What Leadership Lesson Are You Most Thankful For?

by Gloria Feldt on November 24th, 2011
in 9 Ways Blog, Heartfeldt Leadership Advice, Inspiration, Leadership, No Excuses, Personal Relationships, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is an advice column where I’m supposed to answer your questions. But this Thanksgiving, I’m shaking things up in my life, so I turned the tables and asked some fabulous women leaders this question:

What leadership lesson are you most thankful for?

The outpouring of responses made me exceedingly grateful. Not a turkey among them.

Here with a Thanksgiving feast of delicious wisdom you can savor calorie-free—and use all year.

Saying grace (and listening to it)

Anita Sands last year at age 34 became COO of UBS Wealth Management Americas, and is one of the smartest and best grounded leaders I know. She credits her father with her most important leadership lesson: “common sense is not the common.” Not surprisingly, she then resonated with this advice:

My first boss when I was a young academic really trained me in how to “think”. The first thing he told me was that people who can find the answers are a dime a dozen but people who know what are the right questions to ask are really valuable. So I’ve always tried to employ that skill as a leader – am I asking the right questions, what question is not being asked in the room.

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Roberta Voss, realtor and former Arizona state legislator says she’s most grateful for this advice: “Listen. Gather input from those in the room and then surmise the group conscience succinctly while weaving your thoughts into the comment. The listening offers respect, the summation demonstrates your understanding, the whole process exhibits leadership.” (I also love that her Facebook page quotes Dr Seuss):

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.

Jill Miller Zimon , award winning writer, blogger, and Pepper Pike OH city councilwoman, shared this excellent communication style advice:

I’m grateful for the advice I’ve received multiple times over the years to drop “I think…” or phrases like that from my speech. Such phrases insert doubt and women often speak or present their opinions in these ways let that make it easy for others to discount them, as if they (the women) are already giving permission to be discounted by discounting the opinion first by introducing it with the phrase, “I think that…” or “I believe that…” when instead we should just be making the straight up assertion. Show confidence in what you want to assert. If people are going to doubt what you are saying, let them find a reason – no need to give them one or plant the idea that they should.

Humor helps

From Jennifer Brunner, former OH secretary of state and founder of Courage PAC:

I have been fortunate to have a long-term “promoter” and friend, a man who has been one of Ohio’s premier lobbyists for decades. More than two decades ago, I was frustrated in not being able to effectively obtain the help of the state’s longest serving Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. I was working for a statewide office holder, but the Speaker was not happy with him. My friend told me, “Jennifer, the Speaker can only be mad at five people at one time. If he’s mad at too many, he has too much to keep track of. Eventually, your boss will fall off the list, and you’ll be able to get what you want.”

In addition to helping me learn vigilance, patience, and timing, this lesson helped me when I became an elected statewide office holder, myself. It translated this way for me: “Work to resolve the issues you may have with people whom you perceive have done you wrong.”

A pinch of sage

Ann Veneman is a role model for me. She has held amazing top leadership positions in both public and private sectors. She sits on several corporate boards, served as Secretary of Agriculture, and was Executive Director of UNICEF. Ann gave a whole leadership philosophy in one breath, “I have learned that good leaders provide vision and think out of the box, they recruit good talent and build high performing teams, they welcome input and are good listeners, they are strategic and are good collaborators, and they foster innovation and connect the dots.”

Bonnie Marcus, Executive Coach, Professional Speaker, and Self Promotion Expert (I’ll be a guest on her new radio show, GPS Your Career Nov. 28!) shares this sage advice:

I was attending a Transformational Speaking workshop with Gail Larsen and she says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” I had a very successful corporate career but often it was difficult to be myself and I would often find myself behaving in a fashion that I thought was more acceptable in a male dominated environment. Now I realize the importance of being yourself to not only connect with your value and power, but also to give you the confidence to trust your instincts and understand that you have the ability to be successful if you draw on your own talent and strengths.

And BlogHer’s own COO and co-founder, Elisa Camahort Page shares the best advice she and other co-founders Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins ever got. It was when they were seeking their first round of funding, from Flikr founder Caterina Fake: “People, terms, valuation”

Meaning first you want to make decisions based on the people…do you trust them? Do they trust you? Do they get you? Will they bring value, not just money. Then prioritize good, fair, long-term beneficial contract terms over a fancy high valuation that you may not ultimately benefit from if the terms are terrible. To me, the message is all about thinking long-term, thinking big picture and not getting seduced by bright shiny objects.

Ah yes, the “bright shiny objects” problem. I’m way too easily seduced! Thanks, Elisa, for reminding me.

Soul food

Feeding one’s own spirit is as important as edible nourishment, and sharing with others is part of that.

Help a Mother Out Co-founder & Executive Director Lisa Truong is a social entrepreneur and grassroots advocate for women and children. Every baby deserves a clean diaper & no mom should have to choose between food or diapers. Believing that “small things = big impact”, Lisa says “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get smart and capable people involved. I had a great manager once who modeled that for me. I learned it’s not about ‘me,’ but about ‘we.’ Great leaders empower others to do their best and value their contributions.

Claudia Chan is a Women’s Lifestyle Journalist, Entrepreneur, Co-Owner of Sheckys.com, and a mentor with Step Up Women’s Network . She’s most grateful for “recognizing the significance of humility. And that no matter how much a leader achieves there will always be more areas where we can grow, learn and improve on. Humility enables us to see these opportunities.”

Elayne Clift, writer & journalist; women’s health educator & advocate; feisty feminist credits Shakespeare and Heraclitus with teaching her “To thine own self be true” & “Change is the only reality.” As she quips they are “Not exactly contemporaries but they are guiding principles in my personal & professional life.”

I personally felt my soul move when I received Leadership consultant Dana Theus’s powerful words: “The moment after you take a risk, the world is the same. Only you have changed.”

The gravy

There was such an outpouring of response that I couldn’t begin to incorporate all of them into one post, or it would take so long to read that you’d miss Black Friday. So there will be Second Helpings—more to come in my next column December 6.

Meanwhile, please share your reactions in the comments section and add your answer to this question:

What leadership advice are you most grateful for?

Then, if you’re enjoying these helpful bites of advice from fabulous women leaders, share the question on your social media with a link back to this post. Invite people in your networks to join the conversation.

I am grateful to you, and wish you a very wonderful Thanksgiving.

This post was originally published in BlogHer Career.  Check it and all my every-other-week leadership Q and A columns out there. Got an example to share?  Got a question you’d like me to address in a future column?  Please comment here or e-mail me.

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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