Ruthie: We have come to our final episode. Today, we’re going to talk about outdated leadership, which is a near and dear topic to our hearts. However, I don’t necessarily want to put anybody up on the proverbial pyre.
Dr. AJ: I don’t mind!
Ruthie: Well, not everybody. We just need to have a few examples up there, but everybody else gets a pass. This is a moment to reflect and examine your own behaviors. As we mentioned, minorities and women tend to internalize and try to externalize a white male standard for leadership values. It could be that you’ve externalized these outdated leadership styles yourself because that’s what you had to do to make it.
The Repercussions of Outdated Leadership Ideas
Ruthie: But you told me that we’re all putting out these outdated leadership ideas. Can you give me some examples? I want to see if I have experienced any of them.
Dr. AJ: I’m sure you have. I mean, you were in the Army! Of course you have!
Most traditional leadership theories and models were made in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Think about what the workforce was.
When you look at the meaning of diversity and inclusion, there’s a generational difference in the meaning and implication of those words. For instance, 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day, and by 2025 the majority of the workforce is actually going to be a minority.
Dr. AJ: Yeah. So people need to get rid of their affinity bias for us to step out of our comfort zones; to include us and to let ourselves be included. It’s a two-way street. It has to be mutual. If all of this doesn’t happen, we will not have sustainable businesses.
Ruthie: We’re going to have a leadership crisis.
Dr. AJ: We already do. 84% of our companies are already talking about a major leadership gap they’re not able to fill. That number is going to increase in the next 5 years, because 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day.
Current Leadership Models Are Turning Capable People Away
Ruthie: We also have more people becoming entrepreneurs and running their own businesses. The threshold for that is incredibly low now.
For me, I was dissatisfied with my corporate experience. I loved being in the Army, but when I got out I was an employee for almost 2 years. I was incredibly unhappy. So instead of going and finding another job, I started a business.
I feel like there are more people who are going to do that because they realize that they’re capable and competent. I don’t want to be an employee. Could I fill a leadership gap for some company? I’m sure I could, but I struggle to imagine what they would have to offer in order for me to want to become an employee.
Dr. AJ: Absolutely. And your story actually matches data. So the entire small business and entrepreneurship industry grows by about 9% per year; women entrepreneurs was 45%. That’s because of the exact things you talked about: the autonomy, the flexibility, the freedom, being able to decide what is best for you.
These are exactly the things current leadership models are not giving to those who are marginalized. And in turn, they’re leaving and businesses are in trouble. People are at a point where they realize, “You know what, I don’t need you. I don’t need you for my happiness or my success. I gave you everything that was safe for me to give you, and you didn’t make it safe for me. And on top of that, you put all of these hurdles in front of me that other people didn’t have to deal with.”
We know there’s a broken rung in corporate America. For every 100 men that get promoted to the manager level, only 72 women are being promoted. That’s a problem. These systemic problems are happening because the existing leadership is not meeting individual employees’ needs. These authoritarian leadership models are built on this scenario of an individual hero swooping in to save the day type, but that’s not our reality.
We know that previous generations didn’t connect diversity and inclusion to business, strategy and goals. We also know that for millennials and gen Z, diversity and inclusion has to be connected. Even if the benefits and salary are good, but the organization is not inclusive, they have no problem saying “Eh, no.”
Checkbox-Type Systems and Resumes Don’t Give You a Real Story
Ruthie: What do you think about these checkbox-type systems for promotion?
Dr. AJ: They suck
Ruthie: They do. That was a big reason I left the company I was with. I really enjoyed my work. I was considered a leader in the area that I worked in. I was a translator and an intelligence analyst, and while the industry was very small, I was very good at what I did and I loved my work.
But, I wanted to lead. I was in the Army and I became a leader as fast as I could. That’s what I love to do. And when I became an employee doing the same job, I asked them, “How can I move up? I want to do more. Is there a way I can mentor?” They grouped us by language, and there was only one spot for my language. I loved my leader, but I also wanted to do something. And there was no way for me to do that.
That was a big reason why I left. I thought, “I’m just supposed to sit here and stagnate. I’m supposed to sit here until my leader decides to leave or do something else. There’s no other option for me.” In terms of the checkbox system, I was held back because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree yet, but I had more experience than almost everybody. The fact that I didn’t have a degree was largely due to deploying and having children. So I felt like that checkbox system of not having a degree was punishing me.
Dr. AJ: That was actually created as a barrier. Historically, not everybody has had the privilege of that education. The way the metrics have been created was so they only promoted those who are already elite and don’t need the extra help, but they get it anyway. And for those who have real lived experiences, these are barriers. That’s a problem, which is why we need to take a better look at the metrics. All of our previous leadership models rely on those metrics, which is why they’re outdated.
That’s another reason why I say if you really want to be a conscientious, compassionate, people-centered leader, don’t look at resumes. When you look at my resume, you’ll see that I have a PhD. You won’t see that I clawed back from death, lived with excruciatingly painful migraines, while I was on a cocktail of Oxy, Vicodin, and morphine every single day. You see my PhD, but you don’t see the story behind it. You don’t see how much perspective I can add because of my experience.
When you see somebody who was in the Army, when you see somebody who takes a break to be a mother, you don’t know the story of what it took for them to get there. You don’t know that they may have almost died. You don’t know that they suffered through postpartum depression and clawed their way out. That determination, drive and persistence are what you actually want in a leader. In terms of technicalities, everything else is learned skills.
Ruthie: After I got out of the Army, I decided to stay home with the kids. And I only went back to work and became an employee at that company to earn money. Comparatively speaking, it was a pretty nice labor and delivery. My recovery would have been nicer if my husband had been able to stay home longer, but that’s another discussion. I decided that I wanted to stay home.
Notwithstanding, I would love for some of these people making these checkbox decisions to come here and organize activities for these children for a week.
Dr. AJ: A day!
Ruthie: No, I want it to be a week because I want them to feel the desperation of waking up and having to do it all over again. The kids will say something like, “We did that yesterday!” and you’re like, “Crap, that was my one good idea.”
Parents Make for Excellent Leaders
Dr. AJ: Yup, exactly. Everything that we’re living through right now was built for a workforce that’s honestly obsolete.
Ruthie: We’re looking at things like factories and those types of setups.
Dr. AJ: In the show Mad Men, you see how women were relegated to positions like secretary and paper pusher, while they were still managing their homes. These shows show us these women pushing these papers, but they don’t show us the women then dealing with the crappy boss who demeans them, going back home, dealing with their children, educating them, giving them a stable life, giving them meals, and making sure that they’re the pillar of their safety and security.
If you want to be a leader, you have to build a pillar of safety and security for your employees. Who better than a mother? Who better than a parent who actually parents their child, whether it’s a man, a woman, transgender, non-binary, etc. Who better than a parent who understands the implications of that work and the real leadership that it entails.
It’s not easy telling a group of toddlers, “No, you will not try and fight your sibling. You will not punch them. We’re going to talk it out and we’re going to explore it. Your voice is going to get heard, but at the end of the day, I am making the decision here.”