The Guru Factor: Where are the women?

The Guru Factor

Something’s got to give
Earlier this year, somewhat bewildered by our leaders and their actions (or lack thereof) over the previous few years, I wrote a post “Playing without the Queens“. In it I expressed surprise at the notable lack of public reaction as bankers and financial service leaders decimatad our global economies, while the populace merely “whimpered ” from the sidelines. Our medieval forebears would certainly have revolted and literally broken the “banca” in protest. However, only a few months later in the Middle East and North Africa populations took to their streets and now in the U.K. certain sections of the community are doing the same. Unfortunately, I am still just as bewildered.

Change required
In London there is currently a period of crisis management, but I feel sure that before the door has closed on the broom cupboards, the blame game will undoubtedly start. For me there is one overriding message. Tony Robbins words echo loudly

” If you do what you always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. Something has to change.

We have seen in recent years “Masters of the Universe ” bankers such as Fabulous Fabrice Tourre in their designer suits, caught, through negligence/ dishonesty/ incompetence or a combination of all three, vandalising global economies to the tune of …billions, getting off pretty much free and easy, with barely a dent to their 7 figure bonuses. According to Sky News the bank bail out will cost the average British tax payer £3500. This week, yobs in hoodies from Hackney, will almost certainly receive custodial sentences for vandalising shops, nicking trainers and mobile phones to the tune of… hundreds. Political figures will take the moral high ground and preach to us, while many, only last year, were even tacitly, part of massive expense scams. Organisations are struggling to keep up with, and adapt, to changes outside the workplace. Unemployment amongst young people is reaching all time highs in many developed economies. Whole countries are bankrupt.

Lost in thought?
Courtesy of Lee Carey I came across this organisation  The Thinkers 50. The 2011 Thinkers 50 will be unveiled on November 14 in London at the first ever Thinkers 50 Summit. Now as you know I’m not crazy about the composition of think tanks in general, but in 2009 there were only 3 women on the list and one of those was part of an INSEAD duo.

There is a reason we say “lost in thought”

This ” definitive global ranking of management thinkers is published every two years. The 2009 winner was CK Prahalad. The ranking is based on voting at the Thinkers 50 website and input from a team of advisers led by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove. The Thinkers 50 has ten established criteria by which thinkers are evaluated – originality of ideas; practicality of ideas; presentation style; written communication; loyalty of followers; business sense; international outlook; rigor of research; impact of ideas and the elusive guru factor

No women
The words elusive guru factor caught my eye and surreal images of Simon Cowell type “guru factor judges” and ” guru factor auditions” came into my mind. However, I also wonder if this is the time to stop thinking and start doing. There is a reason for the phrase ” lost in thought”. But mainly we need to do both differently. People clearly want change. Women are not only visibly absent from the financial services leadership group that caused many of the underlying problems, but also from the “thinking” list that was issued when it was all going on. Draw your own conclusions, but it’s not rocket science!

If as one definition of guru is a ” recognised leader in a field”, perhaps we need look no further than a modern-day leader such as the courageous, elderly woman in Hackney who confronted London looters, maybe not in the language of the board room ( be warned, very strong if you do watch) but at least there is a badly needed underlying morality.

16 thoughts on “The Guru Factor: Where are the women?

  1. Wendy Mason

    Oh Dear Dorothy – here we go again. How very sad! Surely we have learned enough lessons in HR about the negative effect of these odd mystical concepts like the “elusive guru factor” to educate these people. I would have expected these “Thinkers” to be a lot more clever than this! Here is yet another club we can’t join – so leave us with the ranks of the excluded and we’ll form our own club – isn’t that how we get to gang culture?

  2. Anne Perschel

    Kudos Dorothy for calling out the guru furu whoru factor. And form our own club we have done Wendy. Look for tweets asking for nominees for NOWLeadeship portfolio of diverse leaders. It is not a list, a club, or the like but a portfolio of leaders who demonstrate the capacity to move forward with and into the 21st century. Nominate your faves at

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Anne – thanks for your comment. Yes it’s clear that we need diversity of thought and approach because the “same old” simply isn’t working any more. Our society based on traditional models is fractured and I just wonder how bad things will have to get before the doors of the “leadership club” are widened and new ideas seriously considered and implemented . Economies are collapsing and people are in the streets. I’m not convinced looking for the ” guru factor ” is going to add much value.

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  4. irenicon

    OK the woman is Hackney is no one, who are the remaining women for our list? Why don’t we get together our own fifty women (or loads and loads of groups of 50 women) to think about what needs to be done.

    We don’t have to wait to be asked – the Hackney woman so didn’t wait to be invited to give her opinon.

    We don’t need permission. What if we did set up 50 x 50 x 50 groups of women and had some way of collating our views via the web so we could then pick out the common threads and all move forward to campaign for them?

    We are not passive children in this storm. We are women. ROAR.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Annabel – I appreciate your ROAR! Your post was also great on the general cultural topic.

      I think also that when groups apply leadership search criteria they are looking in the wrong places for women leaders. Women are leading but in very unsung ways in their homes, organisations and communities. I have written about that too.Leadership is about long term vision and making adjustments to our organisational models to accomodate not just women’s needs, but our societies needs.

      We all need to think readjust our thinking – men and women both! .

  5. Sophie Stevens

    Thank you Dorothy, this excellent article shows how easily we miss the point in mainstream political discussions. In the case of the UK there is little talk of underlying drivers for recent unrest- despite their diversity, almost all participants had being young and poor in common. The vast majority are being dished a custodial sentence for 1st time offences whilst usually this is only given to 22% of first time offenders of BURGLARY (so Radio 4 tells me…). I agree we need a change in our thinking. Restoration and community solutions will work better for all concerned than criminal records- this lady from Hackney was already an unsung heroine for her work with community radio stations, in my own community in Lewisham I know many women dedicating themselves to the community cause who certainly deserve such recognition.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Sophie – thanks for your comment. I agree that women are in many areas unsung heroines doing great work in their communities without recognition. What we need is for these women to step up and be visible, to extend their influenc so that they can make a difference to the leadership dynamics in their areas.

  6. marion chapsal

    I love this post, Dorothy and I’m actually working on a similar article, praising the Women so called Gurus (really don’t like this word’s connotation and would rather read “Great Thinkers and Game-Changers”).
    May I make a slight amendment to the list you mentioned. The list includes a number of working chief executives such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ratan Tata and Eric Schmidt as well as academics, consultants and writers. The lack of women on the list is indeed striking. Still, they are worth mentioning and they are 3. London Business School’s Lynda Gratton makes a good showing at No 18 ahead of fellow academics Rosabeth Moss Kanter (28) and Barbara Kellerman (48). Still, just three of the 50 Thinkers are women… Just unbelievable!!!
    This reminds me of another article in FT. Women at the Top ‘s Blog, Great Thinkers, A Male’s Preserve?
    Who would be on your list? I responded. Would be curious to know your own choices.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Marion – thanks for your comment. I’m not a huge fan of lists and also I think we should start reviewing the criteria we ascribe to the composition of some of those lists. I think generally we tend to look for leaders in the wrong places – which is one of the reasons so few women ever get mentioned.

  7. Impact in Business (@Impacttips)

    Great post and an good question posed.

    As a professional involved in the industry, I think it’s a disgrace too. But might I suggest that it also points to a fault in women’s personalities.

    In working with senior execs of both genders I find that there’s often a complete lack of vanity in high-achieving women, and a mindset of ‘I’m good’ and people will realise that, so there’s no need to do all that (sometimes shameless) self-promoting that men do…’

    Men and boys tend to be much more attention seeking and needing of ‘recognition’ in all areas of their lives, which drives them to actively seek opportunities to ‘big up’ themselves through clubs, sports, networking, rent-a-quoting, conference speaking etc.

    Multiply that effect by the the well documented ‘facts’ about how women tend to compare themselves much less favourably vs. men of the same ability, experience and intelligence and the ‘fault’ becomes a chasm.

    I’ll admit that modesty and a balanced sense of self-worth is not much of a ‘fault’ really, but might explain a little of why so many really talented women fail to be known, recognised or included by the ‘list-makers’.


    Jim Harvey

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Jim thanks for your comment. I agree with much of what you’ve said, except that what women fail to do is a personality fault – it is simply more of a skill set deficit. There is no point looking for women leaders in the higher echelons of academia and CEO tables – there are simply fewer there. Does that mean they think or lead less ? No clearly not.

      Women tend to lead from behind , nearer the ground. We need different criteria, different league tables and a different way of thinking!

      Just a thought!

  8. Ann Lewis

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post Dorothy. Sadly not much seems to have changed since that man of urban legend walked into an office, saw the woman sitting there, muttered “oh, there’s no-one here” and left.
    I’m not sure I’d agree with Jim that lack of vanity is a personality fault, and like Marion I detest the Guru label.
    In the end, I think you’re right – it’s stepping up and being visible that really counts. Women have traditionally been raised to be self-effacing, so new habits are needed. I count myself in this category.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Anne – thanks for your comment. I agree – lack of vanity isn’t a personality fault nor is lack of visibility – it’s simply a lack of experience and know how. It only take s 28 days to create a new habit so they say! That’s why women need mentors!


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