Feminine Leadership and Why Leading With Purpose May Change the Future of Business

Purpose Work Culture

An appreciation for purpose and people are among the most critical components of successful leadership, now and in the future.

BY SHANNON ADKINS

I’m the CEO of the Oakland, California-based consultant firm Future State, a people-centered, purpose-driven consultant firm that has advised businesses ranging from Clif Bar and The Trust for Public Land to eBay and Facebook. Our approach is based in the idea—once radical but now well-proven—that successfully integrating new processes, capabilities and drivers of revenue depends on two key factors: the buy-in of the people on the team, and a shared commitment to purpose.

We use this approach because we’ve found it’s the best way to achieve successful transformations, but it could also be described in another way: feminine leadership. What is the essence of feminine leadership (which can definitely be embodied by men)? And why do studies find that having a more balanced gender mix at top levels of business leads to greater profitability?


Bring truly purpose-led means bringing a level of self-awareness to everyday work: applying greater empathy, listening more deeply, being more humble.


Purpose-Led, People-Led

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the attributes of feminine leadership that may lead to greater success. When I’ve asked friends and colleagues how they define feminine leadership, the most common responses I hear include humility, listening, empathy, balance, inclusiveness and equity.

And while I agree that each of these attributes is critical to the success of any 21st-century leader, I believe there is another, underlying factor about truly remarkable leaders that makes these behaviors possible, one attribute that makes an even greater difference for people at work. For me, that attribute is being purpose-led. Bring truly purpose-led means bringing a level of self-awareness to everyday work: applying greater empathy, listening more deeply, being more humble. One of our driving beliefs at Future State is that, despite our years of experience and success, we don’t know it all. Every business is unique, and finding the right solution—the solution that will enable any team to forge a path to success in the future—depends on understanding the people and purpose of that organization.

Love Made Visible

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at the Conscious Capitalism Bay Area Chapter meeting, which was centered around finding and expressing our higher purpose. This notion of purpose—of mattering and of making a difference—is a key attribute associated with feminine leadership. This has been a guiding principle of my life, and one that I observe and invest in most consistently among my female friends and colleagues.

Perhaps it is because women have only in the last half-century been stepping back from the pre-supposed expectation of motherhood as the core purpose of life. Perhaps in the space of that inquiry, we had the opportunity to truly ask ourselves what mattered most, both at home and at work. Why would one go to work? What purpose would be served? Why spend time and effort and give oneself to such endeavors?

Susan Griffin-Black, Co-CEO of EO Products shared the main stage as a part of a panel at the event, and she was asked about her own higher purpose, and the higher purpose of EO. She reminded us of the line from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: “Work is love made visible.” She shared that her organization has always prioritized family, and that even as she built a high-growth organization, she remained focused on her role as a mom. Perhaps, as she prioritized this core accountability and ensured that the needs of family and personal commitments could be accommodated for all people on the team, she also expressed another true purpose: to show another way.

Her perspective, which I share wholeheartedly, is that love and kindness are principles that DO belong in the workplace. Contrary to popular wisdom, work is personal, and it should be.


The Fourth Bottom Line: Purpose

Being led by people and purpose doesn’t mean sacrificing profitability, growth and good business decisions in service of our mission. On the contrary, research suggests that companies prioritizing people and purpose are much more likely to succeed, not to mention attract and retain top talent. Today workers of all generations have discovered the same truth: that without purpose, profits mean less.

Our firm, Future State, is led by an all-female C-Suite, was founded by a woman, and is 100% employee-owned, with more than 80% of that ownership being held by women. In addition to being highly motivated by the purpose of the firm, I find that many of our team members also value finding work that is an expression of their personal purpose. This is the most compelling and fulfilling part of my job — to support our teams, and our clients, in expressing their purpose through work. And this is my purpose — to build a different kind of consulting company. A company that digs deep to understand the diverse perspectives and needs of our clients; that works on projects that inspire us and that we know we can deliver better than anyone else; and that commits to planet, people, profit and purpose. Ultimately, to develop a consulting company that shows other businesses and business leaders that it is not only possible—but better business—to prioritize the values of your organization alongside more traditional business metrics.