It is rare – I have come to realize that. 25 years at the same company, starting in an entry level position at 21 years old and rising through various leadership positions of the organization to reach the executive ranks – one of only 2 women around the board room table – by the age of …well, you can do the math!
Only coming to realize how unique this scenario was and how so many other people, so many other women were watching when I made the difficult decision to leave. You see, I loved this company and I was determined to be the best reflection of what it was to me – the culture, the history, the care, the heart. Don’t get me wrong, we faced all those things you just don’t escape in the corporate world – tough quarters, ineffective leaders, company politics, failed acquisitions, employee relations issues and even an SEC investigation! But I learned from them all and no day was about me – it was about my role as a leader – how I was going to inspire my team that day, face the latest challenge and do what was best for this company that allowed me to come in every day and make a difference – and to be myself. Rare!
As I reflect on what has been described as the “legacy” I left behind (wow, still so humbling to hear!), I think about what contributed to such a unique opportunity, why it left such a mark and how other leaders, other women might thrive as I did.
And after 25 years, I captured seven noteworthy leadership lessons that are anchored by ONE important practice – be intentional in the HOW. HOW you show up each day, HOW you engage with others, HOW you lead. As these leadership lessons influence HOW I approach my next chapter, I hope they find a way to also inspire you…
- Authenticity is underrated. Early in my career I was told that I would be successful if I just “act like a man”. Really? Regardless of what is required by the organization, the best leaders find a way to stay true to their values, beliefs AND style. Whatever it is for you, you can honor yourself by engaging in the world around you, internalizing what is going on and listening to your heart.
- Servant leadership isn’t just another buzz word. Selfless leaders lead for the organization, bleed for others in the company…not their own ego. Doing this will return 10x what you put in – promise!
- Laughter is the best medicine. How you show up every day sets the tone. You don’t always realize the impact you have on others just by a smile or a laugh.
- Bring others along. You can have a culture of collaboration without consensus building and you might be surprised how such little effort – to check-in, to ask questions, to encourage discussion – goes a long way with empowering teams and building trust.
- Be their Champion. That is your job. The higher up in the organization you go, the less work you really do. Your job is to be looking out for your team and creating the forums and the environment for them to do their best work.
- Be kind. People remember how you made them feel. Will there be days you are angry, disappointed, overwhelmed? Yes. Be kind anyway. The smallest act of kindness or appreciation makes the longest lasting impression.
- Find your voice. Others want to hear what you have to say. Have confidence to walk into that room and contribute. For some, it is about filling air space – but the best leaders show up ready – with their unique, authentic perspective.