After being invited to write an article for VBJ on Women in Business, I posted the question “What is the most important step (or steps) you took to achieve a position of leadership?” on Facebook on February 7, 2019. Ten comments, six direct messages, eight emails and one text later, here are the answers (in full) from the polled women:
Stepping Into Leadership
Cathy Lisoski Baillargeon
“The most important step I took to achieve a position of leadership started with saying ‘Yes.’ Yes to a position that would push me out of my comfort zone and stretch me personally and professionally. Yes to getting involved in organizations and volunteering my time. Yes to meeting new people. Saying yes was the first step of many to get to where I am now, and I am so thankful I did.” @salsburyandco
“Leadership roles as a woman are still challenging. I have spent all my career working in male dominated industries, first printing and now construction. The number one thing I learned early on was that for my voice to be heard, the team needed to know that I understood their perspective and I needed to earn their respect.
In printing, that meant being out on the production floor working alongside the pressroom, bindery, mail room, inserting, and shipping. I needed to fully understand all of what these guys did – and when there was an issue – I needed to be right beside them helping figure out the solution – not sitting in an office giving directives. Sometimes that meant jumping into a dumpster to help find useable copy, talking with the press about what was challenging on a job and what they thought was the best solution, helping to locate a missing pallet- whatever it was that was going on in their departments – I was there. Learning how they think, how they work, how they communicate – this gave me the foundation that over time made me part of them and gained their respect.
Today, I have the pleasure to work alongside my husband, and the challenges are different but still with hurdles. The most difficult aspect for me coming to work with my husband as chief of operations and co-owner, is that I am frequently stereotyped as the ‘secretary wife’. The most disgruntling aspect of that is it is usually other females outside of our industry that make that assumption. My message to all women would be: make it a goal to celebrate the professional women around you, because fragments of the glass ceiling still exist.”
“I acted like a leader before I had a position of leadership. I just did the work – I had an idea, structured it, got others involved and did it. You may not be given a clear title or scope of authority, but usually you can still get things done. People may use words to try and stop you, but they will rarely actually do anything concrete to stop you. All of us can impact the circles we’re in – do good things and treat people well.”
“When thinking about what steps I took to advance my career and life I can’t help but think of two things. I was brave when I thought there was no way and I ran towards the roar. Grit and showing up, it all starts there.”
“I’d say the most important step I took was to create my own way of working that was different than the agency I was at. There was a point where my boss had wanted to promote me but the CEO said no – he wanted a more “brand name” planner to lead the department. That rejection was absolutely freeing. I ended up moving to Seattle from LA to be closer to my family. And the distance from work – I still worked in LA but was much more remote – gave me the opportunity to work in a way that was way more in sync with who I was. The culture was very hierarchical – top down influence, big formal meetings, lots of “selling” and convincing. I never felt comfortable in that culture though they are very successful – it just was never me. I started to work in a way that was flatter, more collaborative. I would call my clients and have quick, 10 minute check-in’s on something small I was thinking about. I started to listen more and talk less, to believe the answer would present itself rather than to work for it. Within a year, the agency came back to me asking me to take the job that I hadn’t been “brand name” enough for. Creating and executing my own vision was what got me noticed.”
“’Being mentored. Becoming a mentor.’
I am the leader I am due to the leaders I have had. Armed with an MBA from an Ivy League school, my first boss at an international advertising agency recognized that my book smart was not impactful smart. He showed me how to toggle between the creative and business cultures by listening well, finding common ground, and setting clear goals. He invested his time in giving me the hard and soft skills I needed, he needed, the business needed. This patient mentoring was critical to my success as it was real-time, real-world. As I moved into positions of increasing responsibility, I followed his example, prioritizing mentoring those I worked with; taking time to share my knowledge and experience. Who knew mentoring is leadership? My first boss did. I do. It made and makes all the difference.”
Valerie Bovey Hooks
“I have been thinking about this. I think for me it is a variety of things. It is being available. When things come up in areas I believe in and help is needed I say ‘yes’ even when I am uncomfortable doing it. I hate failing but one of the biggest things I continuously work on is to have the mindset that failure isn’t a stopping point but a step. How can I use this hard moment to make the next thing I do better? I see connections in the struggles I had in the past to my wins in the future and work to encourage others to do the same. Every time I do something out of my comfort zone I learn, even if I didn’t do it well. Leadership to me is the willingness to take action and have the grit to keep going when things get hard.”
Teresa L. Rider
“Sometimes life just opens paths that you weren’t really expecting or looking for. That’s when you need to be open to new ideas and be ready to jump! In my case, an employment door actually closed that I was expecting, which led me to start my own business freelancing. As I look back on it now I do believe that my lack of hesitation in moving forward and belief in myself and my profession is what propelled me to leadership of my own firm, two terms as president of our state association, countless national committees and may speaking engagements over the years.”
“Putting yourself out there and applying for positions just to see what might happen.”
“Whew, so many things come to mind when I read that question.
But the first thing(s) that stuck out for me is
- Focusing on what you’re doing and what you’re doing ONLY. Comparison is such a hindrance and truly takes us away from our unique gifts.
- Leading by example to the best of your ability. In everything! In how you speak to people, how you “show up” (appearance, energy, attitude) and always remaining humble and human. You must be able to receive criticism and feedback just as much as your doling it out.”
Annie Davidson Hieronymus
“Leadership isn’t a personality trait, it’s a verb. For me, achieving leadership isn’t a goal — positive change is the goal! I focus on the action steps necessary to achieve change. Leadership is just a natural outcome of being the one to step up and implement change.”
S. Paige Vinson
“There are many steps that I took to get in my leadership position and yet the real answer is in how a leader naturally behaves or learns to behave if it does not come naturally to be a great leader. If you are a leader and act like one, you will get there eventually. The best behaviors are: #1 Always doing the right thing and if you do not know what the right thing is in a situation, find out. #2 Do not be afraid to take an intelligent risk to strive for what you think you cannot do. No one learns how to be a leader without trying and failing a time or two. That brings me to #3 and the most important. Do not stop trying. Period. #4 is mainly if you are a leader of people. If you lead people, you must do this or you will fail: Support and serve your people. They will not fail you or the objectives you are trying to reach if they feel supported and that comes by serving their needs as often as you can. #5 Have fun. I know that sounds weird, but it gets me everywhere. If I am enjoying my role as a leader, people look to me for direction as who would not want to follow someone that is smiling and having fun? If nothing else, just remember the first and the last rule and all else falls into place. My team rules are Do the right thing and have fun and often it is that simple. I hope this helps!”
“Stepping into a mindset of always being in service. When I understood that a true leader is a builder of a community and the only way to build a community or a tribe is to always be in service is when doors began to open for me and opportunity literally knocked. When a leader removes their agenda and create intentions instead it’s game over! Be in service from the janitor to the CEO. Treat everyone the same. Smile a lot!”
“The most important thing for me was to step into leadership. Understanding what makes a great leader, and make it happen. It’s starts by taking initiative , understanding the people you want to lead, and positively influencing them.”
Katherine Melchior Ray
“I am happy to answer your question. I am currently Chief Marketing Officer for Shiseido, Japan’s premier cosmetics company having come to Japan last year to go in-house for my client.
As you can see from my profile, I have worked in multiple industries around the world while keeping my PDX base for 25 years. My unusual multi category, multi-country career may be important for you to understand the context of my answers below.
The two steps I’ve done that have helped me achieve the leadership positions I have are following my interests and taking risks. Sometimes those two go together.
I studied Japanese culture and language in college on a whim. I had other professional interests, studying history and leading a monthly magazines on issues. I thought I would go to journalism school. I followed my unusual interest in Japan to study there after college and found an opportunity to work in a Japanese media company, where I stayed for 7 years, in Tokyo and then NY. I have leveraged that early experience working with Japan across a career in fashion, cosmetics and hospitality, working in the US, Europe and Japan three times.
Not many women take the risk to uproot their whole family, ask their spouse to put a career on hold and pull their kids out of after school activities to move not just once but twice to foreign countries. I have jumped across industries, adapting my previous experiences and knowledge to bring fresh ideas and innovation to new fields.
I worked with Jen on a client project in Paris a couple years ago with French lingerie designers and their Japanese industrialist owners. Jen mentioned how complicated my work is, trying to help multinationals bridge cultural norms to collaborate and align brand and design vision. Changing organizations and behavior is really hard and full of risk. I may be less aware of that since so much of my career has been risk-taking. Some opportunities worked out extremely well and some didn’t. And that’s where it helps to do things you love because that passion helps overcome many – but not all – of these complex challenges.”
“Self direction. And acting “as if” even if the confidence or nerve wasn’t there. Additionally, finding the right people and organizations to help guide me and give me the boost and encouragement I needed. Also, being a good follower sets the example of being a good leader. Leadership starts from any level. So don’t think because you aren’t the CEO or owner of a business, that you don’t have leadership skills.”
Amy Morgan Loudenback
“I joined the Women Entrepreneurs Organization (WEO) in 2006 shortly after starting my Visiting Angels business. It has been a great group for me, and I attribute a lot of my success to the connections and education I have received from WEO. I am currently the president of WEO, a position I am honored to hold. Important steps to achieve this? After being involved in WEO as a member, I made the decision to pursue a leadership role. I volunteered and served on the programs committee as a way to facilitate this. The WEO board is structured in that positions are held for two years, and the Program Committee Chair is also the Vice President Position. So after two years as a committee member, I served two years as the VP and now am over half way through my two year stint as president. Six years may seem like a long commitment, but this is an organization that I have felt strongly about and have enjoyed be apart of. The connections I’ve made with other business women, the experience of leading an organization and dealing with the highs and lows involved in leadership have made an impact on me. I am a better boss, I am better colleague, I am a better leader.”
“stop allowing me to hold me back. Believe in myself as much as I believe in everyone else.”
“Gosh…that should be a simple answer…I never set out to lead. I am just a very independent person. I don’t think I would call my self a leader of people. As I am not a people person. If there was something I wanted or wanted to do, I just did it. I am not a patient person, so it came faster if I did it myself. Which is also how I learned to do many of the things I have done and do. I never thought for one minute that I couldn’t. If it was something I had in mind to do. Money was also a factor. When people ask me how I learned to do some of the stuff I do, I jokingly say that I have Mercedes taste with a bicycle wallet. So, I learned to do things that I couldn’t afford to pay another to do.
I will also add, and I was just told this. That when you get that reputation as a leader, you have to be very careful what you say, because people are watching & listening. I was interviewed recently and I made a joke, but the reporter didn’t know I was joking and she published it. I thought it was funny, but people that don’t know me, might believe it. I said of course you should brush your bison. Everyone does that right?. It was a joke because…I mean its a bison…who but me would do that? lol”
“The biggest step I took toward being a woman in a position of leadership was when I finally stopped listening to people who said I couldn’t do something. once I stopped listening to people who said that, nothing could hold me back. I could do anything I set my mind to.”
“There was no step I took to achieve leadership. Continuing to take steps and remember my “why” opens the door for moments of leadership.
I think when I truly step into a leadership role is when I step back and let others lead, when I share my thoughts and listen to the thoughts of others, when I can be in an equal playing field and let the superpowers of others be seen and appreciated.”