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Alumni View: Women in Leadership

June 23, 2014

With a standing room only crowd in attendance, three Booth alumnae joined Linda E. Ginzel, clinical professor of managerial psychology, for a lively and informative post-lunch session at the 2014 Management Conference. The attendees were drawn by the topic, Women in Leadership. The panelists considered what motivates a leader to succeed and other questions that involved development of Leadership Capital, defined by Ginzel as “domain and conceptual knowledge together with action and insight skills applied to improving outcome for self and others.”

Leandrea Knes, ’84, president and CEO of PPM America Inc., challenged the “stereotype of a selfish or greedy CEO” and noted, “Strong leaders are opposite to this.” Leaders are subservient and give credit as well as take responsibility, she added. “I’m the bus driver for PPM,” she further explained. “I need the right people on board the bus for a comfortable journey. I direct the bus and keep the temperature right as well.” Her reason for continuing to develop her leadership capital and that of junior colleagues: “I want to create and leave legacy for a framework of success.” “I want to make it a ‘fun’ bus.”

On the question of the changing definition of leadership, Knes noted that that there’s more interest in owning company stocks. “Focus on shares led to a big shift,” she said. “Short-term results became more important.” But she added, “We all act more like owners now.” This perspective, she said, helped women and minorities to rise in organizations.

Rachel Kohler, ’89, president of the Interiors Group at Kohler Co., explained that her world is “180 degrees away from Leandra’s.” Her firm is a 140-year-old family business based in Kohler, Wisconsin, a town of 2,000. Rachel selected to answer the question, “Is it Important to identify leaders at an early state and how is this accomplished?” Her response: “Yes. Young talent is important.” Kohler, she explained, is more interested in transformational leaders than transactional leaders, as the businesses move fast and have many challenges. At Kohler, she said, there was a 50 percent survival rate for outsiders brought into top ranks, which meant that outsiders tended to leave more frequently than young talent. As a result, young talent became more valuable.

Emerging or young leaders require to be on a winning team and to have an impact on results. Both of these essentials help to engage them and, as a result, retain them, Kohler said.

Janet Pucino, ’94, CIO of Prolacta Bioscience Inc., tackled what men and women can do to cultivate their leadership capital. Feedback is essential, she said. The cultures of various workplaces might not encourage feedback, she said, and urged women to ask for it when it was not offered. After feedback, Pucino noted that recalibrating one’s perspective and actions in light of input was the next step. By incorporating feedback in this recalibration, one can improve performance and test out new strategies. Janet, who authored the book Not in the Club, continued that networking is important women. By extending one’s work relationships and deepening their quality, women can gain more of a step on the leadership ladder.

Ginzel wrapped up the session after noting that all panelists agreed that situations are powerful determinants of behavior—a fundamental tenet of social psychology. She encouraged the audience as well as the panelists to reflect on the input received and to see where it could apply to the lifelong development of leadership capital.—Barbara Passy, ’07, is a freelance writer based in Chicago.