I nominate Ursula Burns and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox as a leaders who exemplify the unique leadership women can bring to corporate America. In July of this year, Ursula Burns was tapped to succeed Anne Mulcahy as CEO of Xerox with Ms. Mulcahy remaining as Chairman of the Board.
Both women have 30+ years each with Xerox. That institutional knowledge at the top of the corporate structure during some of the toughest economic times in recent history ensured that Xerox would weather the storms of 2009 with the wind at their back as they move into 2010.
To go through a transition of leadership in the midst of an economic downturn can have extreme negative effects on a corporation's bottom line. Phasing out a CEO can make shareholders and potential investors apprehensive about the company's stability. In adopting a co-leadership model, both Ms. Burns and Ms. Mulcahy showed a willingness to forgo ego in order to provide a strong foundation for Xerox during these changes.
I'm not saying that they did this because they are women, or that this is what all women leaders do. But in speaking to women and men about the importance of getting numbers of women into top leadership, invariably someone makes sure to talk about how women "just don't support each other." The story of how when Ursula was made CEO, actually surprising folks in and outside the company, Anne made a decision to stay at Xerox to support her is a moving one. And their ability to forge successful co-leadership roles seamlessly during this time has been a very public contradiction of the old saw about women "being our own worst enemies.
Their steady management of and dedication to the employees of Xerox has served as a lesson in successful leadership that has corporate America watching, along with the Obama administration. Ms. Burns was recently named to lead The White House Initiative on Science, technology, Engineering, and Math Education.
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