…to use our collective voices and actions to help create a world that is inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible for all.” Research has shown that companies who proactively include women and diverse voices on their boards and in their strategic operations, outperform those that do not. To quote the late, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
The pandemic highlighted a growing demand for more humane leaders, people who have more empathy and generate trust. Since, in the remote working model, it is this type of leadership that connects with people on the diverse platforms that are available nowadays, and that promotes more engagement and productivity. Therefore, thinking about a reality in which the remote working model will endure, what is the role that leaders must take to continue involving their teams and sustain important symbols of the company’s culture?
We have an immense opportunity with the advent of remote work in terms of culture shaping. Organizations are not limited by geography as in the past – many companies have chosen to remain virtual or hybrid to some degree. Leaders in these organizations have shown great courage in pivoting their business models – while virtual work has been a necessity during COVID times, the leaders who have embraced the next normal have engendered the greatest trust among their organizations. During the AESC Virtual Global Conference in November 2020, Sven Smit, Senior partner at McKinsey, co- chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), and one of the AESC conference speakers said that we will look back on these pandemic times as a period of “great learning.” The organizations that pivoted successfully may very well be those who thrive in the Post-pandemic recovery.