By reviewed by Diana Simpson

How Women Lead

If you haven’t yet read How Remarkable Women Lead; the Breakthrough Model for Work & Life, the summer of 2013/14 is your chance to do so, and to start the New Year with renewed optimism, internal strength and a toolbox of anecdotes to draw on.

At this time of year we all feel overwhelmed, may be looking for a fresh start, or an opportunity to jumpstart our thinking for the New Year.

At a similar stage in my recent life, our very wise and well read Learning & Development Manager recommended I read Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston’s How Remarkable Women Lead (2009). At the time I was definitely going through a chick lit phase. Not this type of chick lit. Eventually, and thankfully, for my brain cells, I revisited my reading recommendations and ordered a copy of this McKinsey & Company tome.


And I was transfixed. I didn’t put it down for the three days it took me to consume the 300+ pages. Far from being a dry business read, this is a book of real characters, real people and created from the stories of 125 fascinating women. Authors Barsh and Cranston are both McKinsey stalwarts, Barsh a Partner with over 30 years at the firm. Their writing style is lively, accessible and compelling and the book is filled with stories of women from all over the world, mostly in exceptionally senior leadership positions.

The book details a programme called Centred Leadership which the authors describe as a “lifelong endeavour” aimed at giving meaning to women in leadership, and in fact to leadership as a whole. The project aims at developing future women leaders, and this book distils both the ongoing findings of that programme, and interviews with over 125 women. As the title suggests, their observations are not just work-related. Many will help you look differently at the way you operate outside the office, with your family and friends, and as an individual. Interviewees are both mums and ladies without offspring; bringing perhaps a more balanced view than Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which can feel a little mommy-focussed.

Dip in… and be inspired

Most of the chapters begin with a quote from one of the key interviewees setting the tone for that chapter. Other women are profiled throughout and they come from all walks of life, all stages and levels of their careers. The project and the chapters are divided into 5 concise sections: Meaning, Framing, Connecting, Engaging, Energizing. In the true manner of all things McKinsey, the book is well organised, flows easily and can handle the interruptions of everyday life without one losing one’s own reading flow. As the authors themselves say “Dip in at any point and revisit the ideas. Or the stories from our remarkable women. We hope that more than one will inspire you”.

I thought of How Remarkable Women Lead when I read in the Herald this week I read this piece about General Motor’s first female GM, Mary Barra, indeed, the first woman ever to head a major auto company. Her story is very similar to that of many of the key project interviewees.

Not all of us may aspire to such levels of leadership, and in fact many of us may be quite happy with the level at which we presently operate. After reading I also revisited this excellent piece on What is Success from Galia and a Professionelle member. It suggests that success is not all about leadership greatness, Partnership or becoming CEO. Regardless of what success looks like for you, I am confident that you will not regret reading about the Remarkable Women and this Centred Leadership project. It should be an excellent source of holiday inspiration.

[The book is available at The Book Depository for under $30 including shipping, in hardback].


Diana Simpson is a long term Professionelle member and works in marketing for a chartered accounting firm – when not coordinating the chaos involved with two small children, two large dogs and one husband.

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