Tag Archives: Leadership

Women as Corporate and Entrepreneurial Leaders


The business world can be an unforgiving jungle, but women handle it as well as men, and then some.

By:  Michael Kaiser

If you watch nature programs on TV, you have come across at least one dedicated to those Big Cats, the lions and you quickly realize that it is the lioness that looks after and commands the pride. At best, the male serves as a mix of bodyguard, concierge and gigolo. It is the lioness who does all the hunting and caring of her cubs. It is a constant challenge that forces the lioness to erect a fortress of rigorous discipline, alertness and battle preparation. This zoological example serves as an analogy for the vicissitudes and triumphs experienced by women in the business world.

In this second decade of the 21st century no longer can the male gender come up with comments bordering on blatant business misogyny such as “They are emotional”, temperamental”, “They are watching over their family, how can they run the business”, “They will get pregnant”, “They have their period and are impossible to deal with”, “They are capricious”, etc. As if those descriptions were not enough, along came the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada” starring Meryl Streep as the epitome of a ruthless and cynical fashion entrepreneur.

That is definitely not the scenario that we should equate with female entrepreneurs and corporate executives in Western, and more recently, Eastern societies. Time to wake up and get the record straight: women are as strong as men; they are standards of initiative and dedication, intuitive, tactical and strategic leaders, progressive, highly motivated, creative, the list of positive characteristics goes on. And with a good sense of humor, they even bestow positive remarks about their opponents:

“We have ‘arrived.  it means we’re not expending a huge amount of energy battling each other for power, instead we’re having challenging conversations about what we do well and what we need to work on. It’s a fact (I have the research somewhere) that men outperform women in 4 key areas of business. They are better at asking for what they need, for standing out in a crowd, for singing their own praises and speaking up.” Suzy Jacobs in “Can we please change the conversation”.

In a reference quoted for the description of “Female Entrepreneur” we read that:

Studies on women entrepreneurs show that women have to cope with stereotypic attitudes towards women on a daily basis. Business relations as customers, suppliers, banks, etc. constantly remind the entrepreneur that she is different, sometimes in a positive way such as by praising her for being a successful entrepreneur even though being a woman. Employees tend to mix the perceptions of the manager with their images of female role models leading to mixed expectations on the woman manager to be a manager as well as a “mother”. The workload associated with being a small business manager is also not easily combined with taking care of children and a
family. However, even if the revenues are somewhat smaller, women entrepreneurs feel more in control and happier with their situation than if they worked as an employee.

Although many positive changes took place in the 20 years since its authors published their findings, there is still the classical “room-for-improvement” ahead. As an example: early this year the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, issued a memo banning the practice of telecommuting for the company’s employees which led to a negative uproar, promptly smothered by a positive retort in her defense from, yes, a male reporter of the Washington Post.

Recent statistics show that women’s level of higher education is on its way of surpassing that of men, which explains the large number of female executives in some of the most complex and demanding scientific sectors. Alas, this has not minimized the obstacles they face due to social mores that still operate under antiquated gender roles; even today, the number of male entrepreneurs exceeds that of women, and that is based more on conventional stereotypes than reality, because women are equally as good as men in starting a company with very few financial resources at hand.

In closing I invite the reader to watch the TEDx video by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, listed below. It is an uplifting paean to the resilience of women in the face of business entry barriers, and how they have become an integral and much needed part of entrepreneurship and corporate leadership, without gender barriers.

References and Additional Reading

Picture Credit:  © Kitch | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Interim Executives: Their Role on Existing and New Business Trends

By:  Michael Kaiser

rainbow after storm

Interim executives can be the perfect solution to fill leadership gaps as companies weather the storms of commercial demands.

One of the most visible, even dramatic changes in the leadership of companies is the growing number of Interim Executives. Until a few years back, they were considered as transitional appointments to cover C-level executives that either resigned or where fired. Usually it was left to the board of directors to choose the interim replacement until the permanent one was hired. That is no longer the case because those interim executives (herein: interims) navigate from small to large companies, and in some cases may occupy C-level positions for an extended period of time, at the behest of boards and investors.

More often than not, the interims are characterized by having additional skills that their permanent predecessors lacked or did not apply in their tenure, e.g., communication ability, charisma, flexibility and the ability to simultaneously think in tactical and strategic terms. As expected, the appointment of an interim is followed by immediate pressure to add value and benefit, often in very high-change environments. Unlike management consultancy, interims focus on implementation, team working, coaching and mentoring the existing team. It is a critical process best described as the quintessential “hands-on assignment”.

A few weeks ago someone asked me what my role was as an interim and I replied that it was akin to a sort of “corporate Clint Eastwood”, which first elicited a surprised look from my interlocutor, followed by laughter. So much for the fun of it! As noted above, this is a critical process that requires multitasking. The interim’s role demands change, not just filling the spot left by a departing executive or the challenge of a new project, notoriously difficult assignments for both the client and the interim.

The increased need for interims to act as short-term permanent executives or managers (it sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not) even in well established corporations, took off with the onset of the 2008 Great Recession in the U.S. as well as the fragile economy of the European Union represented by the loss of key executive/managerial jobs. Another reason lies in the fact that the crisis was followed by new information technologies and communication tools that significantly accelerate business-to-business interactions such as R&D, implementation and commercialization. Let me make clear that the role of the full-time permanent corporate executive has not been replaced, but what we are witnessing is also the emergence of a new business trend that is here to stay for the foreseeable future, best explained as the “doppelgänger”, i.e., one that works in parallel with C-level personnel and employees.

Nowhere are interims more in demand than with start-ups, small and medium-size companies in areas as different as the life sciences, public relations, software and hardware. Some of the reasons for that surge are: change and/or crisis management, IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, etc. In those scenarios, as well as in other similar or different ones, the interim becomes an integral part of the C-level management and his client’s workforce.

Additional Reading:

Picture Credit:  © Hustgh | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The Philosophy of Success

Statue of Medici in Florence

As good advice today as it has always been. Transform your thinking, transform your business.

By: Michael Kaiser

The work of Niccolò Machiavelli has centered around his widely read “The Prince” and it remains a reference for followers in disciplines as different as politics, business and academia because its royalty title can comfortably be replaced to mean CEO, COO, VP, Entrepreneur, Venture Capitalist, Innovator, etc. Several books and articles conflated his political theories with those associated to present times, e.g.:

“Machiavelli’s promotion of ambition amongst leaders while denying any higher standard meant that he encouraged risk taking, and innovation, most famously the founding of new modes and orders. His advice to (the) prince was therefore certainly not limited to discussing how to maintain a state. It has been argued that Machiavelli’s promotion of innovation led directly to the argument for progress as an aim of politics and civilization. But while a belief that humanity can control its own future, control nature, and “progress” has been long lasting, Machiavelli’s followers have tended to prefer peaceful progress through economic development, and not warlike progress.

Machiavelli however, along with some of his classical predecessors, saw ambition and spiritedness … as inevitable and part of human nature.” (1)

Less known are “The Discourses”, written about the same time as “The Prince”, but more voluminous and philosophical than the latter. In it, Machiavelli advocates that to avoid spending his life suspecting people, a prince should go in person on any expedition as others princes have done and still do. If they win, both the glory and the territory is wholly theirs. He further argues that one should

“…in choosing between alternatives, to consider the snags and the dangers involved, and not to adopt that which may entail more danger than advantage, even though they have the backing of an assembly…” (2)

It sounds like a familiar and pertinent advice even in 2013. But Machiavelli is not unique in dovetailing with our modern age needs, and therefore it is worth reaching for “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, by  Baltasar Gracián, not only for its brevity but because it pours with advice that is as significant to business as it was when he wrote it, in the early 1600’s. To wit:

“Make use of your enemies. You should learn to seize things not by the blade…but by the handle, which saves you from harm… A wise person gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

Do not affect what you have not effected. Many claim accomplishments without the slightest cause. With great coolness they make a mystery of all… Vanity is always objectionable. The greater your exploits the less you need affect them. Content yourself with doing, leave the talking to others. Give away your deeds but do not sell them. And do not hire venal pens to write down praises in the mud, to the derision of those who know better. Aspire rather to be a hero than merely… to be one.

Three things go to a prodigy – a fertile genius, a profound intellect, a pleasant and refined taste. To think well is good, to think right is better – it is the understanding of the good. To think right is the fruit of a reasonable nature. At twenty the will rules, at thirty the intellect, at forty the judgement. There are minds that shine in the dark like the eyes of the lynx, and are most clear where there is most darkness. Others are more adapted for the occasion, they always hit on the (one) which suits the emergency; such a quality produces much and good.” (3)


  1. Niccolò Machiavelli. Wikipedia, 2013. “The Prince” is available in Penguin Classics.
  2. Machiavelli. “The Discourses”, pgs. 184 and 237. Pelican Classics, Penguin Books
  3. Baltasar Gracián. “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, paragraph numbers 84, 295 and 298. Shambhala Publications, 2004

Picture Credit: © Melissad10 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos