Using Your Head When Leading With the Heart: Jane Pak talks about the art of fiscal and social balance
BY DR. Mark Goulston
"Not long ago I was bothered by a [well-intended] comment made by a judge from a leading business award competition in which a clear winner in the category 'should also get extra points because the owner is a woman,'" recalls Jane Pak.
As CEO of NAWBO-LA (National Association of Women Business Owners) Pak is responsible for the development, oversight, implementation, communication, and evaluation of all strategies and activities related to the day-to-day administration of the organization. NAWBO-LA is one of the largest and most dynamic of the 83 nationwide chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners; NAWBO-LA represents the interests of an estimated 543,000-plus privately held, 50% or more women-owned firms in the greater Los Angeles region, employing over 692,000 people and generating nearly $125 billion in sales.
Known mostly for her "challenge-the-status-quo" approach, Pak is a firm believer in mission-driven organizations being managed with equal parts social and fiscal conscience. "The trouble with any organization being led only by the head is that, eventually, it will lose its way," she explains. "The problem with any organization that is only lead by the heart is that eventually, it will lose its relevance. To be an effective leader, you have to be many things to different people, wear many hats, think and act with both your head and your heart. You simply can't be a linear thinker all the time."
She continues: "Many executives develop one-tracked internal analytics, which leads us from a 'Why should we focus on women specifically for leadership positions?' to 'Hey! We should give her extra credit because she's a woman!' Selecting individuals on their merit and capabilities is infinitely more effective in the long term than selection by a singular attribute such as gender or ethnicity. But we're not quite there as a society, as we are vulnerable, still, to the influences of socially induced prejudices. Value can be created and destroyed, it's the job of executives to recognize quantitatively AND qualitatively where value is created and to capture it. You have to be able to see beyond a spreadsheet and read between the cells."
"Women, for whatever reason, tend towards collaborative behavior, which is where we often facilitate an environment in which value can be created. This matters for any company because without collaboration, you can't innovate. And without innovation you simply can't survive. Studies have shown that corporate boards with women directors significantly outperform those that don't through Return on Equity, Sales and Invested Capital," says Pak. "Sometimes being collaborative is seen as possibly being more "heartfelt" in being, but it's arguable that individuals who are more collaborative are actually more pragmatic because they gather as many data points as possible to make informed decisions. I didn't immediately see the connection; Pak elaborated.
"In order to innovate you need to have a diversity of thought, experience, and perspective without which you will not be able to draw out all the possible ideas impacting and influencing multiple markets. Women lean towards collaborative activity, men tend towards competitive behavior; BOTH are critical to success, but are often leadership attributes that almost cannot co-exist in one person, which is one reason why women, tending towards more collaborative environments, add value to organizations that are predominantly lead by one gender or ethnicity.
Pak identifies several companies that innovate through collaboration, "In Palo Alto, IDEO is one of the leading companies that specialize in innovation and they have perfected the formula for bounded creativity. In Thousand Oaks, Amgen, one of the world's leading biotech companies, and in Hawthorne, SpaceX, are two terrific examples of what amazing things humans can do when you get really smart people who are fanatically eager to revolutionize anything and everything; from dusters to spaceships. When an organization has, at its core, a shared value system between all its employees, it wins. When that core is mission driven, life as we know it, changes. That can never happen in a heart-less entity."
Thank you from all of us, Jane, for making the case and showing the way to connect the heart to the head of a company.
Dr. Mark Goulston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.