There would be inspirational accounts of women who sacrificed for others and musings on my own (albeit halting) efforts to lift as I climb, as well as stories of women business leaders. After all, nothing motivates women (me included) more than women forging successful paths and reporting back on their adventures. (They did it; so can we!)
Lessons in Leadership
Read the posts below for musings on women and leadership from the minutia of managing our own to-do lists to the big picture of electrifying people and resources in the service of grandest visions.
Recently I was invited to address the Richmond Chapter of Executive Women International (EWI) at its annual scholarship dinner. I decided to use the opportunity to share some of my ideas about one of life’s most underutilized power tools: storytelling.
I thought a “What’s Your Story?” theme could speak compellingly to both the businesswomen of EWI and their young college-bound scholarship recipients. I mentioned Maya Angelou (storyteller extraordinaire) during my remarks, not knowing that she was on her deathbed and would pass away soon thereafter.
In retrospect, I can imagine no better way to honor her, a preeminent interpreter of the human experience, than encouraging people to tell their own stories.
Jenny Holmgrain is a college student who is busy mounting her first camp, as the founder and co-director of Camp Kesem VCU. While other students are studying, partying or loafing, Holmgrain is raising funds, recruiting staff and creating a safe haven for kids.
The student-run chapter of a national organization hopes to host 30 campers—all children affected by a parent’s cancer—at a free weeklong residential camp at Camp Horizons, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a cause close to my heart—both Holmgrain and I lost our fathers to cancer.
I’m reminded of my dad as I watch the #banbossy and #bossyandproud hashtags fly on Twitter. He was committed to cultivating my leadership potential and I’m sure that if he were still alive, he would be on Team Bossy and Proud. More importantly, he would expect me to have my own opinion on the subject and to put forth a well-reasoned defense of my view, whether I agreed with him or not. He was that kind of a father–and lawyer.
Team Ban Bossy led by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and “Lean In” author, posits that the term “bossy” is disproportionately applied to girls and inhibits their leadership aspirations. Her BanBossy.com website, launched in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of the USA, offers tips and tools for fostering ambition in girls.
While the literal notion of outlawing the word “bossy” is absurd, the underlying call to be conscious and intentional in the labels we apply to ourselves and others is spot on. As the mother of a daughter, the spirit of the Ban Bossy campaign resonates with me. Upon hearing of it, I immediately (and only half jokingly) began referring to my 2-year-old’s incessant demands as “displays of executive leadership potential,” instead of something less complimentary. So, hat tip to Sandberg and the Girl Scouts for raising the issue of gender bias in a catchy enough way to engage the public.
Sarah Rinaldi whisked into my life when she marched a crew of men into my kitchen to film a documentary on my husband. Within minutes, I knew she would make an excellent interview subject. She was a skilled, heart-led producer and an engaging conversationalist. While there to interview Shaka and me, she gamely allowed me to quiz her on the spot and follow up with a phone interview.
Her career path from lowly production assistant on “The Winner Next Door” to Emmy Award-winning producer is inspiring–and instructive. She exemplifies success earned through a signature mix of audacity and industry. Read on to discover how a “just say yes” mantra has fueled her achievement, and what she wishes older women had told her about the pursuit of excellence.
- Name: Sarah Rinaldi
- Age: 37
- Work: Television Producer/Director
- Education: Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Amherst College
The scene plays itself out several times a game. There comes a moment when an official’s whistle blows (or doesn’t blow) and the crowd erupts in indignation. Sometimes a flagrant (we think), uncalled foul sets us off. Other times the provocation is more contested—a missed 5-second violation, a blown out-of-bounds call, inconsistent foul reads. Whatever the perceived injustice, boos rumble through the crowd like thunder.
That’s my moment. I wait for the quiet after the outrage, then scream, “Win anyway, Rams!”
An article titled “The Legend of Wendy Davis” will appear in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this weekend. Unfortunately, the web version of Robert Draper’s story, which is live now, is called “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?” The silly online headline weakens the power of an otherwise compelling profile of a politician on the rise.
No, Wendy Davis can’t have it all. No woman (or man for that matter) can. And such questions are only directed at women–a point that the article illustrates well. If a Wendell, rather than a Wendy, were running for governor of Texas no reporters or opponents would be asking where his children were while he attended Harvard Law School or just how much of his success he could take credit for given that his spouse helped pay college and law school bills.
At 32, Katherine Wintsch hit a maternal wall, a barrier more pronounced and intractable than any glass ceiling. The high-powered marketing executive and mother of two small children was simply too exhausted—mentally and physically—to carry on.
“I just could not continue the life that I had anymore and I could not continue the expectations that I had for myself anymore,” she says. “I looked around me and I saw all the trappings of success that would cause anybody from the outside world to think that I was very happy, and I wasn’t happy.”
She spent two years working through that dilemma with a signature mix of Oprah-inspired introspection, therapy and life coaching, and emerged the CEO of a mom-focused marketing firm with global impact.
Today she makes it her business to turn the challenges of motherhood, which she knows intimately, into growth opportunities for brands, including Walmart, Kellogg, Colgate and Johnson & Johnson. She travels the world researching moms in all walks of life and then works with companies to develop products that better serve them. Talk about work-life alignment.
- Name: Katherine Wintsch
- Age: 37
- Work: Founder and CEO of The Mom Complex
- Family: Husband Richard; Children Layla (6) and Alex (4)
- Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing from James Madison University; Master’s degree in communication from the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter
The Having-It-All Myth strikes again. I stumbled upon this gem in ESSENCE’s round-up of shining moments of 2013:
“Mellody Hobson is much more than just the new wife of billionaire filmmaker George Lucas. The Ariel Investments president serves on several boards, including the Starbucks Corp., and is chairwoman of the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation SKG. She’s also a regular on-air financial contributor for outlets like the Tom Joyner Morning Show and CBS. As if that were not enough, she and Lucas also welcomed their first child, Everest, who was born by surrogate in August. Who says we can’t have it all?”
Umm, I do. And I bet Hobson would agree.
Sure, she was the youngest of six children raised by a single mom in inner-city Chicago and went on to Princeton and great professional success. But despite what the magazine quips, I suspect Hobson would contest the outdated notion that she now “has it all.”
She has a lot, certainly. But she could probably name without hesitation several things that she doesn’t have—sleep for one. (Her work ethic and fitness routine are legendary. Pre-baby she swam at 4 a.m. and ran right after.)
I would love to hear her discuss the trade-offs, sacrifices and compromises that underpin her success. After all, one of her signature expressions is “Don’t major in the minor.” Clearly, she sets priorities, focuses energy and executes over the long haul.
She touts patient, value-oriented investments for a living. Her voice soothed viewers of Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight years ago when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and fools spoke of putting money in gold or mattresses. “Don’t just do something, stand there,” she counseled, urging viewers to stay the course.
Hobson has bolstered financial literacy among women and minorities. She’s offered excellent, practical money management advice in media outlets from morning shows to magazines. Her investment firm even sponsors a public school on the south side of Chicago and teaches sound investment principles to its students and community.
She’s an inspiration and worthy of all the positive media coverage she receives. But make no mistake, she’s not a role model because she has it all. Rather, she’s a wise woman because she defined her own specific vision of success and worked it.
Mellody, if you’re out there, let me interview you!
The choice of Janet Echelman’s work to illustrate the Harvard Business Review article “Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers” opens up a much larger—and, to me, more inspiring—debate about how women become true leaders.
Echelman’s work hints at the inner vision, that needs to happen for us to lead in any context. In this debate, rethinking the corporate workspace is no longer central; instead, it’s about freeing ourselves from traditional paths to seek out and pursue our own creative potential, guided by a grand vision.