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Travel Weekly: Kindness, Empathy, Transparency: The New Must-Have Attributes of Leaders

By Diane Merlino

If you are a business leader, you should know that your customers and your employees very likely want you to be more selfless, more empathetic, and more collaborative.

A two-year survey of 64,000 people in 18 countries and 125 on-the-ground interviews in 13 countries confirms that the command and control model of leadership is on its last legs, yielding to an approach favoring connection and nurturing. The full picture painted by the research is included in The Athena Doctrine: How women (and the men who think like them) will rule the future (Jossey-Bass 2013). Coauthored by social theorist and best-selling author John Gerzema and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael D’Antonio, the book documents the rise of feminine traits and values in leadership and society.

“One of the things we saw was that the most innovative people around the world are breaking away from traditional models, the masculine ways of doing things,” said Gerzema, executive chairman overseeing insights for Young & Rubicam Group and WPP’s BAV Consulting. “Whether in corporate cultures, politics, science or the arts, all these different people in all these different disciplines around the world tended not to conform to existing structures and to put their whole selves out there to be very, very open.”

Should the idea of running a business based on openness, empathy, kindness, and inclusion cause you to break out in hives, consider this insight: “On a personal level, I’d just say that this is not tough stuff,” Gerzema said. “These are human qualities all of us have, men and women alike. Pick a few of them that suit your management style and build them into the way you lead, and you’ll see results. You’ll see more alignment, more motivation on the behalf of the people that work for you, and hopefully happier customers.”

This is the second and final installment from a discussion between Gerzema and Travel Weekly PLUS Editor in Chief Diane Merlino about the global paradigm shifts that are mandating a new approach to business leadership.

Merlino: In the book, you use two different leadership styles to describe “the dynamics of a new economy colliding with the old establishment like tectonic plates.”

Gerzema: The plates are the collision of technology, social media, Millennial values and mistrust of corporations with the established ways that businesses are constructed and the way that leaders think about leading. The old guard, the old ways of leading, are very 20th century. We’ve just had rapid acceleration and change in society, and most corporations and most governments haven’t kept up. So I think those plates are colliding because people are frustrated.

We interviewed these guys in Stockholm who created a live video platform service called Bambuser. Kids used their product to broadcast the Arab Spring uprising. That was all about transparency, and it gave tremendous power to the people in the streets to document the event, to be journalists, and to call the government to task. In our data, 74% of people worldwide said that today power is about influence rather than control. At the same time, 60% of people in all 13 countries in our research base said they would work for less money at a company whose culture and values they admired.

The consumer marketplace increasingly dictates what business does. Economics come into play, the crisis, the GDP — 72% of the U.S. GDP is what people buy. These pieces are all part of the things that are shifting values. Ordinary citizens have tremendous power, not just the power of their consumption but also the power of their opinion to change the ways that businesses and politics respond. I think the smartest leaders understand how to evolve and adapt and navigate these shifts.

Merlino: One of the book’s reviewers observed an evolution in leadership from command-and-control to empower-and-track to connect-and-nurture. What can business leaders who can get on the connect-and-nurture wavelength expect? More innovation? Happier employees? A better bottom line?

Gerzema: All of that. Diversity and inclusion are oftentimes seen as soft, tangential to the business. We believe that these feminine values are actually value-creators. They are the drivers of the profits and the innovation and the success of the company. We very proudly frame those values as essential leadership skills that you need to get ahead.

Merlino: In the book, you refer to “empathy as innovation.” What are you describing there?

Gerzema: Empathy as innovation is a really interesting new idea. Entrepreneurs will oftentimes simply try to envision a market and then conquer it. Empathy is getting to that next level of understanding your customer and living their lives. One of the guys we interviewed for the book is Doctor Joseph Coughlin, head of MIT’s AgeLab. They created a suit called AGNES, the Age Gain Now Emapthy System, that mimics the physical restrictions of age. It allows students and designers to walk around in this suit that mimics what it’s like to be a senior citizen. Your hearing is dulled, your eyesight’s dulled, your joints hurt because you’re carrying excess weight. It slows you down. Then the younger designers try to drive cars in this suit, or reach for products on store shelves. It’s a whole next level of understanding people. There’s something pretty interesting in that.

Merlino: Do you have any action items for business leaders based on the trends illuminated in the book?

Gerzema: Champion women in your organization, because they’re going to bring diversity and new perspectives to your management team and your boards. They will bring new values and new ideas to your company and help with all the different challenges you face, making your business far more multi-disciplined and also multi-talented.

In conjunction with that, men have a big obligation to be greater sponsors and greater mentors of women and to address the profound gaps that exist based on having just 16% of women as CEOs and on boards. We have a big problem to address there because of the dynamics of social codes and structures and unconscious bias. The few businesses that do it are going to break away, they’re going to be the best companies to work for, they’re going to be the places that people want to stay and, ultimately, they’re going to be the places where customers are going to put their money.

This article first appeared on Travel Weekly.

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