It has been proven that mentoring improves performance and women are better suited for leadership. However, while women may have the natural ability to lead they are often more self-critical compared to their male counterparts and therefore hold back from jumping into opportunities or leadership roles; unless they feel 100% ready. This is exactly why the International Women’s Forum and the Knight Foundation engineered a program that challenges women leaders not only intellectually but emotionally as well to make the jump. A two-day session, hosted in Miami, reframed typical training and panel forums by turning the room into a safe space for ideas, stories, partnerships and innovation to flow.
Over 25 women entrepreneurs gained one on one access to inspiring women leaders ranging from Kashi’s co-founder Gayle Tauber to Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro CEO of the Global Fund for Women, Olympic silver-medalist Dr. Judi Brown Clarke, retired United States Air Force Brigadier General now Harvard lecturer Dana Born, among others.
Putting the need to pitch or impress aside, attendees and speakers alike opened-up to share the full reality of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and leader. This is what made the forum effective going beyond an impressive line-up into building an environment where women gained business strength from the power of vulnerability.
Moderating the two day session was inspiring, so much that it moved me to create flip-chart art to capture the essence behind every presenter. However, this learning should not be only limited to those hand-selected to attend. This is why I felt compelled to capture seven key learnings that can help inspire even more entrepreneurs.
1. Create a movement not just a project. Dr. Kanyoro of the Global Fund for Women knows first-hand what it takes to create real and sustainable impact. Impact happens through collaboration and by making the sum of the parts greater than the whole. Movements don’t come from one project or one person, they come from rallying up like-minded people moved by a common spirit. Whether you are moved to stop human trafficking or moved to revolutionize the fashion industry, entrepreneurs must play for something bigger than themselves and bring others along the way.
2. Find the innovation side door in corporate America. Startups and small businesses often find it hard to get the meeting at a large corporation or be considered for a corporate contract because size, paperwork and lack of immediate scale may get in the way. NextHealth Ventures CEO Nina Nashif, shared an insightful trick to get access and potentially be evaluated through the lens of innovation and not size; find the innovation department. Many companies today have their own internal incubators and that may be the side door that works for you instead of the lengthy traditional routes. CEO of Cook’s Warehouse Mary Moore also emphasized the importance of vendor partnership for win-win business propositions and Global Diversity & Inclusion Procurement director Theresa Harrison from EY educated attendees on the importance of making the Supplier Diversity professionals your internal champions.
3. A boss brings the goodies and masters context. Two breakthrough leaders broke down the fundamentals of being a boss. Former CEO of Grey Group Europe, Middle East & Africa Carolyn Carter set the stage with a basic yet profound concept, “bosses bring the goodies!” Whether it is bringing pizza for the team or a new multi-million dollar contract, bosses bring goodies that inspire and motivate their teams. Additionally, Major General Linda Singh, responsible for the Maryland Military Department, shared the inner workings behind Baltimore’s riots and her role as a newly appointed boss. At a time of chaos, her emotional intelligence and ability to master the context of the situation, equipped her to read the room, maneuver emotions and help refocus peers and even supervisor in the middle of the storm. Her unique ability to bring clarity during chaos turned her into an agent for peace and a spokesperson for the city.
4. Mindset fuels perspective and purpose. A personal highlight for me was feeling the energy and positivity of Susan Sygall, CEO of Mobility International USA (MIUSA). After an accident during her teen years, this wheelchair rider is a living testimony of the power of a strong mindset. Susan teaches us that experiences, mindset and purpose coming together can fuel a bigger and more powerful vision. Her pioneering work advocating for people with disabilities is the product of everyday positivity, purpose and the joy of living life with no regrets.
5. Don’t fail, learn. A discussion around failure turned the term upside down after hearing the stories of resilience and even self-doubt from wonder women like former Financial services executive, advocate for women and executive coach Jan Floyd-Douglas and Olympian Dr. Judi Brown Clarke. One thing was made clear, failure is recoverable but loss is not. Judi’s athletic perspective challenged the room to think about everything and anything as enablers to achieve higher performance. If you don’t fail you are probably playing it safe and limiting your ability to discover your full potential.
6. Be an authentic leader. Retired Unites States Air Force Brigadier General Dana Born equipped attendees with tools to rethink and re-tell their life stories by making them dig deeper into what defines one’s life stories and the values that move people to do what they do. Dana’s challenge to entrepreneurs is self-search and build organizations with a deeper purpose and have the courage to transform business impact. Authenticity is certainly purposeful, and purpose comes from truly understanding and honoring your life story.
7. Do a business plan diligently and annually, for you, not for the bankers! The intensive program ended with a candid conversation with Kashi’s co-founder Gayle Tauber. Gayle shared some basic principles of success like being open to constant learning, having a strong value proposition and protecting your brand. However, one principle that clearly became a secret weapon to Kashi’s growth was the business plan. Many entrepreneurs short-cut the process of business planning minimizing it as a tool for lending or investors, but Gayle made her point loud and clear. Creating a business plan, an annual-comprehensive business plan, is critical to map out the year, anticipate the competitive forces, proactively identify contingencies and stay hyper focused.
“Many dream big and are full of ideas, but an idea is just a dream without a plan”, underscored Gayle Tauber, co-founder of Kashi.
The session ended with roundtable conversations ranging from raising kids to raising capital and a short meditation exercise to reflect on the past, visualize the future and set minds into accountability and action.
It is critical to keep in perspective that it is people, culture and leadership, not smarts, money or a great idea, what make companies great and wildly successful. However, for startup founders it is easy to get buried in the hustle and short-cut personal growth. This is exactly why programs like this are critical to equip entrepreneurs with personalized and relevant development to thrive from the start and increase the odds of success. Creating and replicating relevant sessions like this one is much needed to nurture the next generation of purposeful leaders, accelerate business growth and bring prosperity to all.
Lili Gil Valletta is an award-winning entrepreneur, independent television contributor and CEO and co-founder of CIEN+ and CulturIntel, a big data analytics, business strategy and marketing firm helping organizations and Fortune 500 companies drive innovation and growth by turning cultural trends and diversity into profits. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, member of the Harvard Kennedy School Women’s Leadership Board, YMCA USA National Board of Directors and the Women’s Forum of New York.