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Leadership equity can change the way your company innovates

October 26, 2021, 7:56 PM UTC

Alan Murray and I caught up recently with Stephen Bailey, the CEO and co-founder of online leadership development company ExecOnline, on our Leadership Next podcast. Bailey, who affably describes himself as a “recovering lawyer,” has become a go-to resource for me, in part because of what I perceive to be his distinctive theory of change he calls “leadership equity.” At the heart of the issue was what he saw as the fundamental “wink and nod” aspect of leadership development, that despite all sort of elaborate and expensive fast track and high potential programs, the same sorts of people were tapped or poached for stretch assignments and leadership investment. His idea: If you provide an equitable path to development, both diversity stats and business outcomes will improve, and along with it, the world.

He’s building a business on that idea.

ExecOnline partners with leading business schools to create online programs that anyone in a participating company can choose to utilize. No wink, no nod, just growth. “We wanted to create the capability to build a whole new generation of talent in a much more inclusive way that never been done before,” he told Alan and me.

Bailey, who was on hand to debut some new data (which I shared with you last week), also provided some essential context about this moment that has stayed with me.

First, he identifies three overlapping conditions that are forcing executive teams to think more meaningfully about new, and digital-first development options. First, the pandemic. “Obviously, COVID forced a change in thinking at scale more rapidly than we could have ever expected,” he says. Next, the murder of George Floyd and others, forced executives — albeit still too slowly— to work harder to embed inclusion principles within their broader corporate missions. And then there is a newly tight and reflective labor market that means that companies must compete for talent in totally new ways.

“When you look at our data, and you ask leaders what is the thing they want the most, right after more resources…is development, because they recognize that they are moving into a world where their leadership capabilities are being stretched, and they need that support from organizations,” says Bailey. And by support, Bailey mean ideas, energy, and people who are ready to own key parts of business transformation. “[T]he manager of the last century was the person who sat in the C-suite and pulled together all the information and made a strategy, and then told everybody what to do,” he says. As appealing as that may be from a megalomania point of view, it won’t work anymore, if it ever really did. In a rapidly moving world, “decision-making…needs to be pushed down into the middle of the organization,” he says. “You need leaders that have different kinds of capabilities.”

And you need to accept that innovation can happen anywhere, he says.

Bailey lays down the gauntlet to any leader who is resisting the idea that in-person work is the only way to make sure people are truly engaged. “I would reframe that, I would say, given the way you currently lead, it might be impossible,” he says. But his data shows that the future of work suggests that people with different kinds of leadership capacities working in all sorts of hybrid ways, is the way forward. “[T]his old model that was exclusionary, that was inefficient, because it focused on everyone having to be around the leader…” is not.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

On Point

Amazon has an HR problem It took a desperate email from a warehouse worker to CEO Jeff Bezos for anyone to notice a pay and benefits issue that had long been destroying the live of some of the company’s most vulnerable employees. The New York Times has the story: “For at least a year and a half — including during periods of record profit — Amazon had been shortchanging new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave.” But that's just one part of a thorny spate of issues the company has had managing employee leave – like employees being fired while on medical leave after tracking software incorrectly identified them as no-shows. The company is still hunting down employees to make things right, but bigger questions loom.
New York Times

Facebook has all the problems On Monday, Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen follows up  her Senate testimony with a European tour, starting yesterday with an appearance before a U.K. committee to discuss online-safety and possible new legislation. The former product manager on the civic integrity team came prepared with suggestions to force the company to slow the platform down by incentivizing different behaviors. The company has resisted them in the past because "engagement-based ranking amplifies polarizing content…anger and hate is the easiest way to grow [popularity] on Facebook." This “slowing” down is the issue, she says. "They don't want to lose that growth. They don't want 1% shorter sessions, because that's 1% less revenue," she said. "They're not willing to sacrifice little slivers of profit."
Fortune

Feeling inspired by brave disabled people? Helen Keller would like a word M. Leona Godin is a writer, performer, and educator who stumbled on a book some 15 years ago called “The Radical Lives of Helen Keller,” by Kim E. Nielsen. It was an auspicious time for the grad student who at the time was slowly going blind. Banished was the feel-good narrative about Keller as a brave soul who broke through at the water pump and went on to make nondisabled people feel grateful for their good fortune. Keller was, in a word, a badass. “I learned that in her long life (1880-1968) she was a socialist, a suffragist and a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.” She also performed vaudeville for a number of years, survived a series of thwarted love affairs, and was one on a list of America’s Most Dangerous Women. Godin points to, “Becoming Helen Keller,” a new PBS documentary, as an important corrective to the Keller narrative. “[I]t does so while prominently featuring a cast of accomplished blind, deaf and deaf-blind scholars and artists as expert commentators, some of whom have moved past the too-good-to-be-true narrative of Keller’s life.” Best practices abound in the documentary, so do check it out.
New York Times

 

 

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Witnessing the lives of refugees I promise you will appreciate this wonderful project from 1000 Dreams, a platform for refugees living across Europe to tell their own stories through photography, interviews, and storytelling. The plan is to change the narrative around the refugee experience as stereotypes who are part of “invading hoardes,” or “helpless and hopeless victims,” and beyond. “Many [media stories] overlook the deplorable conditions in which refugees live in Europe,” while others fail rely on stereotypes that belie the huge diversity within the refugee experience that can negatively impact public attitudes and policies. Forty refugee storytellers were trained, mentored, and given photography equipment which they used to create these intimate portraits.  Stop by and meet a Syrian drag queen living in Germany, a lonely but determined political asylum seeker from Zimbabwe living in Ireland, and a Sudanese refugee living in the U.K. who is slowly finding her way. “I was a very unconfident person before, but this time,” says Misaa Osman. “I just feel like I'm very strong and very confident.”
1000 Dreams

Let’s not forget Patrice Rushen, shall we?  If you’ve spent even a nanosecond on TikTok, you will have likely encountered a dance meme that starts with hands clapping in ya face that kicks off a snippet of a song that most people might recognize as the theme from the Men In Black film. “Forget Me Nots” is actually a 1982 hit by an enormously talented jazz musician named Patrice Rushen, who has created an extraordinary body of work that has spanned genres and inspired legion of other artists over the years. This 2019 profile pre-dates her meme fame, but describes her influence on the current crop of pop and jazz artists, who are embracing her “smooth-but-deep textures” in service of “a desire for the comfort of a solid, encompassing groove.” Says Giovanni Russonello: “What all this tells you is that we’re living in Patrice Rushen’s world. We just might not know it yet.”
New York Times

 

Moodboard

RaceAhead-Patrice Rushen
"We’re living in Patrice Rushen’s world. We just might not know it yet.”
Bobby Holland—MPTV/Reuters

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