Nancy Koehn, a Harvard Business School historian, tells the life stories of three influential leaders: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the ecologist Rachel Carson. They all overcame personal challenges to achieve and inspire social change. In Koehn’s new book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, she argues that tomorrow’s leaders of social change will come from the business world.
In the last week, film producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment — which many have described as an open secret in Hollywood — have exploded onto the pages of the New York Times. The New Yorker documents even more disturbing accusations of rape and assault. It’s now clear that many men and women in Weinstein’s company and in the film industry knew about these alleged crimes but remained silent, allowing it to continue.
How does something like this happen? It happens for some of the same reasons that equal pay, parental leave, and equitable hiring and promotion have stalled in many companies: Women lack genuine male allies in the workplace.
Real male allies tend to have three things in common as agents of organizational change. Debra Meyerson and Megan Tompkins’s research, using the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program at the University of Michigan, finds that allies need three
Change management can be a test for any organization. Several studies by Towers Watson show that just 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term. I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics are worse in my industry, financial services, where so many companies are large, global, regulated, and structurally complex.
So four years ago, when I was CEO of GE Capital Retail Finance and tapped to lead a mega change initiative — splitting off our unit into a new, publicly traded company, Synchrony Financial — I’ll admit I viewed it as a huge challenge. Major organizational changes, covering everything from recruiting and branding to regulatory approvals and marketing, happened in rapid succession, with a hard deadline of 12 months to get it all done for the IPO — and 18 months from the IPO until our full separation from GE.
While every CEO is forced to work