WOBI Interview with Charlene Li (Part 1)
WOBI interview with Charlene Li
Charlene Li did a study of a thousand leaders globally and asked them ‘how destructive do you think you are?’. She then tested them on various types of mindsets and leadership behaviours. Charlene found that the most disruptive leaders were the ones who exhibit openness mindsets and leadership through and with other people empowering and inspiring them. So, the combination of these two things create a disruptive leader. However, she did discover something interesting; the women were a standard deviation lower in how disruptive they saw themselves. The same leadership mindsets and the same leadership behaviours so they were just as capable as the men and had the same metrics but a standard deviation lower.
Hayley Birtles-Eades, Founder of beinc. sat with Charlene on behalf of Women’s Network Australia at the 2019 World Business Forum to discuss disruption and digital mindset.
Hayley Birtles-Eades: Can you explain why women were a standard deviation lower than men as disruptive leaders?
Charlene Li: Well it was only in the U.S. It wasn’t the case in other countries, and I think part of it is that disruption has such a negative connotation to it.
As women, we are told not to be disruptive and given so many societal messages. Don’t rock the boat. You know if we do rock the boat you’re crazy you’re seen as an evil person who’s not a team player. When a guy stands up and says the same thing, he is praised for being brave men.
You wait a minute, I just said the same thing, and I’m crazy, yet he’s brave. You know we’ve been conditioned that disruption is a good thing for a man. It’s not a good thing for women.
Hayley Birtles-Eades: It’s interesting you say that because as a child I remember getting my report cards and saying Hayley is disruptive and she would do well to focus on her work, and she should focus less on others and concentrate on our work. Now I’ve made that work for me.
Charlene Li: Disruption has a bad rap, and the thing is that if I’m trying to change the word disruption to say essentially neutral disruption doesn’t look good or bad, it’s change. When you’re shifting power back and forth, it feels terrible and when you’re the person doing the confronting, and you’re causing that disruption a lot of that blame falls on to you to say why are you trying to upset the apple cart. This is like things are beautiful, the way it is because if you’re in a position of power, your disruption is going to take control away from you. That’s the fear, so they fight it with tooth and nail.
Hayley Birtles-Eades: I know it can be that fear-based mindset, and it’s hard to pull people out of that especially when they are so deep in it, and they probably need disruption the most. How do you get someone out of it? Is there one thing or a few things that can be done?
Charlene Li: The only thing I’ve ever seen at work is when you pull it out of yourself, and there was this bigger why, which is your customers. If you don’t do it for us, for the organization, then do the right thing for our customers. It is hard to argue against that. It’s common that’s it’s no longer about the organization where we are, it’s not about some belly button staring contest that we have looked back at us. It is this outside force that is objective, and if you can focus on it, identify it, understand it and align the entire organization on this external force, that becomes the reason why you would go through any of this.
Hayley Birtles-Eades: That takes courage. I watched your presentation, and I think one of the biggest things that stuck out for me was the video that you played, that one person stands up looking like a complete crazy person. But isn’t that it, isn’t that the definition of what disruption is? What’s going on? Hang on a second. I can go and join in.
Charlene Li: Right.
Hayley Birtles-Eades: So that’s why leadership is so important.
Charlene Li: Leadership is simply about change because if you’re not creating some changes as a leader, you’re just managing. We need managers, and that’s to say that’s not right. But at this time and place in our world, we have so many problems, and we need leaders to step up. We need leaders to understand what that change is going to be and then step into that place with courage with empathy with humility but more than anything else, to see the difference and have the courage to think that they can make that change happen.
Two Part Series – Read Part Two of the interview in the next published article.