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Learn the rituals of leadership

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

The road to executive leadership follows a strict path, says Carol Johnson, a member of the first generation of women on Wall Street.

“Men are very structured in how they do things,” she says.

Johnson tells of her surprise at how an executive could simply step into the role of chairman. In reality, she observes, he would have been able to take the time to organize one project and another over a decade.

After that, “He knows the players. He knows the legislature. He knows the various people.

 “He knows exactly at what point you knock the glass and say, ‘All right. Let me say a few words.’”

By contrast, she joined a board and soon was asking herself, “How do these people know all these people?” In fact, it was “bonding and training—instituted all along.”

Men who reach the top engage in rituals of initiation introducing up-and-comers to key players.

“I think we can use them as a model,” Johnson says. “There are certain rules of behavior in the group which are so totally ingrained that you need the Rosetta stone. I see that women’s behavior is totally upsetting, startling to men—not because they are women, but because it is just that someone comes out and starts playing basketball in the middle of a football game.”

For instance, she describes a boardroom where some men sit at the “top” of the room, others at the “bottom.” Those at the bottom do not speak.

“One of the littler guys told me that he had been at the meetings now for three years and he thought that now he could start to speak up,” Johnson says. “I was floored. This is someone who is CEO of a major bank, but he was waiting for his three years before he could start to participate.”

— Adapted from Wall Street Women, Melissa Fisher, Duke University Press.

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