Have a look at the cover of the Feb issue of Fast Company and you will see the smiling face of Angela Ahrendts. A warm, strong smile, engaging us from a printed page. Warmth is the hallmark of what I call “open heart” leadership. So I’m intrigued. Why the cover spot? What will I learn about this woman and leadership?
Ahrendts leaves her post as the CEO of Burberry in the spring of 2014 to become Apple’s senior vice president of retail. What Apple has hired is her “open and collaborative spirit. Someone to understand the culture and put the shine back in Apple again.” What they have is someone with heart. That shines off the printed page.
And it is more than skin deep. Under Arhendts’ leadership, a heritage brand that felt fragmented and siloed was rebuilt and is now known as a retail innovator. She talked about culture and brand at a time when no one else did. She led Burberry with trust and empathy as the cornerstones of the organization. What did she get? An empowered culture and a committed workforce. What was the key to her success? Leadership through connection and compassion.
Connection and compassion are key to “open heart leadership’. So is courage. But not just any courage. Ordinary courage. I have often written about courage as fundamental to meaningful leadership. With the groundbreaking work of Brene Brown in which she separates “heart” from “heroics“ in the definition of courage and coins this term “ordinary courage”, we have a more valuable way to look at the relationship of courage to leadership as we practice it every day and the critical links between compassion, connection and courage in leading meaningful change.
Arhendts move to this position at Apple is seen as puzzling by some as they wonder “why a CEO would become someone else’s underling?” What if “putting the shine” back in Apple depends upon her ideas of connection and empathy? What if she has the courage to draw people together around the challenge of what we don’t know rather than what we do know? She is well known for her belief in “the transformative power of technology” (the very phrase is synonymous with the unknown.) What if her ability to create connection is exactly what Apple needs to revitalize its retail strategy? What if compassion can give its people something to strive for that is a match for what she cares about? What if she is the next leader of a sea change in our retail world?
What is it today that nobody is talking about that she has the ordinary courage to pursue? She is standing up against many of the conventions of the business world that still has to ask why would a CEO become someone else’s underling.
Women bring new ideas, fresh perspectives. They challenge the conventions of our business landscape as it has been created thus far. We are not done. The “business” world as we know it is a babe in time. Out of the industrial revolution and into a digital one in 100 years, we have only begun to make the history that future leaders will write.
There are examples all around us of remarkable women with “ordinary courage” – leading from the heart with a passion that brings meaningful change. Nancy McKinstry, a key influencer in Vancouver for women’s leadership, brought her passion to the founding of the Minerva foundation in Vancouver BC, an organization dedicated to helping women with their educational and professional growth. Hers was a stand for the importance of diversity of ideas and experience in the corporations of today. She is well known for her ability to bring people together around ideas and strategies that challenge the status quo.
What do you care about that could direct your footsteps to break new ground? As Coco Chanel, the CEO of the original fashion superpower, and Ahrendts forerunner, said, “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” Let’s remember, as we challenge or are challenged by the status quo, that “ordinary courage” can yield some pretty extra-ordinary results.