“Don’t burn your bra, get the matching panty”

I was recently introduced to strategist Chin-Ning Chu via a discussion forum on Linkedin on the topic of the shortage of authentic women leaders. After watching a 40 minute speech she gave in San Francisco to a group of women, I am so disappointed to find out she recently passed away and I had not known of her amazing work earlier.

In this speech she is sharing from her book, The Art of War for Women. I’ve now watched it three times as I find what she is saying so insightful for women and men. The few observations which stuck with me are:

The power of noticing how you observe, what you observe, and the conclusions you draw from this to inform your action. Sun Tzu’s philosophy is relevant for anyone because his wisdom is based on philosophy, from the perspective of a philosopher looking at how the world works. Leadership is not just about doing; it is about the quality of how you are observing and how this connects to the actions that you choose to take.

What appears soft can be more powerful that what appears strong. Chin-Ning gives a beautiful example of water versus a rock. The rock appears mighty, but in fact the water is stronger than the rock because the water can change its shape, the water can erode the rock.

You cannot change your geography; you have to deal with it. We’ve all heard the excuses before, “It’s not our fault we’re not growing the whole market is declining” or “”. These are excuses, because geography is set; you either deal with it or you complain about it.

You cannot know the world unless you first know yourself; therefore you cannot fit into the world if you do not first know yourself. Next week I’ll be facilitating at an internal female leadership program for a global logistics firm; one of the key research points that has been fundamental to the design of the program is that more so than men, women are more passive about their career development. Of course it’s important to stay open to opportunities and yes things happen by chance, but it is also about knowing what you want and going after opportunities not just waiting for them to come by or for suggestions from others. And if you find yourself not being able to thrive in your given circumstance, then you should plan your exit strategy!

Turn what you think are your liabilities into assets. Chin-Ning gives an example from her own life of people asking her “how can you be an Asian and a woman and succeed in the US” and her responding “that is exactly why I am successful, because I am different!” What is your weakness can also be your strength.

“The 21st century will be woman’s century”. As part of research that my company recently conducted, we found that women have a higher preference than men to use connect and collaborate leadership styles (as opposed to more directive leadership styles). Chin-Ning shares her perspective on how the industrial revolution was a world in which problem solving was easier than today; we knew how to get from point A to B, but we wanted to get there faster. Today’s problems are more complex and require a different approach, one which is more oblique and less direct. In such a world, if women have a more relational approach this will fare better than a transactional one which is the dominant problem solving approach.

And finally, my favorite quote “Don’t burn the bra, get the matching panty”. Rather than marching and trying to fight against the ‘glass ceiling’ you can be more successful by not paying attention to the things which are not in your favour and not directly fighting; overcome your enemy by engaging with them in the way the expect and surprising them using different tactics and when they least expect.

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