8 leadership lessons from the world’s most powerful women
by Jenna Goudreau
The world’s most successful women really want it–and remain determined even in the face of obstacles. They have the skills, and they put the time in. But more importantly, they have the desire to do something great.
Today I had the great pleasure of speaking at The Innovation Enterprises’ 2013 Women in Strategy Summit, which brings together 75 high-level women in marketing and strategy, about the leadership secrets of the world’s most powerful women. With women comprising just 4% of corporate CEOs, 14% of executive officers and 20% of America’s government officials, we’re facing a persistent leadership gap at the highest echelons. To move forward, we must first take stock of what is working. The following eight leadership lessons, synthesized and updated from a keynote I gave last year, come directly from the women who know what it takes to get to the top.
The world’s most successful women really want it–and remain determined even in the face of obstacles. They have the skills, and they put the time in. But more importantly, they have the desire to do something great. Beth Brooke, global vice chair of Ernst & Young, was diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease at age 13 and was told by doctors she may never walk again. Before going into surgery she promised herself she would walk—no, she would run—and aspired to become one of the best young athletes the world had seen. Not only did she walk, she went on to play several varsity sports at her high school, earned multiple MVP awards, and later played Division I basketball in college. She made up her mind, and she didn’t quit. She brought that same determination to her career and today ranks among the 100 most powerful women in the world.
Women at the top aren’t fearless. They move toward their fear to continually challenge themselves. That takes courage. In 2011, Beth Mooney, CEO ofKeyCorp, became the first woman ever to lead a top-20 bank in the U.S. Mooney began her career as a secretary at a local Texas bank, making just $10,000 a year, but soon realized she wanted something more. In 1979, she knocked on the door of every big bank in Dallas and asked for a spot in their management training programs. At the Republic Bank of Dallas, she refused to leave the manager’s office until he offered her a job. After waiting for three hours, he finally agreed to give her a chance if she earned an MBA by night.
That was a turning point in her career, one of many, powered by a courageous call to action—to champion herself and what she knew she was capable of. Later, she had the courage to move into roles she’d never done before, to pick up and move across the country, and to stick with it for three decades. If you’re not a little bit scared every day, you’re not learning. And when you’re not learning, you’re done.
In order to achieve big success, you have to have big impact. When Michelle Gass, who is now leading 33 countries for Starbucks, started at the coffee chain, she was asked to architect a growth strategy for a just-launched drink called the Frappuccino. Her mantra: “Let’s think of how big this can be.” After countless hours testing ideas, she decided to position it as an escapist treat and added ice cream parlor fixings and new flavors. What began as a two-flavor side item is now a $2 billion platform with tens of thousands of possible combinations. Gass repeated her go-big-or-go-home strategy when she took over Seattle’s Best Coffee. She decided to take the sleepy little-sister brand to new heights by partnering with Burger King, Delta, Subway, convenience stores and supermarkets. In one year, the brand exploded from 3,000 distribution points to over 50,000.
Take Calculated Risks
As CEO of Kraft Foods and now Mondelez International, Irene Rosenfeld is very familiar with this one. A couple years ago she completed a hostile takeover of British candy company Cadbury. Not long after, she surprised the business community again with a plan to split Kraft into two separate companies, a North American foods company and a global snacks company. To move the needle, you have to make a big bets—but never rash—always based on a careful study of the outcomes. You have to know what you have to gain, and if you can afford to take the hit if it doesn’t go your way.
It takes discipline to achieve and maintain success. You simply can’t do everything, and the world’s most powerful women stay focused on the areas that will have the biggest impact—from both a leadership perspective and a career management perspective. Sheri McCoy, the new CEO of struggling Avon Products, is currently implementing a huge turnaround at the century-old beauty company. Interestingly, when I asked what the biggest challenge would be, she said: “Making sure people stay focused on what’s important and what matters most.” It is very easy to get distracted by new trends, new markets, new projects—but when you extend yourself too far, the quality of your work suffers across the board.
Over and over again women at the top say their best strategy for success is to hire people who are diverse, passionate and smarter than themselves–and then listen closely to their perspectives. Hala Moddelmog, president of Arby’s Restaurant Group, believes surrounding yourself with people of different backgrounds—including gender, race, geography, socio-economic and personality types—will help round out your conclusions. “You really don’t need another you,” she says. Similarly, staying open to different viewpoints keeps you ahead of the curve. Claire Watts, the CEO of retail and media company QVC, schedules open door times every Tuesday, so that anyone in the company who wants to come talk to her, ask her a question or share something they’ve noticed can do it then.
Manage Your Career
Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, knew from a very young age she wanted to eventually run a company, so she asked herself what are the kinds of things I need to do to prepare for that? That might mean management experience, global exposure or revenue responsibility. She always looked at her career as: Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going, and what are the right assignments to get there? If her current company would work with her to deliver those assignments, she was all-in. But if it didn’t, she knew she needed to move on. “We apply these skills in business, and yet when it comes to ourselves we rarely apply them,” she said.
Delegate At Work And At Home
The most successful women have learned that they have to have help, and they have to have faith in the people around them—at work and at home. It’s not easy, but it’s critical over the long-term. Katie Taylor, the CEO of hotel brand Four Seasons, admitted to me that she is a bit of control freak, but for the good of her and everyone around her, she tries to delegate. “Sit on your hands, if you have to,” she said. “Get yourself to that place.”
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