4 Shockingly Simple Things Male Leaders Are Not Doing, But Should

Fact: I will coach anyone who wants to create a disruption.

Additional fact: I coach mostly men.

Does that mean women aren’t as disruptive of leaders as men?

My research shows that women are just as likely to have disruptive leadership mindsets and behaviors as men, but get this: In the U.S., male leaders’ self-assessed disruption quotient scores—how much change they believe they are capable of leading—were significantly higher than their female counterparts. 

The gender gap strikes again. 

We as a society are not used to seeing women as “disruptive.” And we as women don’t give ourselves as much permission to be disruptive leaders even though at our core, we are as capable, if not moreso, than men. We know there’s greater risk that we could be penalized or labeled as “difficult” if we suggest disruptive ideas that challenge the status quo. It’s often a safer path to not speak up or take action—to be overlooked for not being innovative. And that’s a significant loss of opportunity and potential for any organization. 

So, what can women do? 

They’re already doing everything they can. 

It’s the men who need to be the ones to step up and take action. 

Before you interject—I’m not saying you aren’t doing anything. I’m saying you need to do more. 

Here’s the bare minimum of you, the men out there, should be doing:

1. Admit there’s a problem. 

Most of the time, it’s simply not on your radar. You don’t see the double bind that women are in when it comes to being disruptive, so you don’t see the problem. Getting your head out of the clouds and acknowledging the reality of the situation is a foundational step toward being an ally to fellow leaders who are women.

2. Get involved in the conversation. 

When was the last time you participated in a conversation about sexism in the workplace or patriarchal structures that are limiting the successes of female colleagues? Better yet, when was the last time you initiated a conversation about that? Chances are, rarely to never. The time is over to be a passive listener. Pose the question as often as you can: “What should I be doing differently?”

3. Measure what matters.. 

Does your organization truly value the recruitment and development of leaders who are women, or women of color? Are women being promoted at the same rate? Are they being paid equitably? The latest research from LeanIn.org and McKinsey shows how the percent of women in leadership decreases with each step up the ladder. The prospects for women of color are particularly dire:

What do these numbers look like in your organization? Focus on the intersectionality of gender and race—several HR leaders admitted to me that they intentionally don’t run those numbers because they are so bad they fear being sued!

4. Elevate your colleagues. 

Ask your female colleagues what they need, and then seek to deliver. Be more than an ally—be a sponsor. I personally have had to ask trusted male colleagues in powerful positions to advocate for me, to make an important introduction, or to speak up on my behalf. Although they were happy to do so, it would have been more impactful if they had offered. 

None of this is difficult—hardly any of it takes much time at all. But it is not happening. 

You can trust this comes up in my coaching sessions, and I hope the men reading this know what to do next.

— Charlene

What I Can’t Stop Talking About: 

  • Getting chipped. Seriously: If Apple could implant a chip version of the iPhone into my hand I’d be first in line for the procedure. I asked my LinkedIn followers what they’d do if given the option, and only 16% said absolutely yes. Roughly 52% said “no, never.” For those of you shaking your head, you probably don’t trust the technology. Or you’re fearful that you don’t control what it can do. But let me ask you this: Do you carry your phone in your back pocket? I hate to break it to you, but if so, you’ve already chipped your butt. 

  • 3D rendering on iPhones. I came across an app, Luma Labs, that can capture and render any real-life object in 20 minutes—something that would’ve taken up to eight weeks to complete before. Check out this centerpiece I made for the plant on my coffee table. What’s the point, you may ask? It’s cool! I can capture beautiful sculptures and flowers to enjoy in new ways in the future. Still, there are real-world applications, particularly in gaming, where you can insert objects into virtual environments quickly and easily. Now if only my cat would sit still …

  • The new streaming war, but with chatbots. I just signed up for Google’s Gemini Pro, and even though it’s free for the first two months, I don’t see myself paying for several generative AI subscriptions. To attract and keep subscribers, I predict chatbots will duke it out for share of wallet with additional features similar to the streaming wars, where Netflix and its counterparts try to outdo one another with original content. The chatbot battle will shape up not around exclusive deals with publishers like The New York Times, but rather around how well these platforms perform as indispensable AI agents trusted with our data.   

My Latest: 

  • AI Ethics with Olivia Gambelin. It’s not enough to know what responsible AI is. We need to collectively learn how to be responsible AI practitioners. One person leading this charge is ethicist Olivia Gambelin, the founder and CEO of AI advisory firm Ethical Intelligence. Watch our fascinating conversation in my latest livestream or read my LinkedIn newsletter for our shared insights on how to apply ethics to not only technological innovation but also to your business practices.

  • Using values to guide your decisions. Our values and our principles are the foundation of our organization. They guide us in every decision. They inform every objective. They support every risk. Except when they don’t. In Leading Disruption, I dig into why executives lose sight of these core values—and how to get them back on track.

  • Building your case for disruption. I often say that deciding to take the leap is the hardest part of any big-gulp moment. That’s not entirely true. When you’re running an organization, even after you’ve decided to jump into disruption, you still have to convince everyone else to dive in, too. So, how do you prepare yourself and your team for that inevitable big-gulp? Tune in to my livestream today, Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET on LinkedIn and Facebook Live to find out.

  • Obstacles ahead! The biggest disruption challenge that execs are facing today is … (I’m sure you can fill in the dots.) As a veteran advisor, I’ve helped sort through every imaginable problem a leader could have. I’ll be sharing common obstacles tripping leaders up most in an upcoming livestream on Tuesday, Mar. 5. Save the date!

My Upcoming Appearances:

If you are interested in having me speak at an upcoming event or to your executive team, please drop me at note at [email protected]

Thank you for subscribing to the Disruption Dispatch, which goes out to thousands of disruptors every other week to help you on your disruption journey—plus a curated recommendation list of a few Good Things I’m enjoying. 

Want more? Check out my weekly publication, Leading Disruption, on LinkedIn.

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Charlene Li

If you found this note helpful, please forward and share it with someone who needs the inspiration today. If you were forwarded this, please consider subscribing.