When Slow is Good

Everything is so fast in our society.

Remember the Slowskis, the two tortoises on the TV ad reveling in a slower paced life. Maybe there is more to the commercial than just the product being sold, faster internet service.

Slow is good. And so is having unstructured time and shorter days. Good for our health and good for productivity.

If working longer hours is not the answer to increased productivity, then what about working faster? This belief was challenged by psychologist Guy Claxton in his book

Claxton summarized research which strongly indicates that some problems are better solved by slower paced, intuitive thinking which originates from the unconscious mind rather than the fast-paced, analytical, “meet-the-deadline” thinking with which we are all more familiar.

This finding flies in the face of prevailing business practices which demand fast, logical thinking as the way to solve business problems. Contrary to popular belief, at times we need to learn how to slow down our thinking rather than speed it up.  This is especially true, Claxton argues, for the development of complex and original ideas.

A couple of years ago we moved to Mexico and in our town, at least, slowness is a way of life. This takes time for folks North of the border to get used to. I was standing in a bank line and a person was taking forever to use the cash machine. I muttered under my breath in English, “Is he taking out a home loan or something. Get a move on, hurry up”. I was surprised when a Mexican woman turned around and said “Sir, you need to calm down”

Lesson received.

What then can you do to slow your life down before some life crisis does?

The demands of your job will not let you work the proverbial “Four Hour Work Week“. You do not have to feel bad about working so hard.

But we can intentionally create pauses in our day by

1. Restricting our email times and visits to social networking sites

2. Finding silence in nature

3. Creating stillness in our minds through focussed activity such as the practice of yoga or meditation

4. Celebrating pauses in conversation and enjoying moments of silence

5. Taking restorative power naps at work

6. Turning the TV off, or better still, don’t turn it on.

Change your focus from noise to silence and from speed to slowness.  And it is likely to change your life. Just as music has pauses between notes or else it is noise, so create pauses in your life. In line with the previous blog, in so doing, open up room for your imagination to soar.

Listen to the Slowskis.


How do you slow down your life?

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Be Creative Now. Here’s How


Everyone can become more creative.

This could  involve everything from inventing new software, decorating a home, or preparing a unique bean dish.

But did you know that your creativity can be nurtured and enhanced? Here’ how.

Test your creativity

 How many ways can you use a brick?  You have twenty seconds to come up with the answer. Go.

Now reflect on what you have just done. Did you come up with 2 ways? Five ways? It doesn’t really matter because, and this may surprise you (!), this type of task is guaranteed to crush creativity. Why? Because it is the antithesis of what creative people do. Let’s see why.

What Creative People Do

The above exercise violated two of the four principles for creative production: I asked you to give a list but there was no overarching problem to solve (e.g., how can you use bricks to solve a particular problem). I then asked you to make a decision.

Here is what happens when you are being creative. Each step is a pointer to what you can do to become more creative.

  1. Solve a problem.

When a person is being creative, whether they know it or not, they are attempting to solve a problem. They are working on questions like “How can we find a solution for the water shortage in our community?”  This presents an invitation for the creative journey to begin. It cues the mind to start connecting disparate pieces of information and looking for patterns of thought.

All of us have inchoate burning questions about problems that we care about deeply. They point to a path never traveled. But the creativity does not begin until the problem is felt.

Question: What problem do you feel passionate about?

  1. Defer making a decision

In the initial stages of a creative process the last thing a person needs is some externally imposed deadline. Of course we all have deadlines from editors, bosses, and other stakeholders in life. But true creativity happens when the mind can operate without such constraints. We all know about writer’s block, stage fright, fear of failure, and mind freeze. All of these occur in part because we impose on ourselves the real or imagined expectations of others.

So in order to be creative we need to defer making decisions. This allows the mind to mull over the burning question even if we cannot envision the timing of the end result.

Question: How can you arrange it so that there is no particular outcome expected of you?

  1. Engage the unconscious

The unconscious mind is like part of a car engine. It’s under the hood and we are vaguely aware its there. It is therefore imperative that we know what it is, how to access its power, and what to do to nurture its growth.

The creative mind is a different form of intelligence from our rational abilities.  The creative path does not follow the path of left-brain analysis. It shows up in dreams and images and feelings.  One reason we don’t hear its voice is because it does not use the language and logic of our everyday discourse. Albert Einstein talking about his creative process says,

“The words of the language as they are originally spoken don’t seem to play any role at all in my mechanism of thought”

The first step in nurturing the unconscious is for us to get off the 12 hour a day work treadmill.

The unconscious thrives on slow contemplative ways. 

One executive even insisted that he have a shower installed at his office because he did his best creative thinking in the shower. Others find that jogging, yoga, meditation, or time in the beauty of nature can help their most creative thinking. When we are not consciously thinking about the problem the unconscious mind is putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The result is that, out of the blue, a unique answer to the problem pops into our mind.

Question: What can you do to slow down and put yourself into a creative frame of mind?

  1. Play at it

Creative people seem to be in a state of play. They are like children in a sandbox totally immersed in building some equivalent of an enchanted city. Their imagination is so engaged with the challenge at hand that time passes by and they don’t notice it, they have lots of fun, and their work seems like a game. * Others have described this as a state of “flow” where they are so deeply absorbed in the creative process that it does not seem like work to them. How many times have we heard creative people say “You mean, they pay me for this?”

Question: What creative activity seems like play to you?

5. Work the Learning Curve.

There is a big gap between our creative aspiration and the final output. Artists have to learn the color wheel. Writers have to learn the basics of editing. Works of genius don’t just pop out of the mind of the neophyte. All of us have felt that the first draft of our work is useless. At some point we all felt that we wanted to throw in the towel and quit.

We need to learn the patience with ourselves that comes with viewing creativity as a journey not a destination.

Now let the creative journey continue for you. Check to see if the above steps are evident in your creative effort”.

What has facilitated the creative process for you?

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Seeing “I” to “I”. The Face of Authentic Connection

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

Has anyone ever told you, “I feel so comfortable with you; it’s as if we have known each other all our lives? Or, have you ever said to someone else, “I feel that we are soul mates?” 

This type of intimacy, which we call “I to I”, occurs when one’s true self or essence makes an authentic connection with that same aspect of another, resulting in a memorable and highly positive experience. We seem to register this kind of mutual connection at an intuitive level, making it feel somewhat mysterious. It likely also occurs when many variables come into play, making it difficult to describe or explain.

What we do know about “I to I” relationships is that ego concerns are set aside. These include,

underlying agendas

the need to control the process or outcome

the desire to have others conform to our needs or values.

In contrast, in an “I to I” interaction, we accept the other person unconditionally, and we are truly present with and for that person.

One of the authors once had a dramatic and unexpected experience with such a connection. While living in the countryside, a neighbor who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, used to stop by to chat. One day upon leaving, he said: “You are the only person who talks to me like I am a normal person, not someone with a mental disorder.”

Upon reflection, the author realized that she was responding to his essence — to the essential person he was (and always had been) that lay beneath the layers of behaviors that were brought about by his schizophrenia (e.g., anxiety, poor eye contact, disorganized thinking). During those conversations, she was somehow able to remain focused on his true self, that aspect of him that was unaffected by his schizophrenia and, similarly, he was able to connect with hers.

What is the climate in which an authentic connection thrives? It seems to occur when we are open, not shut down; celebrating the other, not competing with him or her; accepting, not judgingfocused on the other, not self-absorbed.

Regrettably, our egos often get in the way in making an I-to-I connection.

Barriers to Making an Authentic Connection

In order to clear the path for an authentic I-to-I connection, we need to remove some of these common barriers:


Sometimes we come into an interaction with an agenda, for example: “What is in this for me?” “How can I influence this person to think or behave my way?”


In our very busy culture, it’s hard to be present and focused on the “now”. For instance, we are sitting with a friend who wants feedback on a family issue but we are distracted by interfering thoughts and our immediate needs. We’re thinking about what we need to get at the grocery store for dinner. We’re worried about a project deadline.


Over the years we have built up layers and layers of defenses against being hurt, disappointed, or manipulated by others. We also have mastered the different roles we must adopt in life (e.g., parent, manager, teacher).  Unfortunately, these roles can interfere with our ability to make a true interpersonal connection; they are like a mask we wear, preventing us from revealing our true nature.

Tunnel Vision

We often walk into relationships with unconscious needs, which can blind us in seeing the whole person. When the person turns out to be unlike we thought they were; for example, highly limited, we become disappointed, disallusioned and/or unable to relate. For instance, we are drawn to, then befriend someone who is intelligent, witty, and funny. Later, we realize that we have neglected to recognize some very important limitations in them that threaten to derail the friendship. We did not see those qualities initially because of our tunnel vision and blinding needs.

 Making an Authentic Connection

Imagine you had an hour long conversation with a stranger in a park where you felt a deep, soulful connection. What happened that led you to believe this? Perhaps, it was one of the following:

*You felt safe, trusting, and without the need to defend yourself — you were open to the other person.

*You experienced the other as being fully present with you and you with him or her.

*You felt unconditionally accepted. For example, you were not judged, interrupted, or stereotyped.

*You felt the other person really listened to you and that what you said interested him or her.

*You did not feel interrupted or competed with by comments the other said.

Sound more like an encounter with Jesus or the Dalai Lama?

Surely, we are not likely to meet someone where all of the conditions noted above have been met, but sometimes a connection is made that seems to transcend the mundane or every day, leaving us moved as well as capturing our imagination.

Think of a time when you made an I-to-I connection. What do you think happened between the two of you?

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I Work Therefore I Am

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

The other day one of the authors had a long conversation with a highly educated Mexican tour guide. We were on a seven-mile hike through a national forest near our home in Mexico. We were discussing the meaning of work in our respective cultures, and he remarked,

“People in the USA live to work. Here in Mexico we work to live. Sometimes I think people north of the border have gone crazy about their work.Everyone seems so stressed out.”

It made us wonder: Have we as a society become dysfunctional in regards to work?

In a previous posting we discussed how work lies at the very heart of our personal identity and sense of value in the USA. This orientation has its ups but it also has its downs.

On the plus side, work still promises to bring Americans personal satisfaction, a sense of contribution, increasing affluence, status in the community, and a deep personal identity. This all sounds essential to living a good life, right?

What then is the down side of our work life in the USA?

For a start consider the experience of Marie who recently commented on one of Cedricj’s blog postings: When I stopped practicing law and I became a full time homemaker I was increasingly annoyed by the question “What do you do?” The one instance that stands out in my mind was the time I was wrapping up my cases. I had made a final appearance in the family law courtroom and was asked what are you doing these days? I told her (the other lawyer) that I was a stay-at- home mom. She said aloud in the open courtroom, “It must be nice to sit on your ass all day.” I was speechless. What a put down!

It is bad enough when others insult us, in public no less! But the lawyer’s crass comment to her colleague says a lot about her personal attitudes toward work. It also reflects the underlying attitudes of our society toward work. Let’s look at a few of these attitudes:

  1. Homemaking is not a job.  Homemaking has a negative value, and is a situation to be avoided.
  2. Our society ranks professions in terms of value and importance and rewards them, accordingly: lawyers are more important than homemakers caring for children; business executives, movie stars, and sports figures are more important than educators, social workers, and nurses.
  3. We are judged on (and our value pegged to) the particular profession in which we choose to engage and our rung on the organizational ladder; by how much we earn; how many hours we spend working; our ability to pay others to do less-valued work (e.g., paying a nanny, an eldercare provider, a carpenter).

When work is viewed in such a narrow, biased way; that is, as the vehicle through which we achieve status and acceptance in our society, there are consequences. If our life is totally consumed by what we do, how hard we work at it, and how much we are compensated, there’s a price we pay in our quality of life.

For example, we can: a)   lose focus on what really provides profound satisfaction at work. b)   have very little or no time for a life outside of work and consequently, neglect other aspects of ourselves that could be developed (e.g. developing other aptitudes, discovering spiritual aspects of ourselves) c)   allow ourselves to be exploited by employers who constantly strive to do more with less and require that we, for example, do the work of two people while our salary remains the same. d)   endure high, even dangerous, amounts of negative stress because we believe that our identity, significance, and value are determined exclusively by what we do (our “Work”).

Consequently, we are willing to devote our entire lives to “work”. How then do we release ourselves from this noose around our necks and make the changes we need to live a well-rounded life of purpose and meaning? Without retiring from the workforce altogether, how can we achieve balance and a higher quality of life?

One question you might first ask yourself is how much discomfort or pain are you experiencing at work?

For some, a major negative life event is the catalyst for change, e.g., a heart attack or a relationship breakdown. Though painful, these events can serve as a wake-up call, causing us to reevaluate the way we view our lives and our work.

For others, it may be the realization that life is becoming highly unbalanced, crazy, or meaningless.

If you are ready to make significant changes in your orientation to work, how do you begin? Let’s look at some possible first steps:

  1. Face the fact that the way you are working is not working for you. You cannot change your culture’s work orientation but you can change yours. Examine the personal price you are paying in the way you work and ask yourself:  “Is there not more to life than this?” “Could there be a better way?”
  2. Ask yourself what it is about work that is working against you. Is it working long hours that you believe may be negatively affecting your health or relationships? Is it that your work no longer gives your life meaning?
  3. Are you over-investing in your work at the expense of other aspects of your life such as pursuing a life passion, balancing your life with healthy pursuits such as exercise or meditation, taking adventurous or restorative vacations, or spending more time with your children or an aging parent?
  4. If work has lost its meaning, identify the factors that make for positive work motivation and begin to think of ways to build them into your life. According to Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, these include: a sense of contribution, autonomy, and mastery. What powerful and positive motivational forces drive you?
  5. Begin to visualize how your life will be in a work situation where you have both passion and life balance.
  6. Act intentionally. This is one of the most important initial action steps you can take. For instance, you may start by devoting one hour a week to developing the artistic talent you have been neglecting. This breaks inertia and opens the door to new possibilities and ways of being.
  7. Realize that personal change comes slowly. You will need courage, focus, and the support of key people. In some cases, you may need to change careers or physically move to a different area in order to transform your life.
  8. Make changes and don’t quit your job. Perhaps staying in your job is the right move; however, you may need to change how you approach your work. Write down your most important life priorities, decide which ones you can implement now, and then set firm boundaries so that work does not compromise them. To do this, you may need to think of ways to reorganize your work.
It doesn’t have to take a crisis to make changes in the way you do your work. You can begin right now. In the comments section, please share your personal story of how you transformed (or want to transform) your approach to work.
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When Others Grate On Our Nerves

Today on the plane I had a wake up call about why I allow some people to get to me.

I travel a lot for business (more than most and less than some) and find air travel to be the most tedious part of my job. So I am glad for the small perks like being able to get on a plane first and finding a place for my luggage in the overhead bin.

Today I was assigned a middle seat and dreaded having two large human beings on each side of me. Well and good for the person at the window seat, he was small built and slept most of the trip.

Then came Chuck (I saw his name on his carry on bag).

He was brusque in his manner, sat down heavily, paged through his magazine furiously, and then followed with “man spread” (legs wide open and arms spilling over the armrest on my side.) OK, I said to myself, “I can manage this, just ignore him and make myself small” Then came the headphones and his iPod that shut him out from the rest of the world. I have no problem with people listening to music while they travel, but then he began singing loudly.

By now I was starting to stereotype Chuck. He was reading an engineering magazine and I did what I tell others not to do, I started to label him by saying, “OK, here is an engineer with no social intelligence. He does not have a clue as to how his behavior is impacting his fellow passengers.”

Fast forward. After three hours of “enduring” this insufferable passenger we came to the end of the flight. As we were landing he took off his headphones and I (impersonating a human being) asked him where he was going.

What followed pricked my illusion that I am always a good judge of others. He was soft-spoken, friendly, and showed an interest in me. As I reflected on the incident afterwards I concluded that we often pre-judge people through the lens of our,

  1. Current physical state. There is a saying that I learned from people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous that we are vulnerable to our disease (mine is grumpiness) when we are, to use the acronym, H.A.L.TH = hungry; A = Angry; L = lonely; T = tired. It is easy to cry over spilled milk when we are exhausted.
  1. Past hurts. We all have our ‘hot buttons’ shaped by past experience. When someone ignores my needs, instead of detaching from the situation and not taking myself so seriously,  I can become reactive and not see the person or situation for what it actually is. It then becomes very difficult to disengage from the ‘problem’ person.
  1. Temperamental tendencies. I am an introvert and after a period of heavy involvement with others as my work requires, I just want to be left alone. And that included my physical space. Chuck invaded my personal space, air waves, and generally got on my nerves.

Next time we find ourselves responding with irritation to others we would do well to ask,

“What does this situation say about me?”

Understanding ourselves in that situation makes it far easier to respond without pre-judging, reacting, or coming from a place of prejudice. And with insight self-regulation  becomes much easier.

One of the earliest lessons I learned as a psychologist was to monitor my own feelings, sort them out, and then respond to others. Self-awareness always needs to be balanced with self-regulation.

What do you do when people get on your nerves?

Do you put the blame on them?


Do you allow them to be your teacher?

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Beyond Comparisons

Can you remember the people who really believed in you and gave you the resources you needed to develop that potential?

These are the teachers, mentors, coaches, bosses, and sometimes parents that labeled you as a positive force to be reckoned with.

In many ways they gave you an internalized label.

If it represented your possibilities, it had a positive impact on your life.

If the label implied that you had a problem or worse still, were a problem, you have had a tough path in life.

By contrast, I heard of one professor who gave all his students an A grade at the beginning of the class. He then instructed them to write an essay from the perspective of the end of the semester recounting the ways they worked to achieved that grade. They all earned their A’s.

Unfortunately our highly competitive culture continually compares us with each other,

 You are a B player in our organization

 My stomach is flatter than yours

You are not as smart as your sister

Does this sort of comparison bring out our “A” game? Are we the better for it? Did we not crush the opposition, win the gold  medal, get that coveted promotion, and on and on it goes?

Motivating by comparison never brought out the best in anyone. Comparisons that pit us against each other are a way of saying “I am better than you are” or “I am less than…”

A whole host of negative feeling states and beliefs can follow such comparisons including envy, a scarcity mentality, veiled anger against the “haves” in life, and killing ourselves “keeping up with the Jones“.

Maybe it is time to

  • Give yourself an A,
  • Find people who can encourage you along the way,
  • Define behaviors that you can practice that will help you realize that grade.

All our internalized labels, both positive as well as negative, are human inventions. The good news is that we don’t have to buy into those messages.

What label would you like to have for yourself?

How will it result in personal fulfillment and contribution to others?

Give yourself an A. Then work your tail off to make it so.


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Our Most Read Blogs in Five Years

If you missed reading any of the following blogs you will want to look at them since they are our most read articles in five years.

(Please share them with your friends on the social media tabs below)

The Meaning of Work in Different Cultures


Living with a Narcissist


Expand Your Self-Awareness


The Power of Self-Disclosure


Ten Basics of Cross-Cultural Communication


Moving Toward a Soul-Based Life


Transforming the Destructive Power of Envy


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The Power of Possibility

Two men looked through prison bars,

one saw mud

the other saw stars – Author unknown

A key to whether we see mud or stars is based on what story we believe and tell ourselves. The power of this internal narrative can be illustrated with the placebo effect.

One time I was having difficulty sleeping and a friend gave me a pill that she described as a powerful sleep aid. That night I slept like a baby. The next day I was informed that I had ingested a vitamin C tablet. My internal script about that pill put me to sleep.

Some of our internal guiding narratives are deeply engrained and shaped by our early experiences. Take the whole experience of inferiority. Where did this come from? A person who feels “less than” often had their performance compared to that of others. “Why can’t you be like…?” sets off a chain of judgment and chronic comparison with others.

Sometimes we just make up stories based on cultural factors about what constitutes the ‘ideal’ person or condition. A story line that one is not thin, smart, or worthy enough is a sure fire formula for misery.

How do we change this misery-generating script? We begin by

  1. Recognizing that we are the authors of our own story.

Yes, that’s right, we wrote that misery script (often dictated by others) and by the same token we can change it.

I love what Ros and Ben Zander write in “The Art of Possibility” about the story we invented, “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that advances our quality of life and that of those around us.”

Question. What story can you make up about yourself that will enhance your life and that of others? (You may as well make up one that works for you and others)

So how then do we edit that misery-producing story? In what way can we reprogram ourselves? We can begin by

  1. Thinking our way into a new way of acting

Inventing a new story involves asking questions like,

“What do I have to do to stay in the moment?”

“How can I make a contribution today?”

“Where can I find an opportunity in this difficulty?”

“What do I have to do to give an inspiring speech?”

Powerful questions such as these set off a positive chain reaction within us that undermines a negative mental disposition. Our thinking can literally be reshaped.

Have you ever watched a champion gymnast mentally rehearsing an upcoming routine? Are they remembering a time when they failed miserably at the maneuver? On the contrary, they are running through the script of a perfect performance. Like the athlete we can reshape ourselves into possibility thinkers.

Question: What empowering question can you ask yourself today?

Now let’s look at the editing process from the additional perspective of,

  1. Acting our way into a new way of thinking.

As a psychologist I treated depressed people. One successful practice for some persons with this struggle was to suggest physical activity that they once enjoyed. The first time out it may have been a walk around the block and it steadily progressed to more extensive exercise. The body behaved in healthy ways and slowly the mind followed suit.

When I was going through a very difficult time in my life about two decades ago I decided to go to a dance class. I found it very difficult to be depressed and dance at the same time.

Question. What life affirming behavior can you engage in to reverse your negative mental script?

I write this just before Easter Sunday. In the Christian calendar this is one of those days when we affirm that no matter how great our suffering and disappointment we can rise again. The symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is another metaphor of a power in the universe and within us and that facilitates the realization of new possibilities.

Imagine a world where you realized new possibilities for yourself.

What would that world look like?  

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Imagine a World Where…..

When I work with leaders on the development of a strategy I ask them to complete the statement

Imagine a time when….

That approach puts their ideas solidly into the future. Some of the best comments I have heard have been from,

An employee at a credit card company who said,

“Imagine a day when we will live in a cashless society and all people will use for financial transactions will be credit cards (now of course it is Smartphones).

An IT person at a major railroad who mused,

“Imagine a day when all of our trains will be operated remotely (the driverless car idea.)

All these thoughts are at different stages of development.

How would you  project your ideas into the future?

Remember, in the words of the fictional TV character Frank Underwood in “House of Cards”,

“Imagination is its own form of courage.”

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Take Down the Wall – Ending Gender Inequality at the Top of Organizations

A big divide between the sexes in the corporate world is evident at senior leadership levels where men are in the overwhelming majority.

Despite the advent of feminism, the fact that there are a handful of women CEO’s in large corporations, and the huge population of highly competent lower-level women executives in every industry, the fact is that women leaders still

Run into an invisible wall that, consciously, unconsciously, and due to intentional ignorance, keeps them from consistently rising to top leadership positions.

How can organizations take down that wall of inequality?

Here are three steps that organizations can take to ensure that woman reach senior levels of leadership.

  1. Get out of denial that there is a problem.

Despite some progress in promoting women in some sectors and the awareness of the problem on the part of certain male leaders, the C-Suite and corporate boards still are mostly an all male club.

When the statistics come in many organizations like Google were shocked to see how women trail in promotion to higher levels of leadership (as well as just working in the IT Industry).

However it is one thing to be shocked by the numbers but there needs to be intensified action in rectifying the problem. And a factor that can spur us on in this effort to end bias is our attempt to build more effective teams.

  1. Examine what makes for effective teams.

The data are in. Teams with more women members are more effective. In an article in the NY Times Jan 15th 2015 Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others” authors Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone, and Christopher Chabris cite studies that indicate that having more women on a team makes it more effective. This was partly due to a second success factor for an effective team, emotional intelligence. The latter is generally found at a higher level in women.

Could the above factor spur on the needed changes by organizations when they

  1. Establish a percentage of qualified women who will be promoted to such positions in a certain time frame?

Some corporations set goals that by a certain date a higher percentage of qualified women will be represented in their senior leadership. This has been a very effective strategy for diversity balance.

Now is the time for more organizations to follow suit and establish a quota system for qualified women.

Other strategies for dismantling the wall of gender bias like court cases and newspaper reports raise the awareness of the problem but generally lead to bad feelings and resistance from corporate leadership.

By just starting with the above three actions a new day could be dawning for women in leadership.

 Burning Questions

When will we see gender equality on your senior leadership team?

What are you doing (or have done) to make this so?  

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