Breaking The Glass Ceiling





 “Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun” – Colleen Barrett.

I was challenged the other day by someone to explain why there were so few women in leadership positions at our company. After a bit of thought I ran through a list of the leaders here at Sage who share the same gender as my friend and I. These include our Corporate Council, Melody Williams-Dapp, the EVP of SBS, Connie Certusi, and a stellar group of ladies who hold the title of VP, Lisa Codispoti, Nancy Harris, Jennifer Warawa, Sophie Leguillette, Donna Armstrong, Leslie Hart, Danielle Cote, and the list continues to grow.

After some reflection on the traits that all of these leaders share, I thought of someone else who also displays these traits day in and day out, Colleen Barrett. Some of you may have heard of Ms. Barrett. She was a long time employee of Southwest Airlines and currently holds the title at Southwest Airlines of President Emerita. I did a bit of research on her career and found that she rose from the ranks of Administrative Assistant to emerge as a leader within Southwest Airlines.

Now I was really intrigued about how she could have risen so far in this organization. She did not have a technical background nor did she come from the ranks of an airline pilot. What she did have going for her was a great working relationship with another Southwest founder and leader, Herb Kelleher, who also shared her view of the importance of empowering your employees and making your customers and employees satisfaction your highest priority.

In this video, Colleen C. Barrett speaks at Wharton School of Business on Servant Leadership. She discusses her experiences in the airline industry and offers the following advice: “follow the golden rule, learn from your mistakes, take the initiative, and listen to your heart.” She goes on and explains the success of Southwest Airlines in simple terms: “a customer focus that is not just a program or policy, but a way of life. In an industry that must constantly balance cost against people,” Barrett believes that not focusing on the people values will make dollars irrelevant. She explains that “employee satisfaction is the starting point for customer satisfaction, and describes a hiring process that selects on individual attitudes, sets expectations, and empowers employees from the beginning to do the right thing and make day-to-day decisions that connect with customers.”

While I have not read her new book that she co-authored with Ken Blanchard, Leading with LUV, I found the two short videos below an insightful view into her leadership at Southwest.

You won’t see me put my clothes on backward to conduct an interview, but it does serve as an interesting way to find out if a candidate has the requisite sense of humor to be a successful employee at Southwest Airlines. Getting back to the topic of “Servant Leadership,” I’d like to share a link to a great presentation by Ken Blanchard at the Drucker Centennial Week Celebration. A lot of what he says rings so true to me and I think it can help all of us view how we should behave as leaders in our own businesses.

Now that I’ve got you “videoed out,” I’ll bring this back to the opening reason for this blog, that challenging question from my friend. Upon some further discussion, I found that the real reason I was asked the question was a lament that promotions for us seemed to be non-existent.  After some candid discussion around our mutual aspirations, the driving need was not just for greater organizational responsibility, but was instead more around the compensation that would go along with the elevated role. Sometimes the facts are that in order to get the position and compensation we desire we all need to make a choice – irrespective of our gender – on whether or not we can achieve what we need by remaining at a company where our skills are valued, where we enjoy the work we are doing, where we like the people we work with, and where we feel that we are making a meaningful difference for our customers. In the end, the decision is ours. Do we stay or do we go?  I have opted to stay, but that does not mean that I will not continue to bring my hammer to the office with me every day and keep working away at gaining the leadership muscles required to break the glass.


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