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    Frances Frei: Unleashing Empowerment Leadership

    The Los Angeles Times describes Frances Frei as “the go-to woman for companies like Uber who are looking to improve their image.” Frances is a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor who is credited with making HBS more gender-inclusive. She also served recently as Uber’s first VP of Leadership and Strategy, brought in to turn around its toxic culture. Along with co-author Anne Morriss, she has written Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leaders Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You. She chats with Marcel Schwantes about her book and how to unleash the potential of those you lead by applying practical love.


    Show Notes

    Leadership and Empowering People

    True leadership extends beyond being in the trenches. It’s about the ability to empower people even when you’re not around – even after you’re no longer in the company permanently, your influence remains. “Leadership is about empowering other people as a result of your presence and making sure that impact continues into your absence.” [5:46]

    Empowerment Leadership as a Target

    Empowerment leadership can be represented by a target – the bullseye being TRUST which is the foundation. Leaders move outward with each ring representing an element that empowers people. The first ring is LOVE with the idea of: How can I set up one other person for success? The next ring is BELONGING: What can I do for a varied group? The next rings are STRATEGY & CULTURE where you truly make a difference with your influence going past the bounds of the organization, rippling out to the customers and the clients where strategy is silent. “It starts with ourselves with trust and it goes all the way past the bounds of the organization with culture.” [8:38]

    Building a Trustworthy Culture

    Trust is broken down into 3 traits: authenticity, logic & empathy. Each component has a role and what’s prescribed for the lack of empathy cannot cure the diagnosis for authenticity. If your culture is broken, start with trust. Frances describes the role of each component in building a trustworthy culture. “The reason that people haven’t been able to make much progress on trust is they kept trying to move to trust without understanding its very different but comprehensive component parts.” [18:40]

    Love By Setting High Standards

    Love is empowering people by setting high standards and revealing deep devotion to them. To bring out someone’s best, they have to feel your high standards as much as your devotion to them. Marcel comments that people often forget the leadership part of servant leadership: high standards and accountability are as important as caring. Both are necessary for a great leader. “Servant leadership in its definition, people only focus on the servant part and forget that the leadership part is setting those high standards and holding people accountable.” [23:44]

    Diversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace

    One of the strategies that often fails in making a workplace more diverse and inclusive — especially for women — is the recruitment process. Frances shares why the recruitment process fails – they fail to acknowledge that their recruitment system fails in attracting. Frances stresses that if an organization’s recruitment system is great for attracting men, keep doing that. But if an organization is looking to attract highly qualified women using the same recruitment system, it’s not going to work. Acknowledging who your system attracts is the first step in creating diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. “If women are not applying, your systems are great for attracting men. Keep doing it every time you want to attract men but acknowledge that it’s failing at attracting women. So now, how do you recruit differently for different demographics?” [42:31]

    A Leader’s Takeaway

    Frances wants leaders to take away this point: if you notice something wrong, address it now. “Meaningful change only happens quickly,” she argues. “Meaningful change happens when the thing you want to change is your number one priority…So when you see something, address it; address it with all your might, close it, and move on to the next thing.” [51:06]  

    The Book:


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    About Marcel Schwantes

    Marcel Schwantes is the founder and chief human officer of Leadership from the Core, a global leadership training and executive coaching boutique aimed at developing great leaders and great cultures through Servant Leadership.

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