McKinsey & Co's Joanna Barsh

Who she is: Researcher and author of the 2009 groundbreaking book, “How Remarkable Women Lead.”

What she does: With fellow McKinsey consultant Susie Cranston, she says they began hunting down the academic and scientific knowledge needed to underpin what they were observing about women in the workplace.

Why she does it: “Many had overcome serious obstacles and painful setbacks, but they didn’t spiral down when things went wrong. They swung into action and kept moving ahead. They were doers and fixers.” Meaning undergirded everything in their lives, she notes, for it established the right motivation and helped women identify their direction.”

By Hope Katz Gibbs

“When I turned 50, something happened to me,” writes Joanna Barsh in the introduction to her book, How Remarkable Women Lead. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No sense of having reached a monumental milestone. No dread, no joy. And that sense of nothingness really bothered me.”

A mid-life crisis? Possibly. But it also propelled her to talk to other women in similar positions and ask them about what they knew. “And not just for me, but for all the women asking these questions about what made other women so wonderfully successful as leaders.”

By any objective measure, Barsh admits, her life at 50 was pretty great. She had two incredible daughters, a strong marriage, a beautiful airy apartment with a view, and a weekend home on a farm. She was also a senior partner at McKinsey & Company helping Fortune 500 clients transform and grow.

“So, what was wrong with me anyway?” she asks. “I thought about it, and it came down to this: I felt invisible. I was passing through life as an observer and had felt that way for a long, long time.”

So Barsh went on a quest. With fellow McKinsey consultant Susie Cranston, she says they began hunting down the academic and scientific knowledge needed to underpin what they were observing about women in the workplace.

“We found ourselves drawn increasingly to factors that lie beyond traditional approaches to management and professional development—to newer ideas about how emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, a deep connection to the work itself and to one’s colleagues — how joy — creates the conditions for successful leadership,” Barsh explains. “Here were these women, leaders who had armored themselves to do corporate battle, voicing their passion — their feelings of joy and meaning — without embarrassment. All those years of trying to hide my feelings melted away.”

Extreme optimism was another trait of the women leaders, Barsh and Cranston found. “Many had overcome serious obstacles and painful setbacks, but they didn’t spiral down when things went wrong. They swung into action and kept moving ahead. They were doers and fixers.” Meaning undergirded everything in their lives, she notes, for it established the right motivation and helped women identify their direction.”

Centered Leadership

Before long, Barsh and Cranston had developed a system to assess remarkable women. With journalist and editor Geoff Lewis, “we captured the recipe so we could share the ingredients and how to use them, so all women could try it.”

They found that all remarkable women have three preconditions: talent, a desire to lead, and tolerance for change. They also had the five dimensions for centered leadership. And the outcomes included impact, renewal, and joy. Simple as that.

The five dimensions include:

Meaning: The sense of meaning is what inspires women leaders, guides their careers, sustains their optimism, generates positive emotions, and enables them to lead in creative and profound ways.

Framing: To sustain herself on the path to leadership, and to function as a leader, a woman must view situations clearly, avoiding downward spirals in order to move ahead, adapt, and implement solutions.

Connecting. Nobody does it alone. Women leaders make meaningful connections to develop sponsorship and follower-ship, and to collaborate with colleagues and supporters with warmth and humanity.

Engaging. Successful leaders take ownership for opportunities along with risks. They have a voice and they use it. They’re also able to face down their fears.

Energizing. To succeed long-term and to accommodate family and community responsibilities, women leaders learn to manage their energy reserves and to tap into flow.


Breaking down the magic into manageable pieces

In the 343 pages of their interesting book, Joanna and Susie break down the pieces of their five-dimensional process. In each chapter, remarkable women write in their own words about the concept the authors are describing.

Part One: Meaning. In chapters 1-5, readers learn to analyze what meaning means for them, to define their own happiness equation, to start with their strengths, ways to define their sense of purpose, and what it means to be a dreamcatcher (don’t miss the first-person piece by Alondra de la Parra, who founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas at 23).

Part Two: Framing. Chapters 6-10 focus on the concept of framing, the practice of optimism, the importance of moving on, how to be ready for change, and the value of knowing it is the journey—not the destination—that matters.

Part Three: Connecting. In this section, we find a description of the path to belonging, how to view your organization as your family, the key fact that reciprocity forms relationships, the beauty of the tapestry you are weaving, the role of sponsors, and what it means to be a member of the tribe.

Part Four: Engaging. In chapters 17-21, the discussion turns to when we cross the line, how to stand up and speak up, ways to make your own luck, the value in taking a tough step, and the importance of weathering the heights.

Part Five: Energizing. Finally, the authors share thoughts on topics that include energy in your toolkit, tips for having a quick recovery, ways to experience the flow, and tools for achieving boundless energy.

They conclude with a section called, “Time for Action.” If you are not sure where to start, a good place to begin is to take inventory of what you have got. “It’s plenty: core strengths, a host of skills, a desire to lead, ample raw talent, and more connections than you realize,” they assure readers.

“You also have a strong voice you can use. You have energy! You also have many hardwired advantages: an emotional core, an ability to reframe, an ability to build deep relationships, adaptability. You are already on your way.”

And when you put all the areas of Centered Leadership together, the authors insist you will achieve higher impact, and higher performance success. “Not only will others see you as an effective leader, they will want to follow you.”

Here’s to that! To dig deeper into these fabulous leadership lessons, click here to buy the book.


The Women