Feminine Leadership + Why Leading With Purpose May Change the Future of Business
I’m the CEO of the Oakland-based consultant firm, Future State, a people-centered, purpose-driven consultant firm that has advised businesses such as Clif Bar, The Trust for Public Land, eBay, and Facebook. Our approach is based in the once-radical, now-well-proven idea that successfully integrating new processes, capabilities, and drivers of revenue depends on two key factors: the buy-in of the people on the team and a shared commitment to purpose.
We use this approach because we’ve found it’s the best way to achieve successful transformations, but it could also be described in another way: feminine leadership. What is the essence of feminine leadership? And why do studies find that having a more balanced gender mix at top levels of business leads to greater profitability?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the attributes of feminine leadership that may lead to greater success. When I’ve asked friends and colleagues how they define feminine leadership, the most common responses I hear include humility, listening, empathy, balance, inclusiveness, and equity.
And while I agree that each of these attributes is critical to the success of any 21st-century leader, I believe there is an underlying factor about truly remarkable leaders that makes these behaviors possible, one attribute that makes an even greater difference for people at work. For me, that attribute is being purpose-led.
Bring truly purpose-led means bringing a level of self-awareness to everyday work — applying greater empathy, listening more deeply, and being more humble. One of our driving beliefs at Future State is that, despite our years of experience and success, we don’t know it all. Every business is unique, and finding the right solution — the solution that will enable any team to forge a path to success in the future — depends on understanding the people and purpose of that organization.
Love Made Visible
I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at the Conscious Capitalism Bay Area Chapter meeting, which was centered around finding and expressing our higher purpose. This notion of purpose — of mattering and making a difference — is a key attribute associated with feminine leadership. This has been a guiding principle of my life, and one that I observe and invest in most consistently among my female friends and colleagues.
Perhaps it is because women have only in the last half-century been stepping back from the pre-supposed expectation of motherhood as the core purpose of life. Perhaps in the space of that inquiry, we had the opportunity to truly ask ourselves what mattered most, both at home and at work. Why would one go to work? What purpose would be served? Why spend time and effort and give oneself to such endeavors?
Susan Griffin-Black, Co-CEO of EO Products, shared the main stage as a part of a panel at the event, and she was asked about her own higher purpose and the higher purpose of EO. She reminded us of the line from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: “Work is love made visible.”
She shared that her organization has always prioritized family, and that even as she built a high-growth organization, she remained focused on her role as a mom. Perhaps, as she prioritized this core accountability and ensured that the needs of family and personal commitments could be accommodated for all people on the team, she also expressed another true purpose: to show another way.
Her perspective, which I share wholeheartedly, is that love and kindness are principles that do belong in the workplace. Contrary to popular wisdom, work is personal, and it should be.
[Related: Act Like a Man to Get Ahead? Hard Pass.]
The Fourth Bottom Line: Purpose
Being led by people and purpose doesn’t mean sacrificing profitability, growth, and good business decisions in service of our mission. On the contrary, research suggests that companies prioritizing people and purpose are much more likely to succeed, not to mention attract and retain top talent. Today, workers of all generations have discovered the same truth: Without purpose, profits mean less.
Our firm, Future State, is led by an all-female C-Suite, was founded by a woman, and is 100% employee-owned, with more than 80% of that ownership being held by women. In addition to being highly-motivated by the purpose of the firm, I find that many of our team members also value finding work that is an expression of their personal purpose. This is the most compelling and fulfilling part of my job — supporting our teams and clients in expressing their purpose through work.
And this is my purpose — building a different kind of consulting company. A company that digs deep to understand the diverse perspectives and needs of our clients, that works on projects that inspire us and we know we can deliver better than anyone else, and that commits to planet, people, profit, and purpose.
Ultimately, I aim to develop a consulting company that shows other businesses and business leaders that it is not only possible, but better business to prioritize the values of your organization alongside more traditional business metrics.
Shannon Adkins is the CEO at Future State, a strategic consulting firm and certified B Corporation focused on supporting change management and operational transformation within global Fortune 500 companies. Shannon is deeply passionate about driving forward the Future State vision to “Enable Extraordinary Visions that Positively Impact the World.”
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