How Remarkable Women Lead: A book review by Bob Morris

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life
Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston with Geoffrey Lewis
Crown Business (2011)

Bon voyage!

As I read this book co-authored by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, with substantial assistance provided by Geoffrey Lewis, I realized that remarkable men lead others in much the same way that, as Barsh and Cranston explain, remarkable women do: by leveraging their talent, desire to lead, and tolerance for change within all areas of their lives. Barsh and Cranston characterize this as “Centered Leadership” within five separate but interdependent dimensions: Meaning, Framing, Connecting, Engaging, and Energizing. They devote a separate chapter to each of the five. However they are named and defined, these are areas in which aspiring leaders are challenged to attract the support of others. The greater challenge is to sustain that support. What Barsh and Cranston share in this book is what they learned from five years of rigorous and extensive research that involved hundreds of remarkable women in all manner of leadership positions.

What they call “the journey to the center” is one of the most important themes in their narrative, strikingly similar to what Bill George and Peter Sims describe in True North: a three-phase “journey to authentic leadership” which begins with character formation and culminates (not concludes) with full development of authentic leadership within five separate but related dimensions: pursuing purpose with passion, practicing purpose with passion, practicing solid values, leading with heart, establishing connected relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline.

Hundreds (thousands?) of self-help books on leadership also invoke the “journey” metaphor while suggesting all manner of “phases,” “stages,” “dimensions,” etc. What sets these two books (i.e. How Remarkable Women Lead and True North) apart from most other books about leadership is the authenticity of what their respective interviewees share so candidly and so generously.

It is worth noting that throughout Barsh and Cranston’s narrative, most of those interviewed emphasized the importance of establishing and then nourishing personal relationships. This is especially true of those who are entrusted with leadership responsibilities. More often than not, what George and Sims characterize as a process of “peeling back the onion” to locate the “authentic self” requires the assistance, indeed the direct involvement of others.

According to George and Sims, True North is “the internal compass that guides you as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you: your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership.” George and Sims could well be describing Centered Leadership, leadership that has a “core” of integrity.

Barsh and Cranston acknowledge in the Introduction that during their research for this book, they were not only involved but engaged in their own journey of self-exploration, one that provided unexpected revelations to which they were obviously receptive, a key point. “We were weaving the threads of leadership, performance, and fulfillment into a system with behaviors, skills, and actions…It was also about choice. About personal ownership.” Then one of the most important paragraphs in the Introduction: “Meaning underpinned everything. It established the right motivation and helped women identify their direction. On top of this, we saw that there were three clusters of capabilities and tactics – framing and connecting and engaging – that led to sustained success and increased joy in living. Finally, we brought in `energizing’ to fuel each woman’s long-term journey.”

Presumably many women who read this book will have already embarked on that journey. What Barsh and Cranston share in this book can help them to gain even greater meaning and happiness from what they experience. Presumably some of these women have encountered severe, perhaps debilitating resistance or at least formidable barriers to their progress. What Barsh and Cranston share can help them to regain their self-confidence, energy, and – most important of all – their faith in what they can accomplish. There are others who will not read this book but who, nonetheless, will also derive substantial benefit from it because they are supervised by those who do. One of the most important responsibilities of a great leader – one that every great leader views as a privilege as well as an obligation – is to help “grow” those entrusted to their care.

I presume to add that what Barsh and Cranston share can also be of substantial value to the personal fulfillment as well as the professional development of men who aspire to become remarkable leaders. There is much they can learn from the women who are so extensively quoted as they explain how they helped to inspire others, how they gained clarity of both vision and purpose when coping with difficult, sometimes unpleasant realities, how they initiated and then nourished mutually beneficial relationships with others, how they took ownership for opportunities as well as risks with personal accountability, and how they assumed and fulfilled their responsibilities to their families and to their communities. Neither women nor men in leadership positions can “balance” everything in their careers and personal lives (no one can) but it is possible to recognize what is most important at any given time and then “balance” the allocation of one’s time and energy accordingly.

For some readers, let the journey to the center begin. For others, let that journey proceed more smoothly and expeditiously. Either way, bon voyage!

 

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