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Influences and Motivations Impacting Women Executive Leaders' Decisions to Take Top Leadership Roles



The progress in getting more women executives into top leadership remains at a snail's pace (Reaney, 2012 and Bono, 2016). Research suggests, and there is now increasing consensus, that the lack of women leaders in senior leadership roles could take a financial and competitive toll on companies across all industries (Labaye, 2012, Sethi and Ayers, 2013). Consider a Pepperdine University study that established that the twenty-five Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions were 18% to 69% more profitable than the median Fortune 500 firms in their industries (Brooke, B., 2013).

Many organisations are finding1, or claim to be finding, that, when it comes to TLRs, not enough of the women deemed prepared [i.e., have successfully completed women's leadership development (LD) programs and milestones] and capable are raising their hands for them2 (Zink, 2014). Valuable contributions to business and society are being lost at a time when both are in crisis. A McKinsey report estimates that advancing women's equality could add twelve trillion dollars in growth (Woetzel, J, 2015).

The already known impacting issues range widely from societal pressure, stereotyping (Heilman, 2001, Eagly and Karau, 2002), unconscious gender bias (Sandberg, 2013), outright discrimination (Hope, 2016) and the need for women sponsors (Hewlett, 2013) to a lack of confidence (Giang, 2014) among a host of others. Structural dynamics such as the systems archetype, "Limits to Growth" (Senge, 1990, 2006) are underway along with "glass cliffs" (Mulcahy and Lineham, 2013), "glass labyrinths" (Eagly and Carli, 2007), and the gender pay gap, which widens in leadership roles, and dampens incentive (Frank, 2016). Nevertheless because women are at diverse stages of development across the executive world, there is still work to be done by some women individually and collectively on their own mind-sets (Senge 1990, 2007). For example the concept of self as leader, a mental model, has been nominated as an important factor in stepping forward to lead (Ibarra 2008, Lord and Brown 2004, Aviolo and Gardner 2005). The past few years have witnessed an emergence of international collaborative platforms such as Women Corporate Directors to advance the number of women on boards. In order for women to hold leadership positions in proportion to their demographic foot print, there appears to be consensus that more needs to be done.

Because more needs to be done, my own exploration is energized by what can be learned from the women who have taken on TLRs about the influences and motivations that impacted their decisions to do so. My interest is in work with individuals and small groups. It appeared to me that one way to learn about the influences impacting women's willingness to take on TLR's would be from women who have already made the decisions to do so. Given my career as a woman executive leader and international entrepreneur in financial services and my 13 years of work in Organizational Learning (OL), LD and coaching of women executives, this is an appropriate project for me to carry out.

As well, given that I am a sole researcher with limited resources for a master's degree, the choice to concentrate on a small exploration that could inform coaching and further discovery on the topic is appropriate.

My objective is to discover how the aforementioned may inform a coaching process that if executed effectively may potentially accelerate the emergence of more women leaders' willingness to take TLRs.

For the purpose of this study, TLR is defined as all chief executive roles from chief executive officer to chief digital officer, etc. and levels 2 and 3 reporting to the CEO.

Based on my literature review and my thirteen years' experience in this field, there has been little if any coaching of executive leaders focused on their willingness to take TLRs and their decision making in doing so. Coaching focused on this issue is in its formative stage. In addition, the work of Senge (1990, 2006) and the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) have shown that downloading information without application in experience does not deliver sustained learning. This confirms the importance of imbedding learning for it to take hold (Senge, 1990, 2006). Coaching is one such experiential process.

Because conflicting perspectives arise in the literature, this does not jeopardize the reality of an individual's experience. I plan to remain grounded in the participants' experiences and what can be learned from them (Charmaz, 2006).


1. Forty-five percent of the sample (P2, P3, P4, P10, P11) in this study expressed their disbelief in this finding and are of the opinion that there are plenty of women ready willing and able. They think this excuse is used to distract from addressing the bias in the system.

2. There appears to have been an assumption on the part of many organizations, such as Citibank (Zink, 2014) that after completing the Leadership Development Programs (LDP) and having been prepared for the higher levels of leadership, that the women executives would want and thereby raise their hands for these roles. Corporations like Citibank have expressed surprise that the anticipated numbers of women are not stepping forward for the Top Leadership Roles (Zink, 2014).

Terms of Reference / Objectives and Literature Review

The main aim of this retrospective project is twofold. First, to discover what can be learned about the motivations and influences that have impacted women leaders' decisions and willingness to take on TLRs. Second, to learn how this may inform the coaching process.

This research adds to the growing conversation about women's potential benefit from coaching designed for them (Peltier 2010, Passmore et. al. 2009 and Leimon et. al. 2011) in contrast to coaching that is gender "blind".

This report is relevant to the following target markets: women executives, researchers and organizations (corporate, women's associations, Not-for-profit) and their respective human resource and other departments interested in growing the number of women in TLRs, persons (i.e., consultants, facilitators, coaches) who work in the LD, OL and executive education fields3 (examples in footnotes).

The literature review began with a broader exploration of the challenges women face in moving into senior leadership and TLRs and then honed in on key issues that repeatedly emerged, which women could potentially address individually, independent of their organisations, and may benefit from coaching. The literary review tracked each study using categories of thematic colour coded index cards (Stark, 1998).

Diverse responses to the challenge of getting more women into TLRs include Sheryl Sandberg (2013), who thinks it's critical for women to embrace ambition. Others think the solution is for women to learn how to behave like men, such as by engaging in self-promotional talk the way men do (Reynolds, 2015), rather than investigating the bias in the system and their own internal mental models. The bias selection system favours stereotypical male behaviour (overconfidence, exclusion of all other interests, promotion of self) rather than stereo typical female behaviours (more realistic self-assessment of ability, reluctance to seek attention) (Pinker, 2008). From my experience, the aforementioned resonates with an anachronistic mind-set of women, prevalent in 1970s and 80s.

In contrast, Susan Pinker underscores the need for women to be true to their biological nature and calls for our society to adapt to the different needs, talents and life cycles of women, making the plea to society to permit women to make their own choices (Pinker, 2008).

Aligned with the pinker perspective, Barsh and Cranston (2009) included "flow" in their five factor Centered Leadership Model, based on research on how remarkable women have lead.

Several themes emerged repeatedly. One was the salience of Meaning for women in motivating them to stay the course with their careers and take leadership roles (Barsh, Cranston and Craske, 2008; Barsh and Cranston, 2009; Ibarra and Obodaru, 2009). The second arose in repeated studies led by INSEAD Professor Herminia Ibarra, which identified the challenge of confidence and the importance of leadership identity formation (Ibarra, Ely and Kolb, 2013; Ibarra and Petriglieri, 2007; Ibarra, Snook and Ramo, 2008; Ibarra, Ely and Kolb, 2011).

Suzette Skinner found the strongest emerging theme in executive coaching tailored for women leaders was the issue of coaching professional identity formation. This took the lead as the core issue in her study on coaching (Skinner, 2012).

To the best of my knowledge, there are currently no published studies addressing the influences and motivations in women's willingness and decisions to take on TLRs.

The Centered Leadership Model (Barsh and Cranston, 2009) based on their studies of remarkable women leaders, was supported by five years of research interviews, and included five interrelated dimensions: "meaning", "managing energy", "positive framing", "connecting", and "engaging". These five dimensions were contained within the personal and professional context of the leader. The model identified four preconditions for leadership: Intelligence, tolerance for change, desire to lead, and communication skills (Barsh and Cranston, 2009). The desire to lead was assumed as a prerequisite and not explored as an issue in itself nor did they explore the decision process related thereto. Confidence did emerge as an issue for the remarkable women leaders interviewed despite the fact that the desire to lead was an interview precondition. The actual motivations impacting the willingness to take a TLR was not addressed.

A recent study by Center for Creative Leadership, universities of Florida and Minnesota found the following partly responsible for lack of women in TLRs. First, women are held to a different standards with regard to their relationships at work. Second, women may have a greater burden then men in seeking feedback, mentoring, and developmental assignments in ways that do not exclusively depend on their immediate supervisors (Bono, et. al, 2016).

The Triple Package (Chua, 2014) proposed that a combination of a sense of entitlement combined with insecurity and impulse control as three key elements present in minorities who out perform in America. This gender neutral research is noteworthy from this literary reviewer's perspective because the studied sample engaged a positive use of insecurity to drive exceptional performance.

While previous studies have already highlighted and nominated motivations in a leadership model and in coaching women (Leimon,, 2011), no study had focused on the influences and motivations with regard to women's decisions and willingness to take TLRs. There was limited knowledge about this gap and thereby it appeared feasible for me to take on this project in the light of my experience, and the imposed limitations on the size and resources of the undertaking. A research contribution in this space appeared to form a natural progression in the development of knowledge and may inform a coaching process.

My investigation is delineated by the following research questions:

  • What are the most important influences and motivations in Women leaders' decisions and willingness to take TLRs?

  • Do these factors inform a coaching process? If so, how?

  • Has coaching impacted women leaders' willingness or decision to take on TLRs?

  • In hindsight, do those having taken on TLRs think that coaching did or would have influenced their willingness or decision to take on a TLR?

This literature review continued iteratively (Walsh and Downe, 2005, p.207), throughout the interview process and report writing. 


Experiences and assumptions that I bring to this project are:

  • Coaching of women executives to prepare them for higher levels of responsibilities, development of the disciplines (Senge, 1990) of Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Systems Thinking (Senge, 1990, 2006).

  • Synovations' group "Lean In" sessions, focus group work.

  • Business and senior leadership experience as a woman executive and entrepreneur.

  • Activities with a range of women's groups nominated in target market section footnotes.

  • Underlying motives: desire to see social change, emancipation, and more empowerment of women.

  • Assumptions that women can and should be leading the world at least in proportion to their representative demographic and that the world would be better for it.


  • Women Corporate Directors, Board Agender, The International Alliance of Women, Global Summit of Women

  • Catalyst Organization, Reibey Institute and Pew Research Centre

  • Institute of Coaching, McLean Hospital; International Leadership Association

  • Women leadership programs at Center for Creative Leadership and Universities such as Singapore Management University, National University Singapore, Cranfield, and Georgetown.

  • SoL Coaching Community of Practice, International Coach Federation, European Mentoring and Coaching Community



I engaged a Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) approach and grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2006), due to the nature of the information and lack of specific pre-existing data, discovered during the literature review. In keeping with the principles of Grounded Theory (GT), (Glaser, 2002), the study drew from a range of research literature not limited to research specific to women but also gender neutral and in the domains of humanistic, behavioural and social psychology, OL and leadership.

A constructivist epistemology with an interpretivist theoretical perspective (Crotty, 1998) were engaged because they were the best fit for the purpose (Poulson and Wallace, 2004). This was to seek information though Semi-Structured Interviews (SSI), exploring what was said about their respective experiences without any predisposed hypothesis.


CGT welcomes novices and encourages the development of fresh theories (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT). It aligns with my modern science practitioner stance, research paradigm, and formative view which are holistic, finding authentication in the works of Schön (1983), Jung (1953, 1963), Bohm (1980), Wheatley (1999), Lane and Corrie (2006).

Through the methods of interview and questionnaire, I explored the words the interviewees chose, their own meaning and definitions. The issues began to emerge naturally from the data (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), ground theory).

Thematic Analysis (TA) would have enabled conceptually-informed interpretations of data, however it does not attempt to develop theory and is a method not a methodology (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008). Discourse Analysis was not appropriate since it examines how language is used to accomplish projects (Starks and Trinidad, 2007). Because I wanted to develop explanatory theories of a basic social process (Starks and Trinidad, 2007), I was drawn to GT.

Constructivist Grounded Theory (CGT) (Glaser, 2002) aligned with the exploratory nature of my inquiry through interviews as data rather than a phenomenological approach in which I would have had to obtain an in-depth understanding of each participant's personal experience. Nevertheless, pure GT4 , which is only possible in large research projects, was not employed, rather a 'lite' version of it (CGT-lite) was (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008).

Because the samples' experience and meaning was created from their perceptions as well as the objects themselves, these interviews shed light on the issue from the perspectives of woman leaders already in TLRs. Thereby I worked with each participant's subjectivity and evidenced based knowledge (Charmaz, 2006).

QDA based on CGT-lite (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008) from a social interactionist perspective supported me in my objective to understand how the pre-qualified participants made sense of their experiences by gaining insight into their mental models. The SSIs provided an abstract conceptual understanding. This gave me leeway to follow themes as they emerged in the interviews, and provided conceptual insights (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT).

CGT principles applied to semi-structured interviews aligned with my own constructionist perspective that emphasizes the contingent, meaning making nature of knowledge (Kent (2000), cited in Walsh and Downe (2005), meta-synthesis), with my project framework (Bernard (1988) cited in Cohen (2006), research guideline). This also aligned with my interest to discover how the data may inform a coaching process.

The aforementioned approach provided reliable, comparable, qualitative data between interviews (Cohen, 2006). The number of interviews was determined by the limitations of the project framework: practical execution within the time period, financial resources, the number of qualified persons, who responded to the various "calls" for participants and ability to commit. In keeping with the central precepts of qualitative CGT research and following the CGT process of comparative data analysis, which commenced in the early stage of data collection, a final sample size of eleven interviews emerged from the data analysis process. The principle of theoretical saturation, where no new categories or additional variation on the identified categories appear to be forth coming (Charmaz, 2006), was applied to the eighth and the thirteen interviews. No new information was presented (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008).

I was the sole researcher on this project, selecting the participants, completing the interviews and analysing the data. The sample was defined by women executives who have held or were holding TLRs in large multi-national organizations. Each participant had to be currently or have been previously in a TLR. TLRs was defined as the Chief Officers Suite, from Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to any Chief Officer role and those reporting to the CEO from a maximum of three levels down. No other prequalifying factors were set. Participants were sourced using the CGT principle of theoretical sampling (Charmaz, 2006) where a range of organizational contacts and women's networking bodies, professional associations (listed in the footnotes on page 6) along with my personal contacts were engaged to access qualified participants.

As a result of aligning the aforementioned epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology and method (Crotty, 1998) and in so doing adopting CGT-lite (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008) principles, the questions and structure of the project was modified from the original research proposal.

In the initial proposal a hypothesis had been nominated which emerged from my literature review and intuition that there may be some significance to a combination of confidence and meaning as an influencing or motivating factor for women leaders to take TLRs. Time was spent attempting to find an epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology and method (Crotty, 1998) that would enable me to prove the hypothesis, a common mistake of researchers.

The hypothesis pre-supposed assumptions, precluded unbiased inquiry since and inquiry itself would have influenced the response. As well the scope and scale of structured research required to answer the research question was beyond the capacity of the project constraints.

After revisiting my research questions, word definitions and central tenets of various qualitative research paradigms, the assumptions were identified, uncovered, and examined. The letting-go of a preconceived hypotheses was undertaken through a rigorous reflection and micro-processing of each assumption. A shift in mindset preceded the decision to do all humanly possible to abandon all presupposed concepts. This process resulted in a redrafting of the research questions and all communications and enabled interviews to unfold, as much as possible, clear of previously held suppositions. Thereby the aforementioned CGT-lite (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008) structure took hold.

My sampling strategy was maximum variation as it organically came together. While the sample, which came together randomly, was relatively narrow, the cross-section of countries, ethnicities, cultures and ages was rich. It is worth noting that the racial/ cultural and continents of birth perspectives were not fully analyzed for research limitations and confidentiality, Appendix 18.

After a preliminary qualification was completed, an email followed with the updated Project Brief (Appendix 3), Participant Information Statement (Appendix 4), and Consent Form (Appendix 5), a Confidentiality Agreement (Appendix 6) and setting up a preliminary call. Upon request, an Introductory Background & Literary Review was provided to some of my contact "connectors''.

Phone calls were held with each pre-qualified participant to confirm that they met the research criteria, had read and understood all the documents (including the terms of confidentiality and anonymity), answer any outstanding questions and confirm commitment to the time frame indicated. Each participant's ethical considerations were addressed and confidentiality agreements, outlining the terms of confidentiality for the interview and data to be collected, were signed by all counterparties. These ethical considerations ensured that all participants would remain anonymous and any use of interviewee quotations would be de-identified so as not to breach these terms of agreement. As well the confidentiality of participant feedback was protected using generic participant descriptors and all names of people, organizations and any identifiable information sanitized. In alignment with Cohen (2006), I prepared a flexible interview guideline (Appendix 7), conversational trajectories were led by the interviewee.

Care and thoughtfulness were taken in the formulation of the interview questions to clear all presupposed biases and influencing words or phrases. I vigilantly avoided superimposing my ideas and obtained the interviewees' words and their own meaning and definitions of the words through exploratory dialogue about the words they chose and ideas they expressed. I did so, so that as information was obtained, the issues would be able to emerge naturally from the data (Charmaz, 2006).

In line with CGT principles, the structure of the interviews were modified from the original research proposal. In so keeping, participant interviews were less structured (than the guideline) and concentrated on a series of open ended questions which enabled flexibility in exploring various topics as they emerged. The participants relayed the subjective stories and experiences that most influenced them.

These questions continued to evolve during the initial interviews. I refined questions (Cohen, 2006), post interviews, reflected on the interviewees experience, concepts and behavior during the interview. In keeping with the semi-structured interview guidelines, questions were developed, tested in the first interview, and then improved for the second and third interviews based on what I learned from the interviewee's responses (Cohen, 2006). I followed a consistent comparison method, data to data (Charmaz, 2006) to assure the interview analysis was grounded in the participants' experience.

Key iterative steps in GT research (Nigatu, 2009, Rose and Spinks, 2015) configured below in Figure 0 (Rose and Spinks, 2015) were followed. Adjustments made are addressed under Project Activity.

A second order of analysis was undertaken to Identify recurrent themes, notice patterns in the content, identify sample clusters (causes and themes), develop sequences of events; search content to answer research questions (Nigatu, 2009). While I recognize that double coding would have been a better way of verification, this was not financially feasible.

To confirm accuracy of interpretation of the interviews a post interview follow up survey (Appendix 8) based on the content and wording in the interviews was forwarded to all interviewees and completed. The interviewees were asked to highlight and prioritize in numerical sequence the list of potential influences (in their wording) on their decision(s) to take Top Leadership Roles.

After a lengthy software review and comparison process, NVIVO 11 for Windows software was chosen as it was thought best fit for purpose. The interview data and survey were uploaded into the NVIVO software package where open coding was conducted.

Reviewing the data from each interview, a framework for the content, coding plan and labelling were undertaken iteratively. Content was sorted to the framework and the framework was modified to the content and coded in the software. (Online QDA, 2012.) Using that framework, the ranges of responses were categorized and recurrent themes identified.

I continued the interview data analysis and iteratively refined the codes through to the emergence of theoretical concepts (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT).

In alignment with CGT principles, before I started the interviews, my overarching research question evolved to "discover what can be learned about the motivations and influences that impact women's decisions and willingness to take on TLRs and how these may inform a coaching process" The final title emerged there from (Crotty, 1998).

Although warned by Miles and Huberman (1994) that I should not put off coding until after data gathering, because of too much time spent researching QDA software options, it worked out this way. Nevertheless my analysis was ongoing because I started before the software coding. That having been said, the software coding took my analysis to another level and I have found the coding to be a good devise for supporting the analysis (Miles and Huberman, 1994). I have ensured that my data analysis generated reliable findings by comparing the data during each stage of the collection and analysis before engaging the QDA software (Miles and Huberman, 1994. Although I did not engage a second coder, however I did seek confirmation of accuracy of what I was doing from the software consultant (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

Despite the small size of the sample, some triangulation by data sources, (Denizen, (1978) cited in Miles and Huberman, (1994), qda) was achieved via the diversity of cultures in the sample (Brown (1991), cited in Miles and Huberman, 1994, qda). Some triangulation (Miles and Huberman, 1994) by methods has been achieved by comparing the GT that emerged from the interview data with that drawn from other disciplines such as OL (Systems Thinking) and practices such as leadership (Dallos and Vetere, 2005). To a certain degree, some triangulation via data was achieved by comparing the data from the recordings with that from the surveys (Miles and Huberman, 1994). I also compared my findings with other studies (Springfield and Teddlie (1990), cited in Miles and Huberman (1994), qda) such as those of Barsh and Cranston (2009). While I think this triangulation has bracketed the findings (Mathison (1988) cited in Miles and Huberman (1994), qda), nonetheless I acknowledge that this may provide reliability rather than validity.

As an independent practitioner, the issues related to insider practitioner researchers including lack of objectivity about the work place and culture, and unconscious bias regarding colleagues did not apply, because I was not a practitioner inside an organization conducting primary research but rather an independent conducting interviews with individuals from a range of organizations. Since the choice to participate in the study was the individual executive's and corporations were not identified, there was no necessity to seek any organizational approval nor any insider aspects to be considered.

With regard to predisposed unconscious bias, let it be noted that from a certain perspective, a female researcher listening to the experiences of female executive leaders may be perceived as an insider role. I acknowledged that my belief in the value of women's contributions and desire to see them more demographically represented in business and societal leadership has motivated me to do this research. Due to this, I remained vigilantly mindful of the zeitgeists that influenced my own perceptions. I asked qualifying questions, repeatedly restating that which I have heard in my own words in order to seek clarification and assure no misinterpretation of that which was heard. I also sought other opinions among this group of interviewees. Nonetheless, this can be viewed as a major flaw in the dependability of the study.


4. A grounded theory-lite involves using the techniques of grounded theory for the development of categories (and concepts), and an understanding of the relationship between the various categories (and concepts) (McGraw-Hill Education, 2008).

Project Activity


To gain access to the sample, I sought assistance from the following organizations to circulate the study information a with a "call" for participants: Women Corporate Directors (WCD)5, The Committee of 2006, Globe Women7, Million Women Mentors8, Singapore Council of Women's Board Agender9, and other gender neutral professional organizations with which I am affiliated.

WCD circulated the article in their newsletter; six participants responded. I sent over fifty emails to contacts seeking direct participations and introductions to those who may be interested in participating. Six participants emerged from the former and seven participants from the latter two outreaches. All in all I think this worked well as I did reach the qualified target and number of participants required. The data sample came from recognized, reliable data sources.

Due to project time limitations and newsletter publishing deadlines, some preliminary information was released with the old project title and research project brief in email requests for participation (Appendix 1) and the write-up circulated in the Women Corporate Directors (WCD) February 2017 Newsletter, (Appendix 2). Had I not done so, the write-up would not have been included in the WCD' February/March Newsletter, and therefor may not have reached the number of participants needed.

While the communications were circulating, I was revising the project and re-aligning the methodology. By the time I responded to expressions of interest, the project and all documentation had been revised. Title and content were revised from "Meaning and Confidence in Women Executive Leaders' Decisions" to Take Top Leadership Roles" to "The Significance of Motivations in Women Executive Leaders' Decisions to Take Top Leadership Roles" All references to confidence and meaning were removed and those concepts were no longer nominated in any communications.

Eight of the participants in the study had either responded to the WCD article or an email from me that presented the old project title. There was a lag time between that exposure and the email to qualify the candidate(s), summarizing the revised project.

I chose not to call attention to the changes for several reasons. First, if I had, it would have emphasized those concepts in the participants' minds. Second, it is not unusual for titles in research projects to change as the projects develop (Crotty, 1998). Third, all of these leaders are busy and if they were making time for the study then they were interested in contributing to the study; a change in title would likely be immaterial. Fourth, if the concepts of confidence and meaning were of interest to them, they would raise the issues. Despite this, a legitimate argument can be made that the early inclusion of these concepts in the project title may have motivated responses by participants and unconsciously influenced them.

It is worth underscoring that I did not raise the previously nominated concepts in the interviews. When as and if they were raised by the participants, they were explored but not emphasized. I recognize that this sequence of events was a mistake and jeopardized the viability of the research.

Due to the aforementioned weaknesses, this pilot study has been earmarked to inform further research in this area. Nonetheless it was informationally representative in that it could signify other persons with similar experiences (Sandelowski, 1995).

Three (3) of the SSIs were conducted face to face with participants and ten (10) were virtual over video Skype. Scheduling the sessions took longer than anticipated. The process was iterative as anticipated and the interviews rolled into preparation, and preliminary analysis, as is described in QDA CGT (Miles and Huberman, 1994). The process worked well.

In the interviews, open-ended questions were followed up by clarifying dialogue. If the following topics did not naturally emerge then the questions in Figure 1 were asked at closing or on follow up phone call(s), so as not to influence the earlier responses.

After the transcription, I listened to each interview to confirm the accuracy of the interview. After which key themes and phrases in each interview that emerged repeatedly were high-lighted in hard copy and Microsoft (Miles and Huberman, 1994). All the interviews were tracked and most all guiding questions covered in one form or another, there were several follow up emails to clarify items with participants as needed.

Iteratively with the interview process, I bound the data by designing a conceptual framework (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Early in the review process, the themes of confidence, meaning, and focus emerged again but this time as a conceptual framework in to which I would cluster the data. I worked with this framework for a while, many items kept landing up in the "other factors" cluster. This did not work well; it was still influencing the way I perceived the content. I realized that despite having left the hypothesis behind, in a way I was still holding on to it! Finally, I concluded that as long as I kept that framework, I could not hear what the interviewees were saying. I threw the entire process out and started over without a conceptual frame work.

I used the QDA software to support me in open coding, seeing the natural clusters as they emerged (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Letting go completely of preconceived constructs worked well. This journey of realization was time consuming and costly.

Turning back to data collection, despite all the digital advances, my experience recording was not perfect and part of one interview, referenced earlier, was not captured. Thereby after reaching theoretical saturation (Charmaz, 2006), it was excluded from the study.

In setting up appointments, I found that I had not been direct enough about boundaries of interview conditions. Multiple interferences emerged that could have been avoided, had I been explicit about the requirements to assure quality recording. While these interruptions did not render the recordings un-transcribe-able, the cost was doubled.

The interviews conducted in English ran from sixty (60) to ninety (90) in duration. Memos were written during the data gathering and analysis periods in Microsoft. I used the memo writing to identify gaps (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT). The transcription pages were an average length of 24 pages for each interview. Notes were taken during the interview and a contact summary form completed. The analysis (prior to engaging the QDA software) and collection of interview data was iterative.

The SSI recordings were transcribed verbatim. Although I had initially planned to do this myself, it would have taken time away from my work and more productive learning activities. After shopping globally for the best English language transcription rates with professional policies (confidentiality agreements with transcribers and clients) in place (Miles and Huberman, 1994), a U.S. professional transcription service,, was contracted.

Nevertheless, I had not anticipated how provincial the American transcription services would be regarding foreign accents. They consider the kings English a foreign accent! Only three of the participants had what average American's would consider American accents. The 13th interviewee had a strong European accent and the resulting transcription surcharge was excessive. I rechecked other countries transcriptions services and decided it was not financially feasible. After re-listening to the recording, I realized that the project had reached theoretical saturation (Charmaz, 2006). Thereby this interview was also not include. I managed the budget poorly here.

All transcripts were checked for accuracy against the recording by myself. These transcripts were sanitized by me by the removal of personal and corporate details to avoid any possible confidentiality breech. A second level of sanitization was undertaken to label any sensitive content.

Initial SSIs were conducted, transcribed and sanitized prior to commencing additional interviewing (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Some emerging categories and themes were identified and open questions further refined (Miles and Huberman, 1994). The interviewees dictated the dialogue that developed. I focused on open ended questions that allowed for fluid exploration of issues that arose. This permitted probing to better explore the experiences, thought processes (Charmaz, 2006), terms used and meanings intended. This worked.

After all the SSIs had been concluded, I compiled a list of key statements and variations that had repeatedly emerged. A post interview follow up survey based on the content and wording in the interviews ws forwarded to all interviewees. The interviewees highlighted and prioritized in numerical sequence the list of potential influences on their decisions. This served as a final feedback after interviewees had time to reflect on the questions and worked well as a verification of the findings.


All questionnaires were completed and returned. Upon receipt, feedback was put into an excel spread sheet. This worked very well as the response came back very clearly delineated and confirmed the top ten influences and themes10 (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

After studying QDA software functions ((Miles and Huberman, 1994) and evaluating multiple QDA software platforms, Nvivo 11 for Windows Starter was best fit for purpose. It enabled open coding, participant classifications, memo writing, which informed the categories, themes and coding processes (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT), as well as word and text queries and visualisations. In retrospect, I spent too much time researching software options and thereby the interview data was not uploaded into a QDA software until all interviews were concluded (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT). This iterative sequence ceased for the earlier phase and a new one began. The literary review continued throughout (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT).

Although anticipated, significant time was spent learning the software and an online course was undertaken. I did not grasp it as easily as I had thought. I engaged a software consultant to assist. Although highly productive, this was another expense not anticipated. Appropriate confidentiality agreements were signed, even though this was redundant, since all the information had already been sanitized. The starter version of this software was chosen because the size and scope of this project did not really warrant more.

I used NVIVO predominately for coding, clustering, search and retrieval, data linking, content analysis, data display, conclusion drawing and verification, graphic mapping (Glaser and Strauss (1967), cited in Charmaz (2006), GT) and in preparing this report. Memo writing remained in hardcopy and Microsoft formats along with the remainder of the content in the contact summary forms.

At first I loaded the attributes (Appendix 9) of the persons captured from the contact summary forms, then the interviews (Appendix 10) and articles from my literary review (Appendix11). NVIVO 11 for Windows Starter only allows PDF uploads not internet links. This was an unresolvable problem, since the majority of my literary review was accessed online via internet links. Time constraints did not permit me to find all of the PDF files on line. Then I loaded the survey responses [Appendix 12 A (NVIVO) and 12 B (Excel Sheet Format)].

I coded by taking the words verbatim out of the data itself. This coding of the data into the software system with no preconceived categories enabled me to first capture the exact terms used and then to placed them in to categories, Appendix 13. The coding emerged progressively, thereby better grounded empirically (Miles and Huberman, 1994). I remained mindful that the meaning of that which was said is because of the choice made about its significance in a context (Bliss et al. (1983) cited in Miles and Huberman (1994), qda).

At the second round of reviewing the codes (Appendix 14), I eliminated most codes that did not respond specifically to the Research Questions. Notes (NVIVO's annotations) were made as I went along, example in Appendix 15. In the next round, by engaging in constant comparison, categories were consolidated into themes, pattern coding and analytic memoing and notes (Miles and Huberman, 1998). More codes not responsive to research questions were eliminated. This process took extensive reflection and resulted in two main themes/ patterns (Miles and Huberman, 1998). 1. Responses that inform strictly on the major influences and motivation in taking TLRs; results can be seen in Appendix 16. 2. Responses that inform on the later and potentially on the coaching thereof as well.

In an earlier round thirteen codes were grouped under "drive and desire", as they expressed a drive and desire. This is how I consolidated those that were duplicates. For example, two interviewees had spoken about the drive to win and also spoken about "feeling that I've not yet succeeded." I merged this code into "drive to win" as I saw it as a motivator of the drive to win.


Another example, two interviewees had indicated they wanted to "be CEO to show other women they could do it" and also had spoken of their "drive to win" and placed it in their top motivators in the survey. Thereby the code "be CEO to show other women they could do it" was merged into "drive to win."


The same process was the case for all of the following: "keep up with peers" (1), "motivated by being able to just have a career" (1), "to prove I can do it-when others can't" (4), "to make a difference"(1), "to do something new- start things- internal entrepreneur"(1).

Since one of the seven interviewees, who had expressed "drive to be top of her game" but not as a "drive to win", had indicated "drive to win" as part of her top motivators in the survey, the code was merged into "drive to win" All others had already expressed "drive to win" in the interviews and surveys.

Since three interviewees, who expressed a "drive to do well -competition with oneself," had also expressed a "drive to win," the former code was merged with the latter. All three of these participants also indicated "drive to win" as a top motivator in their surveys.

All interviewees who expressed "desire for and to drive change" except one also spoke about the "drive to win". Here there was a distinction in meaning. Thereby the former codes were left as separate codes/nodes.

The following codes remained: 
"Desire for and to drive change" (6)
"Desire to discover, learn, grow and pursue" (8),
"Drive to win" (10), 
"Likes risk and a challenge", (4).

This same process was repeated across all categories and all verified against the surveys. The final round removed any remaining categories and codes that did not respond to the research questions, even though surfaced by the interviewees. These were comments that pertained to items such as the top position being held, whether the leader wanted to be CEO, and whether she had P & L responsibility.

As this last round of refining continued, the code on the "way obtained TLR" was eliminated. After reflecting on Webster's definition of "power to produce a desired result or effect" which can be a motivator of "speaking up-Doing right thing", the latter was clustered under "self-efficacy".

The narrowing of clusters continued iteratively with the writing of the report. Under the category of influences that may inform coaching, I reflected on Webster's definition of the word confidence, a feeling or belief that "you can do something well or succeed at something". The code "Positive frame on challenges ahead" was left as a separate code from confidence. I did so because this frame is externally focused and the positive frame in confidence is internally focused on one's feeling or belief about one's capability. While I recognize their impact on each other (Seligman, 2002), I did not want to over simplify it in this study.

The remaining two codes to be deleted as not relevant to the research question were 1) thoughts on women taking-not taking TLRs, and 2) the decision process to take the TLR. This data did not address the influences and motives in impacting the decision but rather the practical aspects. This round of code deletions resulted in the code structure as of 01.10.16 (Appendix17).

After more exploration of word clouds, queries and visualizations in NVIVO (Figures 2 & 3), I moved on to making conceptual and theoretical coherence (Miles and Huberman, 1994, p.261). The software has effectively facilitated this process.

I had previously coached three of the sample. During the analysis stage, I became aware of the temptation to want to fill in information from my previous knowledge of the participants. Thereby I rigorously deleted those thoughts when evaluating the statements as I wanted to be sure to treat that which was stated by all the participants with an equal frame and lens.







10. Two exceptional survey responses emerged. One (P10) respondent by removing all the items that were not influencing or motivating, leaving 19 items on the page with a note, quote, "They are numbered 1-10. They are all equal to me. If you want to keep the numbers in the order they were written feel free to do so." The numbers went into the spreadsheet as they were listed. Another respondent (P1) clustered them numbering the clusters 1-8. In the clusters similar and dis-similar items appeared. This left me reflecting whether to revert back to all of the interviewees with a request to do the same. I also thought about reverting back to these respondents again. In one instance this would have meant a fourth circling back to leaders with higher priorities. Both had given their preferred responses. It appeared to me that I was trying to push my format on them and I decided this would be more than I had outlined in the initial commitment.

Project Findings


The sample of eleven (11), included a notable range of diversity. The ages span from 41 to 72 years; two were below 50, seven between 50 and 55, and four above 55 years. They were located in three continents. Two of the three oldest participants were still in TLRs and the oldest in governance roles. Ten of the eleven had held multiple TLRs, since taking on their first. The ages of taking on the first TLRs ranged from 33 to 49, the average, 42.8 years.

The sample included eight distinct cultures born on four continents. Five hailed from three Asian cultures11, two from Jewish cultures12, and three from European cultures13. Three were born in America. One emerged from significant childhood hardship. All were fluent in English, eight were multilingual.

The location of the leaders' formative years span from a world leading city to small provinces in developing countries. Three cited the competitive conditions in third world environments as impacting their drive to achieve. At the time of the interviews, six were located in Asia, two in Europe and three in the USA.

Eight of the sample were married, the major bread winners in the family, and had supportive husbands. One was married and not the major breadwinner in the family. Two were single breadwinning parents14. A 2013 report by Pew Foundation indicated the number of primary breadwinning mothers represented forty percent (40%) of households with children in the USA, four times the rate from 1960.

Three of the sample had Ph.D.'s, all had master's degrees. Four had worked in the big 5 consultancies. One had been awarded the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), another a national championship in sports.

The sample were engaged in the following industries: automotive aftermarket, automotive parts, biotech, biopharmaceutical, building materials manufacturing, Investment banking, commercial banking, other financial and investment services, publishing, and pharmaceutical.

Influences and Motivations categorized as informing on leaders' resources.

Regarding drives and desires, eight of the sample spoke specifically about a "drive to win" in their interview. Eight of the sample marked it in the survey but not the same eight. This essentially meant that 10 out of 11 expressed a "drive to win". Nonetheless only eight confirmed in the survey. P4, having achieved excellence in sports, as acknowledged in the interview would have expressed it differently, quote.

"So yeah, definitely it does. And I probably wouldn't use that team, like I say add value, but that's what it relates to, is that you set a goal, you envision it. Those are all sport things, right? You set the goal, you envision it happening and work for it."

P3 said, quote.

"Winning... gives you a great sense of satisfaction... I still play tennis semi-competitively. I really enjoy a match when I've played well. If I win as well, it's really super. If you play really well and you have a really good match and you play well, but you don't win, it's still good, but it's not quite as good as when you do win. Winning is important, but it's not to the level where it becomes, I get distraught if I lose... I've competitive but not in the sense of... Like at work, a lot of people are so competitive, they'll trample on others to get places. I do not do that."

Two participants who indicated "drive to win in their top ten in the survey did not speak about it in those terms in the interview, P9 and P11 spoke of being "top of their Game".

Two participants (P1 and 10), who spoke of the "Drive to Win" in the interview, also nominated ego as a motivator. Only one of the sample of 11 did not express either in the interview or the survey a "drive to win" as a key motivator.

Six of the participants that spoke of "desire for change and to drive change" as a major motivator, confirmed "drive to win" in the survey. Eight spoke about the "Desire to discover, learn, grow, and pursue". Two of the latter that had confirmed this in their surveys also confirmed the "drive to win". Six of the eight were the same as those who had spoken of "drive to win". P3 and P6 did not include "drive to win" in the survey and thereby the code was not consolidated. P6 expressed hers in three interview codes: "desire to discover, learn, grow and pursue", "desire for and to drive change", and "likes risk and a challenge". All spoke of a drive or desire to win or to make change (some overlapping), or to "discover, pursue, learn and grow" combined with "liking risk and a challenge". This appears to suggest a drive to succeed in growing and pursuing, all of which result in change and more or less a kind of "win".

In oversight the option for "desire for change" was not included in the survey.

Six participants spoke of "Intellectual curiosity". Yet nine indicated it in their top ten motivations in the survey. P6 said, quote.

"I have intellectual curiosity. A very, very deep inquiry into the nature of things and how, not just scientific, but even social, cultural and the institutions that make this possible."

This may be due to the power of suggestion or to the difference in reflection time between the interview and the survey. The survey did list "intellectual curiosity", while only open questions were posed in the interviews, leaving the interviewees to raise the subject.

Many participants expressed thanks for the opportunity to talk and reflect on the subject as their schedules had precluded such exploration theretofore.

"Validating experiences in youth" were noted by all interviewees in various capacities. Nine brought up athletic or academic excellence. Yet in the survey only two (P4 and P1) confirmed. Seven spoke of one or more of "family environment", "female leader role models" and or "working mothers". Two spoke of "learned capability of independence in early childhood". Only one felt "destined" for her future. P7 said, quote.

"So, growing up, clearly I grew up in the third-world country environment, very highly competitive, so it was very clear in that environment that you have to be really, really good and at the top of what you do in order to make it. So... for the most part, academic achievement... And then aiming for the best university in the country, and so on and so forth in order to make sure that I would have access then to the right kind of opportunities, which were otherwise hard to come by... I got into drama very early on in school. And even outside of school... and then we had a club house and a theatre, et cetera... kid's club... So even there... I was into performing arts, acting... putting together kids plays, et cetera, for the parents to come and see on a large scale... then also, I think grade five... We had different houses and house captains. So I was one of those, and then went on to become in senior school, vice-captain, and then I was a vice head girl... So I assumed those kind of roles... They weren't electable, they were more nominated by the school administration... And somehow, I got... The acting part was more of a hobby for me, but it allowed me to get comfortable getting in front of large audiences, et cetera. I also then went to directing... then the leadership positions within the school in terms of... leading the entire school as vice head girl, I think those are more things that I was nominated for and I enjoyed them as well."

Early age leadership identity formation such as the aforementioned, surfaced in 8 interviews. If it didn't, I inquired at the end of the session. Three of the 8 had never thought about it, just "in the DNA". This finding contrasted to Suzette Skinner's (2012) study which identified it as an area for coaching. The study's sample was composed of less senior leaders; its criteria was set at one leadership level lower than this study15.

With regard to work attitudes, P1, when asked if her athletic capability impacted her career and attitude towards work, respond, quote.

"I'm sure it does. I think sports is one thing that teaches you about discipline, about endurance, about, if you want something, you have to work harder to get there."

The survey confirmed that five of the leaders considered "hard work" in their top ten. Only one of those did not indicate athletic or academic excellence as an influence but had a "working mother" as a role model. All who indicated academic or athletic excellence had indicated a 'drive to win'. Only one of the sample that indicated "hard work" in the survey, did not speak of "discipline or impulse control" in the interview. Two indicated "perseverance" and not "hard work" in the survey. Of the seven that spoke about "hard work", three "enjoyed work". The remaining four said they "enjoy work", one experienced work exclusively as "fun". Only two of the four did not mention "discipline" or any reference to impulse control.

All eleven spoke of support (whether from family, extended family, hired help, and or bosses) as influencing their decisions. Nine had supportive spouses, family, or partners. Despite having taken on a TLR in a chief executive role, one of the nine felt that she had not taken her career to its maximum potential, because there was a joint decision to prioritize her husband's. The two single parents spoke of support from family members, extended family, hired help, and or services. Seven said support from bosses, supervisors, assistants, and sponsors influenced their decisions. The finding appears to suggest that if support was not automatically there, the women proactively organized it.

The "support" factor that emerged in the interviews, was omitted from the follow-up survey because the need to include it was not discovered until the QDA software coding process was underway16.

"Education valued - math, science, finance" and "working with and developing others" were mentioned by seven. P4's, P6's, and P12's surveys confirmed the former as a top influence. P1 only nominated the latter in the survey. P2 spoke about education in the interview, but did not confirm in the survey, quote.

"A lot is about knowledge. For us, education was probably the most important value... we have a Jewish background and so with the war and refugees... You will see this as an overall pattern when you have to start from scratch historically two or three times in a row, then that was very much study as much as you can because you always bring that with you..."

Three (P3, P5, and P 6) spoke of "Financial reward for a better life". Four (P6, P10, P11, and P12) indicated this influence in the survey. All in all fifty-five percent noted it. This appears to suggest that regarding the decision to take a TLR, it mattered less than other influences.

Other motivations, mentioned by interviewees that did not carry a majority of the sample, were: "acknowledgement –recognition" (2), "anger about not being paid equally" (1), "Only woman in the room, never thought of it" (3), "Single parent-bread winner" (2), only one of the single parents indicated the latter as a top motivator in taking on a TLR.

Influences and Motivations categorized as informing coaching.

The issue of setting boundaries related to work and family was raised by each interviewee. Five, in one form or another, said that either work-life balance was irrelevant for TLRs or that "demands always took over, it was tough and we managed through". P9, the youngest of the sample with a partner, no children and in her first TLR at level C-3, said, quote.

"Hard work is... Well, it's truly enjoy working... I think, truth to be told, when you're at this level, work... is part of your life, and... If you think about work-life balance, you will never make your way up, forget it. Work-life balance is what we tell people working on the ground."

Six interviewees did set limits. P1, who had a husband at home, quote.

"They were looking for someone to fill the role of looking after the region... I didn't apply... I'm not interested in the Region, because I didn't want to spend five nights a week in hotel rooms. There has to be a balance in one's life, right? Yeah, even if I've got paid twice as much, it was like, it's just the cost of not being home, being with family and being out there, I said it's not worth it... They eventually said to me, 'Well, fine, let's start on a blank sheet of paper. What are you willing to do?' And I said, 'Okay, I wouldn't mind coming if I still have my old job', which means I would only look after A and B, C, not least because those were the markets I knew really well, I never covered X or Y or Z, because I wasn't willing to travel. And they said, 'Fine, we just want you. Come and do whatever it is that you are willing to do.' ...As they (the kids) grew older... By progression I took on the region."

"I think that people just have to learn to be smarter about how they do things. I didn't travel as much as everyone would have liked me to but I was effective enough and to me that was all one should think about... I spend a lot more time talking to my guys who report to me... It was more... teaching them... making them an extension of me... If I had to go I would pack my bags so that I... could do turnarounds... I never really travelled as much as all my predecessors did."

P3, a single parent of 4 said, quote.

"I was recruited for another job... But it involved a lot of travelling... When they were trying to recruit me, I said, 'I can't travel, I can't do it', and they said 'it doesn't matter, you don't need to'. But I found to do the job, you had to, you had to travel. And so, after doing this for a year, I was approached by another company and I took the job... 'My children are forever, but jobs come and go.' And they do. And so, I realized very early on, while I couldn't talk that publicly at work, my kids were my top priority and job was number two. The job had to fit the rest of my life. So that is something that as a woman you can't talk about with a male CEO. If you're reporting into a CEO, he wants you available 24/7 and you have to somehow give the appearance of, even though you may not be, because of kids. And that's a challenge that women have."

It is noteworthy that these two statements came from the two oldest in the sample, each had 3 and 4 children respectively. The latter, a single parent, had been awarded an OBE later in life. The finding that the majority did set some limits appears to point to the power of mental models in motivation.

All eleven nominated Self Efficacy (SE). Their comments broke down into five main codes. Ten spoke about "Making a positive difference for others- ability to do so"; Six about "making a positive contribution to life or society- add value"; Seven about "Add value through positive impact"; Six about "speaking up-Doing right thing". P5 and P7 spoke about "creating value through Teams". Five (P1, P3, P4, P7, P 11) also spoke about "adding value - creating monetary value"18. Detail can be seen in Appendix 12 B.

P2 spoke of "making a positive contribution to life or society- add value", quote.

"Our drive was very much about the intellectual side and being able to do something with it that was good for society."

In one way or another, the findings appear to suggest Webster's dictionary definition "power to produce a desired result or effect".

All eleven also spoke about the "meaningfulness in the work they do" as impacting their decisions. The range of expressions broke down into two clusters: "value as in adding to society, helping people collectively and individually grow and improve life" and "values led -true to self". P1 found meaning in increasing monetary value. In the survey she indicated that "meaning in terms of contribution to society" was "new found in her current era not when making decisions to take on TLRs19. Meaning as a motivator to take on a TLR appears to align with their findings20 of the Centered Leadership Model (Barsh and Cranston, 2009).

Nine of the sample (P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7, P9, P10, P12,) spoke about their meaningfulness as the code cluster "value adding to society, helping people grow", P12, quote.

"I feel very happy when some of these big things get done. Even in one of my earlier roles here, I was very passionate. I still feel strongly that we (this country) should have XYZ... And I kept pushing for it... It's been such a big benefit for the industry, and now I'm pushing for the same for the XYZs..."

P7, quote.

"The ability to lead teams and take people to different levels of achievement, of performance. I think that for me is also as rewarding and gratifying as seeing my daughter do well in school. To see my team succeed, I think that just makes me really happy."

P4, quote.

"Sometimes you're trying to prove something to the world that, 'Hey, it's not just for me. It's like I have three daughters, I've mentored all these women, I've coached all these gymnasts. I know I can be the one that does this."

Seven of the sample (P1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P 11 and P12) spoke about being "values led -true to self", "vision and values led" (Zohar, 2012) and also "being oneself".

P6, quote.

"I want to have the maximum impact that I can to further the causes that I hold dear. And I have worked in XYZ for over 26 years. So I have worked in areas which today are buzzwords... So these are causes which I felt. And that's why every one of my roles that I took have been driven by the same motivation. How will I increase the impact of what I'm doing and what I can see?... We've got to leave the place better than we found it, and in every single way... But yeah, that's what I hold dear."


Two interviewees (P6 and P11) from completely different religions spoke about it as "faith". Five (P1, P2, P3, P5, and P11) spoke about meaningfulness as "being one self".

Turning now to the survey, nine participants verified. P1, P3, and P5 confirmed with "meaningfulness in the work". Six participants (P1, P2, P4, P6, P7, and P10) confirmed with "fulfilment in the work that I do". P9 confirmed with "adding value by making things better- social, giving back" and P12 with "true to self-being oneself".

It appears that the lines between self-efficacy, meaningfulness, creating value and fulfilment overlapped and often merged. Because of this co-mingling effect, and that these were referenced in multiple terms, they were clustered together as one code. These findings suggest meaningfulness in multiple variations as a motivator. This aligns with the Centered Leadership Model (Barsh and Cranston, 2009).

All Interviewees spoke of confidence, either because they surfaced it or at the end of the interview, it was raised in a clarifying question. Six of the sample were simply confident (P1, P7, P6, and P4), three of those (P1, P3, and P12) said they had never really thought about it. Nine spoke about positive frames.

Turning to the Survey for verification, five (P1, P3, P4, P7, P11, and P12) confirmed with "never thought about confidence, just did it". P9 confirmed with "positive frame on own fears". P2 confirmed with "positive frame on own insecurities, or lack of confidence". Eight out of eleven confirmed this influence.

P2's positive frame on a lack of confidence, quote.

"Confidence is a completely different issue. [Chuckle] And I think, again, and you will see that generally, so most of us who've been management consultants early in our career, the big five, we all have this inner drive, and a lot of it is based on a lack of self-confidence... it's mechanical, and it's exactly how we are wired... So it's a combination of something I learnt, being pretty good at sports when I was young, that you can always work harder and drive better results, and it only depends on how much input you're willing... to put on something. You can always jump longer and run faster, and it's a bit that mentality. With this kind of stress of, 'Yeah I'm not quite there, I'm not quite there.' It's about being able to see what the next step is and then trying to achieve it. And that's a key driver. And again, it's not a unique thing. I've noticed that quite widely... that's what makes you work harder than anybody else and give it your all. In a sense, it's wanting to prove yourself."

Four (P2, P4, P7, and P9) had worked at the "Big Five" consulting firms and confirmed the positive frame on a lack of confidence. P 3, P5, and P10 also confirmed in the survey. P5, quote.

"A lack of security... I would say it has been probably a coping mechanism to... the doubts I was having. And the coping mechanism is to push myself, to take risk, to go ahead, to aspire for change, new things, challenges that you could and so on, and being in the motion."

Two spoke about confidence in both code categories, P3 and P1, quote.

"I think... that validation takes you to a different level... There were times of consciousness in myself when I got promoted and I realized that, wow, suddenly I kind of blossomed even more... not that I behaved differently, I think I became a lot more confident and then realized that, 'Okay, I'm actually good at something' or 'I must be really effective,' and in a way, you kind of grow into a role."

Ten spoke about positive frames respectively on "challenges ahead", "pushbacks", "ability to respond to whatever would happen", "find a way", "work it out" and or "solving problems".

All eleven confirmed in the survey. Three (P3, P5, P6) confirmed with "Sense that I had the ability to respond to whatever would happen". Five (P1, P2, P4, P5, P6, and P9) confirmed with "sense that I could work things out, 'find a way' around walls. P10 confirmed "just ploughed through barriers, didn't think". The findings appear to suggest that it may take a positive frame to not be concerned about an issue. Five (P3, P11, P7, P1, and P4) confirmed with "never thought about confidence, just did it". P9 confirmed with "positive frames on own fear(s)", quote

"I'm a risk-taker, so if things get easier just like my job now is getting too easy, it's become boring... A fear and a risk is actually something pushing you to move forward... I mean there's always fear, as you launch new product, you fear whether you will be successful or not... And if you don't have that way of handling fear, you will not move... So, you will do all the risk mitigation things you can do but that doesn't mean the risk will go away."

Nine of the sample spoke about self connection and commitment and in this way being true to oneself. P5, quote.

"Yes, I see that as an asset... coming from a very... the grounded world, it's just the way it is, and I am who I am. And that's probably helped me, yes."

The option "positive frame on challenges" that emerged from the interviews was omitted from the follow-up survey.21

Whether its positive frames on one's ability to respond to events or on fears or lack of confidence, these findings appear to point to the ability to take what would be perceived of as a negative and engage it positively or to a positive result. This was present across the sample in one form or another.

Six (P4, P5, P7, P10, P11, and P12) of the interviewees informed that executive coaching had a positive impact on their development, only three of the six (P5, P10, P11) surfaced this without being asked. Three (P10, P11 and P4) said it had directly influenced their TLR decision and they had personally hired their own coaches, beyond that provided by the organization. P5 and P7 said it had influenced their development. P7, quote.

"I think in my case, it wasn't so much of... in that context of making a decision, but I think it was more in terms of... Getting a better perspective in terms of what is needed to succeed. So your perception of what is required to succeed versus what other stakeholders and the peers and seniors, et cetera perceive in terms of what it takes to succeed and how that would help then change your game plan in terms of what you want to do. And also, your perception of yourself and how others perceive you. I think getting that feedback also was very helpful."

P5, quote.

"It's a combination of people that have inspired me, or managers that have given me the opportunity to grow. I have had two experiences as well of coaching both when I was at the first company and then the second one and that those coaching experience helped me as well significantly. So it's combination personal, family and professional."

P4, quote.

"So the coaching, I think was probably the single line that helps me the most."

P1, who had only experienced coaching after decades in TLRs, said, quote.

"I'm sure it would help a lot of women. I'm pretty sure if I had a lot more coaching, I could probably do better and get to where I got to faster or more consciously get there... I'm sure it could have short cut some stuff, but I think the raw materials have to be there."

The "coaching" category was omitted from the follow-up survey, because the need to include it was discovered during the QDA software coding process22.

There were leaders in the sample who had taken on TLRs without experiencing coaching. The data that emerged from P1, P2, P4, P6, P7, and P 12 interviews suggests that the majority of the sample made their decisions to go for TLRs earlier in their careers. For P10, P11, and P5, the coaching process helped their decision making. P3 never had time to even think about it. The decision making process for all of the sample involved evaluating the quality and circumstances of the organization, etc.

It appears that some of the major influences and motivations were formulated earlier. For example the extreme competitive conditions in the third world start at school age. The drive to be on top to assure a better life (i.e. P5, P6, P7).

The following word clouds support the findings and facilitated the formulations of the conclusions.


11. Indian, mainland Chinese and South East Asian Chinese diaspora.
12. North American and European.
13. British, Italian, and French.
14. Although this is a qualitative study, it is worth footnoting that 18 % is in line with OECD numbers for industrialized countries (15%) and English speaking countries (20%). According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2011), 15% of children live in single parent households worldwide, and women head approximately 85% of these households. A 2013 report by Pew Foundation indicated the number of primary breadwinning mothers represented forty percent (40%) of households with children in the USA, four times the rate from 1960.
15. Of the sample in the Skinner study of eleven participants, three were from level 4, five from level 3 and three form level 2.
16. This was an unintended consequence of the break in the iterative process caused by the delay in my decision as to which QDA software to engage.
17. Again, it is not known whether this is a result of more reflection time or the power of suggestion.
19. P1 responded in her survey with the following: "Making a positive contribution to life- this came much later in life; Desire to contribute to society- never really conscious till recent years; Adding value by making things better – social, giving back -very important in the last 5 years or so; Contribution to society, Sustainability-Climate Change - last 5 years".
20. One participant from the Barsh and Cranston, Mckinsey study also participated in this study.
21. This was because the need to include it was not discovered until the QDA software coding process was underway. This was an unintended consequence of the break in the iterative process cause by the delay in my decision as to which QDA software to engage.
22. This was an unintended consequence of the break in the iterative process cause by the delay in my decision as to which QDA software to engage.

Conclusions and Recommendations


My conclusions break out into two sections. First, those influences and motivations (Appendices 11 and 12B) that appear to be hard wired, part of the leaders' "DNA", and formulated in early age. These inform about the resources that these leaders had available to reference for support. Second, those that represent aspects that are potentially coachable to a positive outcome, particularly if the latter resources are present in and available to a coachee as they provide a strong foundation to support development. There are four points in each section from which I have drawn conclusions and they interconnect on one influence that has a base in both sections. The diagram (Figure 3) below outlines these two quadrilaterals, which guide us though the conclusions.

Turning to the first quadrilateral of influences / motivations present in all of the sample, drive, and desire to win and or for change, intellectual curiosity, validating experiences in youth and support. The validating experiences (whether with sports, academics, or self-reliance) enabled the leaders to develop at an early age discipline and endurance which influenced their attitudes towards work and work practices. I hypothesize that if the aforementioned are present in a leader then these findings may offer support, where applicable, the coaching of the attributes in the lower quadrilateral. The fourth aspect, support, was present in all of the sample, either organically from their families and relationships within their respective organizations or proactively created and or obtained by the leaders.

The mental model that gives one permission to and enables one to obtain support for oneself, when not automatically present, is fertile ground for coaching. This puts "support" and the obtaining there of in the second section.

It's noteworthy that the two single women proactively sought support, as they were the bread winners in the family. Does the same permission exist for the majority of women who do have spouses or is this seen as abdicating motherhood responsibilities? Coaching explorations are called for here.

Research on the mind-set that enables women to obtain support for themselves from non-traditional sources, with regard to childcare and other family issues, is recommended. Since there is a question of generalisability with QDA, we could learn from more research into the mind-sets of women leaders (below TLRs) to answer the following research questions. Is there some self permission and or ownership of one's mind-set that is needed? Would different choices be made had there been permission to approach the subject with a fresh lens? Coaching could also facilitate awareness of support options.


Moving clockwise to the second and lead differentiating conclusion in this study, the setting of and or owning boundaries with regard to one's self and work, individuation. All of the sample were individuated23 (Jung, 1921, Von Franz, 1972 and 1977). At one end of the spectrum, P9, the youngest with no children and a partner, took full ownership of her perspective and mind-set about work with no limits. She took as her own the "no limits" of her agenda. She "loved work" and she clearly chose to "marry" it. All in the sample, at varying points in the spectrum made up their own minds about their lives and there was no vestige of being a victim of one's own decision.

At the other end of the spectrum, P1 and P3 set very clear boundaries and succeed at doing it their way. As P1 said we "women need to work smarter" not the way they have necessarily been told to do the work. After all it's delivering the business not about how you do it. These are the thoughts of individuated beings. They knew what was needed to deliver the business and took the risk of delivering it in their own way. Facilitating individuation (Jung, 1921, Von Franz, 1972 and 1977) has been the territory of therapists (initially) and now coaches24. P5 and P11 acknowledged coaching as part of the individuating process. This is contrary to the conventional perspective that if you want a TLR, it's all or nothing. Their individuation (Jung, 1921, Von Franz, 1972 and 1977) was also brought to bear on the way in which the sample without automatic support obtained it. I conclude more coaching in this area could prove productive.

The factor of individuation also aligns with what Susan Pinker (2008) called for. Many women just accept doing what they are told according to the schedule the men set and in the way the men have done it and want it done. In this way they are unconsciously behaving like good daughters (Woodman, 1985 and Von Franz, 1977, 1980b). This is in contrast to the way these individuated leaders did it. The latter just got on with it, in their own ways, whether their own ways aligned with the male model or not. That having been said, the caveat needs to be recognized that different roles also call for different adaptations.

The aforementioned does not distract from the call for a transformed work environment that takes into account the entire system (Slaughter, 2015). This research suggests that individuation on the part of more executives will further our ability to achieve that transformation. Further, regarding find ways to work smarter in alignment with human priorities (Slaughter, 2015), new ways are also being sought by all countries needing to comply with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)25. For example, many ways in which women would like to change the delivery of business points to the innovations also required to deliver on the SDGs26. Research that looks at the nexus of these two objectives is recommended.

The salience of the final two influences that inform coaching to support leaders in the decision to take TLRs is that they align with two of the five elements of the Centered Leadership Model (Barsh and Cranston, 2009): meaning and positive framing. It appears fitting that two of the factors that enable women to thrive in leadership enable them to take it on. Meaning and positive framing are in the domain of coaching. Regarding the former, coaching facilitates the discovery and exploration of one's own meaning and alignment with it. Regarding the latter, this is the shifting of a mental model and the learned practice of maintaining it. This is the journey to Personal Mastery (Senge, 1990) and the discovery, fine tuning and ownership of one's Mental Models (Senge, 1990) and individuation (Jung, 1921, Von Franz, 1972 and 1977).

Additional recommendations, considering that the gender pay gap widens with seniority (Frank, 2015), and that a Pew Foundation report indicated the numbers of primary breadwinning mothers represented forty percent (40%) of households with children in the USA in 2013, research is called for on the combined impact of the aforementioned on decisions to take TLRs.

In closing, in order to reach demographically representative numbers of women in TLRs, there would be benefit in providing coaching for high potential candidates regarding TLRs not only near the time they may consider opportunities but also early on in the preparatory phases of the executives' leadership learning journey.


23. According to Jungian psychology, individuation (German: Individuation) is a process of psychological integration. "In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology." (Jung, 1921)
24. The Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) has been coaching mental models for over 25 years with research to support its success along with other coaching organizations. In SoL terminology, this is Mental Model work, in Jungian terminology, this is the work of individuating.
25. Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals to Transform our World
26. Pilots, and the crew are limited as to how many flights they are permitted due to health and safety concerns. Download PDF



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