Erika Hayes James
  • Recognize the rising tide of female entrepreneurs

    I’ve had the great fortune of spending more than 20 years in business education. As a faculty member at Emory, Virginia, Harvard and Tulane I’ve been able to keep up with various trends.

    I’ve seen two important patterns of late and both hold particular value for women in the workplace.

    For starters, let’s look at where future business leaders are driving their careers. More and more MBAs take jobs with small businesses. Just 10 years ago this would have been extremely uncommon. They may still cut their teeth with major companies, but they are increasingly clear with intentions to start a business or work for small, values-based startups.

    This phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with new roles of women in leadership.

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  • Build your organization’s vision with stakeholders, not by yourself

    “If I continue to believe as I have always believed, I will continue to think as I have always thought.  If I continue to think as I have always thought, I will continue to act as I have always acted.  If I continue to act as I have always acted, I will continue to get what I have always gotten.” – Unknown

    Powerful words that equate to a simple formula:

    Beliefs drive thoughts. Thoughts drive actions. Actions drive results.

    A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lay out a future vision for the Goizueta Business School.

    The vision was not concocted in my own head, but was born from scores of conversations, small group meetings, focus groups, and faculty/staff retreats where I simply asked the question:

    “What results do you want to create for our school?”

    It’s not an easy question for any organization to wrestle with, but it is perhaps the most important one a leader can ask. If we do not have a vision for the future then, frankly, we have no future.

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  • Mary Barra and the GM Recall Crisis, Part II

    In Part I of this blog series, we talked about the importance of early verbal responses to a crisis as an acknowledgement. When the leader recognizes the situation and even apologizes for the negative impact on stakeholders, stakeholders perceive it as a firm’s willingness to take corrective action and is correlated with a leader and his or her organization taking on a learning orientation.

    Framing the issue as a threat vs. opportunity
    How a crisis is framed by leaders also matters to the subsequent handling of the crisis.  Crises are negative events that evoke an emotional response.  According to psychological research, events that are perceived negatively are interpreted as threats, and in turn spark negative emotions (e.g., anger, anxiety, and despair) and negative behavior (defensiveness, deception, paralysis).  Under these circumstances it is difficult for leaders to recognize the potential opportunities for positive change that can manifest from crisis.  In fact, there is evidence to suggest that in response to situations interpreted as threats, leaders become more restricted in how they process information and less generative and creative in identifying solutions.

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  • Mary Barra and the GM Crisis, Part I

    A few years ago a colleague and I conducted research that disturbingly revealed that the announcement of the appointment of a female CEO provokes significantly more negative investor reaction relative to the announcement of the appointment of a male CEO.  At the time, we argued that the status differences accorded to men and women, and the infrequency with which women are named to executive positions, made the appointments feel more risky to investors.  Risk translates into reduced confidence, and reduced confidence yields reduced investment, thereby negatively affecting the stock price upon news of the new executive appointment.

    Although in recent years, we have seen ostensible growth in women holding top leadership jobs (think Ursula Burns at Zerox, Ginny Rometty at IBM, and Indra Nooyi at Pepsi), the scrutiny of women in these positions tends to outpace that directed to their male counterparts.  Imagine, therefore, the pressure for recently appointed General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra.  The first female CEO to lead one of the big three U.S. auto manufacturers is now also facing a highly publicized crisis – something else that tends to draw scrutiny and invite reduced confidence in leadership and firm performance.

    GM is embattled in a significant recall for millions of cars with ignition and other defects dating back more than a decade.  The recall is both financially costly and damaging to the beleaguered automaker’s reputation.  For Barra, investors and other stakeholders are voyeurs peering into her crisis handling, prepared to comment (and criticize) at every turn.  Below the surface her gender may make this an even more intriguing case than your average corporate crisis.

    There are some things Barra can do to mitigate the threat associated with the recall, and potentially stave off some of the risk associated with the crisis.  Read More

  • What is a Crisis? Part II

    In Part I of this blog What is a crisis? I introduced the definition of crisis according to   The Institute for Crisis Management as any problem or disruption that triggers negative stakeholder reaction and that could impact the organization’s financial strength and ability to do what it does. This can apply to businesses, educational institutions, cities, governments, and even individuals.

    I told about the first of two crises in recent months in which I was personally involved,  the ousting and subsequent reinstatement of Theresa Sullivan, the President of my institution, the University of Virginia. And in this story, an account of  a personal crisis that shook not only a key element of my career, but my ability to recover and move forward.

    In October of 2010 I, along with my co-author Lynn Perry Wooten, published a book that included the phrase “leading under pressure” in the title. It was the culmination of our work on crisis leadership, on which we each built our academic careers. The book was necessary for progression in my academic career at the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia, and a personal achievement. And it was launched to great acclaim and success!

    Several months later I was notified by the owner of the registered trademark for the phrase, “leading under pressure”––an expert in the field of strategies to avoid burnout, increase energy, and improve well being, along with work in leading through business crises––that this phrase was trademarked. We were under the impression that things like website URLs and book titles could not be trademarked, and we didn’t pay close enough attention to the breadth of her work to realize that this was a complete brand, so I wasn’t too concerned…at first.
    As a result of my oversight, we soon found ourselves in the middle of a dispute, with the owner enforcing her legal right to the trademarked phrase. This would involve us dismantling our book website, removing the book from circulation, and removing any reference to the phrase from my website. I didn’t want to put my family at financial risk by prolonging the dispute, and I wanted to be able to come to a swift resolution so that I, and we, could move on. I also wanted to respect her trademark and her work, and not contribute to any confusion.

    I must say, at first I was paralyzed. After years of teaching, writing, and consulting about learning from and finding opportunity in crisis, when I was faced with my own, I couldn’t do it. It took time. I had to dig deep. And I realized that in order to validate my work, I had to practice what I preached. Eventually, Lynn and I regrouped and began collaborating on our second edition book, with updated citations, a fresh, more universal and less academic writing style, and, of course, a new title. We expect to publish it in the coming months. We also learned from the experience about infringing on trademarks and will be more aware and more thorough in our research when choosing titles for future publications! In addition, I purchased The Institute for Crisis Management, where I could continue putting my research and theories into practice in providing crisis preparedness and consultation to companies and institutions.

    Did I experience tragedy? No. Was there a loss of lives or livelihood? Of course not. But in considering the definition of crisis—any problem or disruption that triggers negative stakeholder reaction and that could impact the organization’s (or person’s) financial strength and ability to do what it does—then my circumstances definitely fit this definition.  It became more apparent than ever that organizations and people alike should be prepared for unfortunate circumstances. Because even with careful planning, when the reality hits it can derail even the best prepared, much less unsuspecting institutions or individuals, as in my two examples.  And as we say on the ICM web site, “It doesn’t have to be shock and awe, it can still derail (you) or your company. Hopefully I’m a better leader and a stronger person because of my experiences; and although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone or any organization, I do believe in finding opportunities in and learning from crisis. I know I did.