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Listen, Learn and Lead

March 8, 2018 Matt Norquist

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to support the multitude of movements going on right now, like #MeToo and Time’s Up. Women are underrepresented at executive levels in organizations around the world—and this has big implications for us, for business and the world around us. There is ample data out there demonstrating that teams and organizations with an equal or greater proportion of women at the senior levels perform better. If we don’t get this right in our own organizations, we’re limiting our talent from achieving what’s possible—and ultimately, lengthening the road to gender parity.

There isn’t a simple fix. This is a complex, multifaceted issue that is bigger than you and me. And yet, we can take action and make a difference within our own areas of influence. I’m working to make sure that our organization has executive and organizational balance of men and women. In the last couple years, we’ve made remarkable progress—our executive team is nearly 50 percent female, and we went from 40 percent women in full-time positions to nearly to 60 percent.

But these indicators are not enough—we need to focus on actions and activities that will drive balanced outcomes. For example: We’ve differentially invested in the development of our women leaders here by offering internal training and learning opportunities in addition to supporting their attendance at conference and other learning events.

We’ve also continued to focus on expanding our point of view and have partnered with other organizations invested in advancing women. We’ve applied a lot of this thinking into trainings on inclusive leadership, bias, and harassment for our own talent. Also top of mind is finding the best talent for every position—looking inside and outside of the organization and ensuring that we have a gender balanced mix of talent to consider to make the best hiring decision.

What can I do?

All of this said, it’s incumbent upon each of us to think about how we show up for our teams each and every day. I’ve worked on developing greater awareness for how my own interactions—the way I’m communicating various issues—impacts my team. The way we communicate with one another is nearly as important as the decisions that we make.

Think about reframing your communications to be more inclusive by listening, inviting feedback, and acknowledging what you could do differently—in the moment and down the road. For example, in a recent strategic decision that we made, a few members of my team gave me feedback that it fell flat and unilateral—which allowed us to open up a dialogue and shift both of the actual outcomes, as well as the way we make decisions.

I’ve also come to realize that I have the unique privilege of working with leaders at dozens of organizations globally who are committed to advancing women into senior leadership positions. Participating in conversations and ideating with leaders who are tackling this very issue every day is a great learning opportunity.

An interesting conversation with a client recently got me thinking about inclusion and what it means to lead from a place where we are truly listening to all of our employees—becoming curious in ways that invite creativity, innovation and engagement. How can we make getting curious the cool thing to do? How can we catch people doing great things (instead of focusing on mistakes) and celebrate greatness in every individual?

Take, for example, Maureen MacInnis, the CHRO of Dentsply Sirona. Our team is partnering with her organization to create a more inclusive culture and build a pipeline of women in senior leadership positions. We were talking the other day about framing this effort as Listen, Learn and Lead. It starts with listening to the people around you, learning from what they have to say, and leading yourself, your team, and your organization differently—more inclusively.

Using this framework, we’re also trying to tackle the bigger issue of how to make inclusion and advancing women go viral inside of their organization. Said differently: How can we make doing the right thing go viral?

And Dentsply Sirona is just one of many companies doubling down on making an impact in advancing women in leadership and inclusion. Other clients going big here include: American Family Insurance, Constellation Brands, DOT Foods, Fannie Mae, FedEx Ground, First American, Freddie Mac, Hyster-Yale Group, Lenovo, LPL Financial, McKesson, Medtronic, MITRE, Oracle, PAREXEL, TEKsystems, Synchrony Financial, Toyota, US Bank, and The Walt Disney Company.

When we make a conscious effort to lead inclusively, we incorporate diverse experiences, opinions and perspectives into our decision making. This is the starting point to achieving gender parity in leadership. Today, as we recognize International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of all of the remarkable women leaders in my life and the profound impact that they’ve had on me personally and professionally. I’m also reminded that we have a long way to go to reach gender equality.

I’m thankful that we’ve made this topic an organizational priority and I encourage you to do the same—regardless of where you sit in your organization. Think about what you can do personally, within your sphere of influence, that will make a difference. What would our world look like if we each took the time to listen, learn and lead differently—starting today?

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