The 3 dirty words in business: Power, Politics and Feminism

My Reflections from Managing People and Organisations (MPO)
By Jenni Taylor, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Jenni TaylorThe concept of ‘dirty words’ was first introduced to me on 24th September, our 3rd MPO lecture. According to R M Kanter*, it is in some cases easier to talk about sex than power. This got me thinking, why is power a subject that is not often discussed? We talk about influence as a source of power, but this word somehow conjures up feelings of having had something ‘done to us’ as opposed to being ’affected by’, with words such as influence.

My thoughts progressed… what other topics are not often discussed in the workplace. I didn’t have to think for long because 10 slides later we were discussing politics. Yes, that was definitely another subject that was associated with foul play at work. But why?

The third dirty word I’d like to include is feminism. I personally had never connected with or assimilated this ideal before. My very naïve and immediate reaction to even the thought had been to assure those around me that I had not been a victim nor (jokingly) ever “burned my bra”.

My observation is that today power is discussed in the context of having a desired impact and the ability to get something done through others. This word may also be used interchangeably with influence. However, reflecting on the learnings from the MBA unit, Leadership Practise and Development (LP&D), to be influential you also need to be influence-able, a less digestible concept when you substitute in the word power. Perhaps power is associated with older management practises where dictatorial or authoritarian power were more commonly used?

Current teachings and practises talk more of motivation, engagement and empowerment. It is now less about giving a directive and more about asking the right question.

That being said, we did learn that there may be a time and place for hard and soft management practices, or tactics. I learnt that influence tactics should be carefully selected. The criteria being level of success and activity required. I realised my go-to affiliative and empowering management style might not always be the most effective use of time or resources. This approach was considered particularly ineffective for tasks such as compliance, or when resistance needed to be quickly removed.

Influence is needed, however, I now know power also has its time and place.

We often talk about the need for relationships, networks and professionalism, so what changes when we roll this up under the word politics? Perhaps this is when these actions seem less sincere? I have always thought being political is simply being business smart, so it has often bewildered me as to why others have considered it so taboo.

We were introduced to a political framework (by Baddeley, S. and James, K. (1987)) that mapped integrity and political awareness on two intersecting axes. The upper right quadrant, being highly politically aware and acting with integrity, otherwise referred to as the ‘wise operator’, detailed an individual that understands power, conducts themselves in accordance with their values and considers others’ viewpoints. This is a great help in explaining to peers why being political does not have to make you feel inauthentic or a “need to play the game”.

You can be business smart and still be true to your values. I want to always remain genuine and act with integrity, but that does not mean I should say the first thing that comes into my mind or be so short-sighted that I do not spend time investing in other stakeholders in the business. If there are people in the business that know how to get things done, what is the price for asking for their help in achieving a company goal? I believe the wise operator mindset makes for a high achieving and productive culture, therefore, definitely one I will endeavour to foster.

I did not know I was a feminist until I watched Emma Watson at the UN Summit (Sept 2014) give her ‘HeForShe’ speech. I found her message captivating and relatable. I realised that I too was a feminist if to be feminist meant I want equal rights for women. I, like Emma, had associated this word with complaining, aggressive or disgruntled women. I had not felt any explicit discrimination myself, so ignorantly felt no need to get involved in such a movement. I now know that gender discrimination means so many different things by country, religion and intent. I know that women may be discriminated by men or women by cultural norms and biases that we may not even be conscious of as its happening. I now have a passion and conscious mindset to get more talented women in the workforce and help remove the barriers that I better understand exist for women.

Throughout this course I have researched, witnessed and experienced self-efficacy being just one of the barriers women face. I am now conscious of this in myself and can take proactive measures to help others. Through just having this awareness I have been able to vicariously experience successes through my team members, helping to improve my own self-efficacy immediately.

I’ve learnt being a women is going to be advantageous in my career – companies are putting out women only mandates with greater focus on team dynamics and diversity. This is perhaps controversial, but it’s the reality and I want to better myself and my experiences so that I’m worthy of such a position in the near future. I have learnt about my intent versus impact through psychometric testing (LSI: Life Style Inventory), creating a greater self-awareness. The way we see the world and others is grounded in thousands of unique experiences and others’ perception is their reality. There are unconscious biases at play, which means women need to be aware of their impact and how they fit with the social stereotypes that precede them.

So there, I have aired my dirty laundry.

*Rossabeth Moss Kanter “Powerful Failure in Management Circuits” HBR (referenced in MPO, Sydney Uni lecture notes)
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MBA Time: A Year in Review

By Robyn Evans, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Robyn EvansWhat a year it has been. From  the first unit, Leadership Practice & Development (LP&D), I have journeyed through a number of subjects (with many others), including a unit undertake in China, and am now ending with Managing People & Organisations.  So many buzz words and phrases run through my mind such as “creating glue”, “personality type”, “strength based performance”, “the business model canvas”, “net present value”,  “cultural competence”, “Ni hao” and many more (too many for a blog).

The year has gone very quickly, and Associate Professor Mike Jenner was right about what he said to us in LP&D – this experience is in some sense in its own world. We call it MBA time. The rate at which we learn and apply these concepts is fast paced and requires much energy and facilitation. Even though this can be challenging, it is certainly a great way to learn and gives us the ability to practice our new found concepts in the workplace.

There have been friendships formed, many late nights, much stress, a few clashes, the anxious wait for marks and the excitement of the annual MBA Ball to end the year. Many have changed jobs, some even careers; one went to war and others had babies. Who would have thought all that would happen in a year. Yet it does. (If you feel tired, you know why now).

However, the excitement doesn’t end here.I In some ways, the MBA is a new season, a season where we all cross paths (some more than others) and then journey into the next season with one another. Whether we are right there cheering each other on, or just following on social media, the MBA has enabled us to cross paths, develop relationships and connect professionally.

Very importantly, this program has enabled personal and professional growth to new heights and prompted me to think even further about my career potential. The investment into women has been a great asset of this program, and something I hope continues to grow.

So while my MBA journey has a little more time to go, I look forward to the new students adding colour to the already established MBA masterpiece next year. We have all in some way contributed to the colour and texture of this masterpiece called the MBA, and I look forward to seeing this artwork develop as we journey and build into the future.

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Step 1: Commence MBA. Step 2: Change jobs.

By Carla Harris, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

C_HarrisSound familiar? Call it a coincidence, but there seems to me a positive correlation between starting your MBA and shortly after getting a new job. Sure this makes complete sense –  we’re meeting new people and making new connections. Combined with being in a point in our lives where we’re clearly after a change in our careers in some way, it’s a bit of a no brainer. As Hugh discussed in his recent blog, the MBA provides you with a suite of skills that manifest their benefits prior to your MBA’s completion. Still, I find it amusing.

People are often fascinated by my career. Let me re-phrase; they’re not so much interested in my actual jobs (I’ve seen many a pair of eyes glaze over when explaining what I do, or did, for a living) but more when they find out my career path that there’s always further intrigue. I’m what you might call a ‘branding challenge’. I started my career as a scientist – I have a “PhD in weeds” – and in one foul swoop ended up an Executive Manager for the Federal Government at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. There’s often immense interest as to how I went from chopping down trees to talking to triple j about the gender pay gap.

Admittedly, there is a considerable disconnect between plants and gender, so making the jump was very considered and required a lot of soul searching. Given that changing jobs seems to be such a feature of the MBA experience, here’s how it happened:

  1. Get real with where you’re at: First, I had to recognise that I needed to make a change, and a big one. Not just moving to another research lab within the university, or another university elsewhere, but something BIG. This was one of the most challenging parts because so much of my identity was wrapped up in what I did, and walking away from a decade of research made me feel I had failed.
  2. Work out what you don’t want: Next, I figured out what it was that I didn’t like about my job. Once I realised that these things wouldn’t be remedied by moving to another organization, but actually a seismic shift in job type was required, I could then focus on the next step.
  3. Work out what you do want: I then identified what it was that I did like about my job – what do I want to use from the skills I currently have? This was a great help in narrowing the kinds of jobs and industries that might be a better fit.
  4. Think laterally: Often we have a narrow field of vision about what we can do with our skills. So I had to be a bit out of the box with how could transfer my skills to a new area.

And the result? I’ve never looked back, my work is engaging, tangible and a perfect match for me. It was a scary thing to do, but the benefits have well have been well and truly realised.

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Global EMBA – Classroom 2.0

By Nathan Morsillo FCPA, current student in the Global Executive MBA and CPA Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient

As I write this I am midway through Module 3 in Nathan 2014Bangalore enjoying occasional battles with wireless connections, rickshaws and lots of curry. A perfect time to write a quick post about the Global Executive MBA whilst nearing the half-way point.

During my EMBA journey, I have been reflecting on the theory and findings behind the Learning Pyramid. The Learning Pyramid, researched and created by the National Training Laboratories in Betel, Maine, suggests a 10%-30% retention rate on behalf of students for lectures and demonstrations, but 75% if students’ education involves ‘practising by doing’. Although the Learning Pyramid has had its detractors, as a principle, the experiential nature of the EMBA at the Business School has proven to me that having more of the doing is the way to go.

Module 1 – leadership was a tour-de-force, with over 30 speakers over a 2 week residential. Morning, noon and night, leadership was explored, reflected on and applied in contexts like contemporary art galleries, the music conservatorium and in military traditions. In each of these, crucially, there was also room to get to know and learn from other cohort members.

Module 2 covered some of the more standard MBA topics, including integrated management, marketing, finance, and the business model canvas. It also involved a consultancy as a vehicle for learning, working closely with a non-profit working in the disability services sector.

Module 3 found us in India. We met a huge range of entrepreneurs and innovators, and learnt about massive changes and opportunities happening here in a very, very different context.

Thanks are due at this mid-point to Associate Dean (Executive Management Education), Professor Richard Hall and the University of Sydney Business School for assembling a great cohort, a quality program and getting more of the doing into our learning. It’s been a lot of hard work, but equally great fun so far – bring on the last few modules. At the end of the year we’ll be off to Silicon Valley in the USA to explore ‘Managing Growth’ before heading to London and Languedoc, France for our final residential module, “Turning Around Mature Businesses.”

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How my MBA boosted my career, before graduation

By Hugh Simpson, Management Consultant, EY, and current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Hugh SimpsonCandidates start their MBAs for a wide range of reasons, and for me it was either to take a step up in my existing career or take a step out into a new industry. I only have one subject to go in my MBA and this week I start in my ideal role at EY in management consulting, which is a step up in consulting, but also movement into a new focus.

My journey towards self-actualisation and achievement of career goals was by no means a smooth one, but made much easier with the help of the MBA program. Leadership and Professional Development is the first unit in the MBA and involved completing a ‘Reflected Best Self’ and ‘Ideal Job Summary’ as part of the assessments. These activities highlighted to me that I no longer desired a future within the niche consulting area I had worked in for 3 years.

I always intended to wait until the end of the MBA to decide what I would do next, but a year into the MBA, I started the Personal Career Management Plan with Lisa Tarry from the MBA’s dedicated Careers Office to help decide upon and action my next steps.

Over a 12 month period, Lisa led me through a range of coaching sessions and assessments, such as Career Leader and Strengths Finder, to really understand my unique value proposition. We conducted research on potential targets from within and outside my network which all led to leveraging skills from my MBA marketing subject to develop my personal brand.

Lisa’s resume and interview preparation coaching was beneficial as I reached interview stages for two global consulting firms and a senior NSW government position. Despite having progressed through to the final stages at all positions, I was not successful and forced to review and learn from the experiences. I reverted back to my key strengths and value proposition and realised that maybe these roles weren’t what I really wanted because it’s is not just about whether you’re good enough for the company, but also whether or not the company is good enough for you.

After months of persistence and a number of set backs, I was introduced to a partner at EY and we started the process for a Manager position in their advisory business line. The role was in an area that leveraged my past experiences perfectly and gave me the opportunity to develop new skills whilst continuing to grow my career. During the interviews, I had the chance to meet a number of people from the team in Sydney, which included everyone from consultants to partners, and I started to see myself being part of that team.

The recruitment process was long and often uncertain, but the day I received my offer, all that hard work had paid off. I am certain that without the skills learnt in the MBA program, support from staff and faculty and ultimately the guidance received from Lisa, I don’t think I would be kicking off the next phase of my career in a role I’m excited to start.

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Time out to be challenged, develop and reflect

By Hayes Montgomery CPA, current student in the Global Executive MBA and CPA Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient

Hayes 2014What a privilege it is taking time out of work with a group of like-minded and motivated professionals in an intensive and experiential learning environment.

At this point, roughly half way through the University of Sydney Business School Global Executive MBA program, I am amazed by the experiences I have already had and excited about those still to go. Through the modules on Leadership, Integrated Management and now Developing New Opportunities, we have covered a range of topics from more traditional business functions like finance, supply chain and strategy, through to more contemporary topics like design-thinking, big data and even mindfulness.

Leaving work and family behind for two weeks at a time (five times in 18 months!) is obviously a challenge, but the benefit of that time out to really absorb the material, focus on the projects (applying our learnings working with real business clients) and take time to reflect on what we are learning, and how we each are individually developing, has been immensely valuable.

I’ve just returned from Bangalore, where we were looking at creating and developing new opportunities in an emerging market, meeting local partners & consumers, and determining how our Australian business could enter the Indian market.

Dealing with the different social, cultural, regulatory and structural differences in India creates an environment where we can apply our learnings in a highly complex and dynamic environment.  This is an ‘in the deep-end’ approach that is equal parts challenging and of course good fun.

For people contemplating this program, you will most certainly be challenged personally, professionally and academically, but you will also be immensely rewarded. The University of Sydney Business School Global Executive MBA is an incredible way to learn and extend yourself, your career and your horizons. I am grateful to the Business School and CPA Australia for the opportunity to participate in such an innovative program.

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A Sherpa, a sous Sherpa and a yak: why the G20 is relevant to you!

By Christopher Murphy, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program. Christopher is an active commentator on bilateral economic relations in the Asia-Pacific, and is an Australian delegate to the APEC CEO Summit in Beijing 8-10 November 2014.

2013_03_01 MBA (30%) 264As most readers of this blog are no doubt aware, on 15 and 16 November 2014, Australia will host the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane. What is less apparent, however, is why the gathering of dozens of political leaders, finance ministers and central bank governors is directly relevant to business school students. Using a Sherpa, a sous Sherpa and a yak, let us explore why the G20 is so important to every business student in Australia.

The G20 describes itself as “the premier forum for international cooperation on the most important issues of the global economic and financial agenda”. G20 members account for 85% of the world economy, more than 80% of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. As an organisation, the G20 endeavours to harmonise all geographic regions of the world; and act as a global discussion group. What is said in Brisbane on 15 and 16 November will, literally, reverberate through much of the global economy.

Despite common misconceptions, the G20 is not actually a “summit”; rather it is a series of meetings, which culminates in the Leaders Summit. On 22 and 23 February 2014 finance ministers and treasurers met in Sydney, and then again in Cairns on September 20 and 21. These central meetings are also surrounded by dozens of satellite meetings. The G20 process is held together by sherpas, who lead the “sherpa track negotiations”, and help G20 members reach the leaders summit (no pun intended). The Australian Sherpa is Dr Gordon de Brouwer PSM. The sous Sherpa and yak are senior public officials who assist the Sherpa in facilitating the meetings, and preparing the G20 resolution (a document that encapsulates the G20 Leaders Summit).

If business school graduates want good jobs, then G20 member economies need to continue to implement the reforms that will achieve the G20 growth targets (currently set at 2% of global GDP). If business school graduates want to improve their own standard of living, and be able to buy cheaper food and vegetables at the grocery store, then the G20 member economies must renew their efforts for greater multilateral trade liberalisation. If business school graduates want to enjoy world-class infrastructure, healthcare and educational facilities than, G20 member economies must take determined steps toward modernizing the international taxation system.

What is more exciting than the G20 Leaders Summit? Pretty much everything. There is very little, however, that could be more relevant to our collective futures.

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