Many Israelis know that Shimon Peres had brought a new way of working to the office of the president, and one visit to the presidential palace is all it takes to see how. Efrat Duvdevani, Peres’s Director General, welcomed me on a sunny afternoon when tourists filled the streets of old Jerusalem and military officials prepared a swearing-in ceremony for new soldiers at the historic Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
Duvdevani has worked with Peres for over seventeen years, since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and brings with her a belief in the power of female management and the importance of placing women in senior roles: “All the leading positions here are the Office of the President are held by women, most of them mothers,” Duvdevani told us. In her office, we found about a dozen crowded around a low table set with pots of tea and cold water—Duvdevani wants everyone involved in the conversation, so everyone gets a seat. The women who joined us, and they were all women, held top positions as aides and advisers, and the main point they wanted to make was that collaboration, not ego, made the place work. “Today the workforce requires excellence and an ability to combine different fields, to work together and to put ego aside. My approach to management is based upon cooperation, brainstorming together and getting everybody’s input, it is an approach built for the complex environment in which we operate. The traits needed for this approach to work shine through with women.”
Today, an emergent form of leadership is taking hold, based on the skills and competencies of women (and the men who can think like them). In our new book, The Athena Doctrine, Michael D’Antonio (my co-author) and I surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries, while traveling to 18 others and meeting with some of the most innovative leaders and thinkers of our time. Some were young, while others were “thinking young”.
“He knows that women think about the consequences of what they do,” explained Duvdevani about her boss. When asked to elaborate on the president’s point, she suggested why not ask him? ourselves. Minutes later, ushered past security guards and into the office where the president worked, Peres sprang out of the chair and began a discussion around what he considers one of society’s most profound issues – the critical importance of women in creating a more peaceful, harmonious society. He immediately recalled that when he had recently visited the White House, “President Obama asked me, ‘What’s holding back democracy and peace in the Middle East?’ I answered him by saying, ‘The husbands.’” Too many husbands and fathers inhibit the region’s progress toward peace by failing to educate their children, he said, and by discouraging their wives and daughters from getting involved in larger society. If they could conduct the dialogue, Arab women and Jewish women would create peace in short order, he said. “But right now too many husbands won’t let their wives participate.”
Peres said that the world has reached a moment of transformation that made him feel optimistic and excited. First, social technology allows for people to discover the truth about their leaders, to build mass movements for change, and to rally people to action. Second, Peres noted that there are no longer any national economies—only one global economy. As a result, global corporations “are unintentionally in the position of being asked to fulfill a moral role,” he said. “A global company cannot afford to be racist because you cannot sell your products all over the world without goodwill. They must be multicultural and multinational. Globalization opens eyes.” When eyes are opened, “it’s hard to behave like a dictator because dictators can only operate in darkness.”
The president spoke enthusiastically of his late-life conversion to what he called a “more feminine” leadership style that emphasizes flexibility, humility, diversity of opinion, and service. “We are in a new world with many old minds, and the task is to adapt yourself,” he said. A modern leader “is there to serve”.
Once a hawk, now a dove, Shimon Peres showed by example how both a man and a country can evolve. Israel cannot afford to leave the strengths of women on the sidelines as it develops into a mature country, and, Peres insisted, the world cannot thrive by neglecting the feminine half of human nature. Late in life, he has come to live and lead by this perspective as an old lion of the Zionist cause.
DLD has the mission to create a network of innovation, digitization, science, and culture which connects business, creative, and social leaders for crossover conversation and inspiration. This year’s conference theme, “Breaking New Ground,” resonates with me. As I sit in a hotel lobby in Tel-Aviv on my book tour, I’m reminded of the Hebrew word tmura, which means both “metamorphosis” and “gift of transcendent value.” It is through adapting to a social, transparent and independent world that will empower leaders in the years to come.
When John Gerzema met Efrat, she did not want her picture taken without her entire staff present and on that day several were out or traveling. Doesn't that speak volume? In his new book “The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule The Future”, John Gerzema examines the rise of feminine traits and values with Pulitzer-Prize winner Michael D’Antonio. At DLDw13 he talks about how collaboration, a primarily female characteristic, is the key skill in the future of business.