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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

Gender No Silver Bullet

Oh how simple it would be if we could titrate testosterone accurately! Then we wouldn't have to be bothered with regulation, transparency, sleazy and lax behavior plus greed and hubris.

The crash has nothing to do with gender, though it's an interesting question, even empirically solvable if there were enough women who were equally employed in these tawdry affairs. It would also be interesting if we knew enough about the brain that we could shrink the acreage of the amygdala.

Unfortunately, the explanations for the crash have little to nothing to do with DNA or brain circuitry but have everything to do with the serious design flaws of its system, a system run amok for a whole bunch of reasons mentioned above and like all system problems are multi-determined: group think, greed, sloppy and lax regulation, and close to zero transparency. Those are the problems and they deep and there's no silver bullet like testosterone -- or lack of it -- that can solve them.

By Warren Bennis

 |  March 9, 2009; 4:01 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I don't have access to empiral data for gender studies on leadership, but I do have some anecdotal evidence. Trained as a computer software engineer, my first hero is Navy officer Grace Hopper. She invented the COBOL language. Then years ago, I worked for a software company, ASK Computer Systems, that was founded by Sandy Kurzig. She was a typical engineer entrepreneur, and successfully created a $400M company. To set up an office in the second bedroom of her apartment, Kurtzig used $2,000 in savings to rent a computer time-sharing terminal and buy a desk, chair, and filing cabinet. At the age of 24, Sandra Kurtzig, Silicon Valley's leading female CEO founded ASK Computer Systems, Inc. Today she jokes, "In an area where garage start-ups like Hewlett-Packard and Apple were the norm, I couldn't even afford the garage." Also, Donna Shirley is well known as leading the NASA project that successfully landed a space craft on Mars. And of course, Carly Fiorina is well known as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

My point is there is no conclusive evidence that gender makes for better business leaders, but there is plenty of evidence that society has erected a glass ceiling. Hillary Clinton is well known as for leadership in shattering this unproductive barrier. We really need both women and men working to solve business problems. As my mother might say, "two heads are better than one."

Personally, my dear wife owns and operates a small landscaping service. I have noticed that she is more driven by quality and customer relations rather than keeping score via sales growth and profits.

At many software companies recruiting and retaining creative talent is job one. Thus, a successful business recognized contributions from both women and men. Good ideas are not stamped as "Made by Men."

Posted by: rmorris391 | March 9, 2009 2:53 PM
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One of the most effective means of combating 'group think' is diversity. There are numerous studies which conclude that diverse leadership is effective leadership. While perhaps not a silver bullet, balance matters.

Posted by: thehammamis | March 9, 2009 1:37 PM
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