“WE Lead is a leadership initiative designed to provide a developmental and collaborative community for women leaders in the region.”
I graduated this week. Not from high school or college – that’s been more years than I prefer to disclose – but from a unique year-long program dedicated to women’s leadership called WE Lead, a program from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
One of the earliest things we completed as part of this program was to identify our personal mission statements. For those that know me, you probably won’t be surprised to discover mine:
“To conquer communications challenges, in all aspects of my life.”
Consider the rest of this blog post to be one of those communications challenges. It is indeed a daunting task to explain how 10 months of classes and sessions on leadership, management, communication, health and business can have a profound impact on a person, on business and on the community. I fear that only my fellow classmates and the graduates of the WE Lead classes 1 through 7 will ever truly understand.
So I offer a summary of a few lessons I learned. I have already seen how they are making me better at what I do and helping me contribute to The Deciding Factor to make it – and most importantly its clients – more successful.
- I affirmed my calling. And make no mistake about it, small business entrepreneurship is a calling. There are different paths for women leaders and businesswomen to travel. I’m on the one that is right for me. Because of my WE Lead experience, I feel I have a greater understanding of the obstacles we all face in our work environments. To be able to serve businesses – large and small – in their growth plans through marketing and sales is an honor, and it’s the way that I want to use my skills in communication and technology.
- Never underestimate a courageous conversation. Think of all those discussions that you’d rather not have – with a boss, an employee, a client or customer, even a spouse. It may be easier to stick your head in the sand, but that won’t make it go away. When you tackle issues of potential conflict or disagreement from a place of mutual respect and with the understanding of mutual purpose, we can achieve great results together.
- Relationships matter. It came up time and again in our sessions – from networking to sales to mentoring to leading to coaching. How we deal with other people is critical to our success. Authenticity, vulnerability, genuine concern for others – they’re all important a business relationship. The greatest illustration of this is the fantastic relationships I was able to build with the incredible women in the class. I feel that many of them have become friends I will grow with for a lifetime.
- I have a lot to be grateful for. Each class, I was reminded of something that I should stop taking for granted. I was inspired to say thank you to the people in my life for the blessings I have received and continue to receive, including the support of my boss and colleagues at The Deciding Factor, my husband and my family. I also thank our clients for the terrific opportunity to walk alongside them in their businesses. There is nothing I’d rather be doing than learning about landscaping one minute and welding and fabrication the next. I’m thankful for the gifts and strengths I have acquired, built and continue to grow. At the same time, I appreciate being a part of this great city and all that it has to offer.
- We must use our gifts. It’s not enough to just acknowledge our blessings and be grateful; we must act. From stepping up at work to contributing our time and resources in good causes in the community, WE have a lot to offer. It’s our responsibility to put ourselves out there. Just in case we didn’t know what those gifts were, as part of graduation we each received a page of thoughts about us from our classmates. It’s hard to look past one classmate who complimented my talent with writing and words and went on to say, “Thanks for sharing your gift and spread it around more!” She’s right on the money; we should all be spreading around our gifts.
Women hear a lot of messages about how to make it in business. We can recite the quips – from the “work-life balance” of the 1980s to “leaning in” just this last year. It’s easy to latch onto the latest, the most quoted or the most famous.
For me, the year spent with WE Lead wasn’t about identifying a single strategy that works for everyone or listening for the one lesson that changed my life. WE Lead was about seeing more than 50 women who are making life happen, each in their own way. Then taking inspiration from them and our dozens of teachers, speakers and coaches to continue to learn how to make the elusive it happen for me and those around me.
So I’m tossing my graduation cap, and I’m raising my glass in a toast to conquering the next challenge.