Women in Leadership 2022: Hustle, heart, grit and resilience

On a day that began with a historic ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, women from the global Vistage community gathered June 24 for a day of inspiration, connection and learning. As one attendee aptly put it: “As a community of women, we must grow together.”

In this highly interactive event, women from across the global Vistage community gathered virtually to hear compelling insights from keynote speakers who truly exemplified the theme of hustle, heart, grit, and resilience.

To set the tone, the 2022 Women in Leadership National CEO Conference began with a powerful video featuring Dr. Stephanie Gripne, Kara Clayton, Dr. Janet Stout and Holly Mazzocca, who have been recognized by their peers for their exceptional impact on the Vistage Member Excellence Awards.

At the end of the day my notepad — and my heart — were full of insights shared by speakers, and the encouragement and connection I felt with the community. As one attendee shared, the event left me “feeling empowered to take my leadership to the next level.”

Below are some of the top takeaways from speakers Kat Cole, Melissa Bradley and Joanna Barsh. Vistage members have the opportunity to revisit the insights shared and watch them with their team for a limited time on the Women in Leadership post-event page.


Kat Cole | Advisor, Investor, COO & President, Athletic Greens

Kat Cole exemplifies the American entrepreneurial dream. Her journey from restaurant hostess at 17 to executive by 26, president by 32 and investor by 35 was made possible by her transformational leadership style that is grounded in humility, curiosity and confidence.

Currently president and COO of Athletic Greens, one of the fastest-growing wellness brands in the world, she previously served as president and COO of FOCUS Brands which includes: Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s. She led these organizations through transformation and growth and she shared the frameworks and principles instrumental to her success so that attendees can apply those lessons learned to their leadership.

An early lesson that shaped her beliefs as a leader was knowing that “the people [who] are closest to the action know what the right thing to do is long before the leader makes a decision.” In small and midsize businesses, the people closest to the action — front-line employees — might lack the ability to translate their insights into a problem or solution. They also don’t have the authority to do anything about it. Kat shared that it is up to leaders to stay close to the action to gather the insights needed to identify problems and create solutions.

As a child, Kat watched her mother support the family through troubled times. It taught her that “leaders can navigate tough times without passing on negativity and stress to those doing the work, and set the standard for what was possible.”

Building on these two foundational beliefs, Kat believes it is more important to ask the right questions than to have all the answers, especially when her career advanced rapidly and presented opportunities outside her expertise.

To drive high-impact leadership she focuses on the simple principles of Ask – Answer – Act. This starts with three questions to ask the front-line employees:

  1. When do we say “no” consistently?
  2. What do our customers throw away/not use?
  3. What would you do differently if you were in charge?”

Kat shared other ways to solicit input and stay close to the action, which included:

  • Daily employee check-in: Capture daily input from employees on what made their day difficult (MMDD). This includes gathering data on challenges from team members at the end of their workday to provide data that helps leaders identify patterns and prioritize areas to address. This concept was very popular; one attendee said, “I am going to implement that today.”
  • Monthly check-in with the leadership team: To drive engagement and focus in core teams, Kat also recommends asking six simple questions for a monthly, 30-minute check-in that can be used professionally with the leadership team, but also personally with a partner.
    1. What was the best thing in the last 30 days?
    2. The worst?
    3. What could I do differently?
    4. What are you most proud of?
    5. What are you most worried about?
    6. What are you most grateful for?

Another popular segment was about external perspectives. Great leaders also look for outside perspectives, and Kat offered two ideas to expand and shift perspectives.

  • Hot-shot rule: Create a shift in perspective by looking at your situation through the eyes of someone you trust and respect. Instead of focusing on the progress that has been made, this rule encourages leaders to gain a clearer picture of what else can be accomplished.

    As one attendee noted, “I love the idea of thinking not ‘this is the best it has ever been’ but ‘this is the worst it will ever be’.”

  • Mentoring Moments: Rather than relying on a single mentor, Kat gleaned relevant advice from different people selected based on the situation.

    She describes this process of building a network of people with specific expertise and seeking counsel from different people when a situation calls for their specific area of expertise.

Melissa Bradley | Founder, Ureeka; Managing Partner, 1863 Ventures

Melissa Bradley WILUreeka founder Melissa Bradley spoke about her experiences that led to success. From an early age, Melissa was fiscally aware. Early in her career after stumbling to secure financing to start a small business, she vowed to never be in that position again and to help people striving to grow a business navigate the intangibles of race or gender–factors that as an individual they can do nothing about.

Through her development and career, her mindset played a big part in her success. To avoid imposter syndrome, Melissa advises, “Don’t let anyone else define you.” She always knew she had to prove she deserved to be there and developed the pride and tools to show up.

While her drive and mindset were developed early on in her life, Melissa did reflect on two pieces of advice she received from a mentor:

  1. “No matter what anyone says about you, the only voice that should matter to you at the beginning of the day and the end of your day is your own.”

    Melissa starts her day not with news or emails, but with her own voice through meditation. She recommends ending the day by telling yourself “great job” and reviewing your successes.

  2. “You are always going to be knocked down, so just stay in shape and be ready for a fight.”

    Melissa offers that you can find success by always being prepared, as well as ready to demonstrate to people that you deserve to be there.

As an investor in early-stage businesses, Melissa also gave inspiring data on the potential economic impact of the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs — women and people of color. Not only to support these entrepreneurs but for the purpose of economic growth, she is focused to help align resources to support this segment.

This is the foundation of her work at Ureeka, clearing the path for underserved entrepreneurs to realize their potential. One attendee asked, “What can we, as women leaders, do to help bridge the opportunity gap?”

Vistage Partnership with Ureeka:

Vistage has set up an opportunity for members interested in mentoring Minority & Women-owned Businesses and Enterprises through Ureeka. Learn more about this partnership.

Joanna Barsh | Director Emerita, McKinsey & Company; Founder, Centered Leadership

Powerhouse presenter Joanna Barsh — who attendees called “spicy and saucy” — wrapped up the day. Leading with research on women leaders, Joanna delved into the capabilities map for Centered Leadership. She engaged with the audience with an overview of the five capabilities that research has shown to help individuals lead at their best.

  1. Meaning: Finding and using strengths on a path to living into your leadership vision.
  2. Framing: Learning to manage feelings and actions in difficult situations to lead in your most resourceful state.
  3. Trust: Forming a meaningful community through trust-based relationships in service of one’s vision.
  4. Engaging: Stepping up to challenges and opportunities, taking risks and actions.
  5. Energizing: Managing your energy through recovery and renewal practices.

Her simple takeaways around these incorporating these five skills were:

  • Bring your strengths to work more often, setting a daily intention “What do I want for — and from — myself today.
  • Recognize your signs of upset coming and pause to accept and recenter.
  • Build trust by strengthening your capacity to determine what is important to the other person; reliability, congruence, openness, or acceptance.
  • When facing a new challenge, consider all the upsides first and only then reflect on the downsides of the status quo.
  • Sustain the energy you need as a leader by integrating a deliberate recovery practice, ensuring that your practice includes asking if it is specific, measurable, actionable, repeatable, and time-based.

Indeed, the idea of taking care of yourself resonated, as one attendee shared their top takeaway: “Practice recovery by thinking about what brings you joy! Game Changer!”

To keep the inspiration flowing, consider watching the speakers with women in your organizations while they are available. Also, look for other related content and resources in the Women in Leadership Resource Center.

Looking ahead, expect to be entertained and inspired by another great female leader, Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank at the Business Growth National CEO Conference coming on December 9. Mark your calendar and stay tuned for details.


Related Resources

Women in Leadership Resource Center

Using a growth mindset to beat imposter syndrome

How can CEOs change the hiring landscape? Focus on re-enrolling women

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Anne Petrik

As Vice President of Research for Vistage, Anne Petrik is instrumental in the creation of original thought leadership designed to inform the decision-making of CEOs of small and midsize businesses. These perspectives — shared through repo

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