Women in Leadership 2023: Empowering lessons from 3 trailblazers
Connection. Inspiration. Empowerment. These words describe one of my favorite events of the year — the Women in Leadership Vistage National CEO Conference — where women from across the globe gathered virtually to learn from other women and gain new insights to fuel their personal and professional growth.
While the speakers at the event on June 16 provided the 600+ women worldwide in attendance with great insights, it was the connection and comments throughout the day that made it so special and unique. As one attendee shared, “I feel so empowered and revived and ready to jump into work Monday!”
Below are some of the top takeaways from the event’s keynote speakers Randi Zuckerberg, AmyK Hutchens and Stephanie Chung. 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.
Randi Zuckerberg | Founder & CEO, Zuckerberg Media
As a pioneer in tech, Randi had a front-row seat to the launch of the iPhone in 2007 when a personal computer in everyone’s pocket made everyone their own broadcasting company. Adapting to massive shifts in consumer behavior, Randi shared stories on how she led her team at Facebook to successfully launch new products and programs that are now used by more than a billion people around the globe.
She encouraged leaders to create a safe space for innovation, sharing how Facebook hosted hackathons in the early days to encourage employee-led innovation. Operating with a start-up mentality — constantly thinking about how to lead in innovation but with a limited budget — can lead to big payoffs in terms of creativity. “Every single one of us is sitting on a $2-billion-dollar idea,” she says. “We just have to put ourselves in a place where we aren’t afraid to take risks and share that idea.”
Randi cautioned that a start-up approach doesn’t always mean launching things overnight. At times, they had to wait for the technology to catch up. “Everything that looks like an overnight success took years and years of hard work to get there,” she notes. According to one attendee, her stories provided an “Inspirational reminder that amazing things usually start somewhere small!”
With ChatGPT making headlines and other iterations of natural language processing driving innovations in generative AI, consumer behavior has again shifted abruptly and meaningfully, creating an opportunity for businesses — and leaders — willing to take the leap.
While she inspired and entertained with stories of her personal leadership journey, Randi also delivered clear lessons from her experience that translated into excellent takeaways:
- The best mentors are sitting right next to you; invest in those relationships that help you rise together.
- Create a safe space to try crazy things. Times of disruption can bring about some of our best entrepreneurial ideas and most exciting innovations.
- Her key to balancing work and home life is “Pick Three,” based on her book of the same title about having it all, just not every day.
- Choose to do fewer things, focusing on excellence. Focus deeply on the top priorities rather than the areas that are shallow, wide and have less impact.
- Make sure that you are at least in the know about new topics and emerging trends so that you have a seat at the table.
- Show up for yourself.
- Take big bold risks. Get to the forefront of emerging industries, and be there from day one.
- Next time you’re afraid to pitch something in a meeting, remember that someone thought to have goats on a farm join Zoom meetings.
Randi acknowledges the challenges of having women represented in key roles, especially in tech, joking that some of her good fortune came simply from having a man’s name. Her passion for needing women in tech — and in business — was clear in her belief that diverse ideas help uncover opportunities and address obstacles.
AmyK Hutchens | Vistage speaker, Author & Business Strategist
A popular Vistage speaker, AmyK empowered female leaders by sharing the ideal set of communication skills that reach a variety of goals: breaking down barriers, inspiring action, healing relationships, solving problems, and creating real connections. Her energy was infectious, as one attendee commented: “Amyk, your energy is amazing, reached me in UAE and it is 9:35 p.m.! After [a] long day still I am able to focus and listen to all your great advice.”
“Lead with a soft heart and a firm spine,” AmyK shared, and that was a top takeaway for many of the women attending. To give women the confidence and courage to share ideas, speak with conviction and honor the worth of their own voices, AmyK shared 12 magical phrases:
- How might we…?
- Would you be willing…?
- I’m unable to do x, but here is what I am willing to do.
- A part of me is…
- What do you need most from me right now?
- This is hard. And it’s important.
- This conversation is overdue because I’ve been avoiding it and it matters to me.
- Hold. Clearly, this matters to me. Hold. Clearly, this matters to you.
- Thank you. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for listening. Thank you for sharing your EXPERIENCE vs opinion
- How are you hoping I respond to this?
- What’s the thought behind…?
- Help me understand…?
By showing up with the intention of connection and exercising empathetic intelligence, both parties feel heard and understood and leave a conversation stronger. “You don’t have to agree with someone to show up as your best self,” AmyK acknowledges. “Stay centered and grounded. Nice does not mean naive.”
Stephanie Chung | Founding Chief Growth Officer & Global Brand Ambassador, Wheels Up
Stephanie Chung challenged women to think about leadership from a new perspective, delivering the importance of evolving yourself to be the leader your people need and inspiring us with her words: “The world needs us and we need each other.”
The pandemic brought unprecedented times that required leaders to make many unprecedented decisions about their workforce. The rules of work changed into what Forbes called “a strange new workplace.” Stephanie shared metrics that reveal the shift and the severity of circumstances leaders face for their workforce:
- 2020: 72% of employees reported feeling burned out
- 2021: Just 34% of employees were engaged
- 2022: BLS reported 4 million monthly quits
- 2023: 61% of all US workers are thinking about leaving their jobs
She shared an impactful example: In aviation, when you are just one degree off course, after 60 miles you are one mile off. The best pilots are always paying attention to make sure they are on course. The best leaders kept the plane in the air during the pandemic, but might not have realized they went off course.
Stephanie places a lot of value in data and metrics — rather than instincts that are laden with deeply programmed bias — to help get back on course. She asks, “When you make just one assumption, one conclusion without evidence on a decision without input, what have your biases done to company culture, employees, communities, [or] families?”
1. For leaders to correct the error: Pay attention to your attention
There are 4 levels of attention, Stephanie says:
- Selective attention – competing stimuli
- Sustained attention – sustain for a certain amount of time
- Divided attention – doing 2 things at once
- Alternating attention – your ability to shift focus from task to task
Don’t get discouraged by quiet quitters or those with low engagement. You can fix it by paying attention. Ask questions, learn goals and aspirations LISTEN and help them get there.
2. Establish the connection: Courageously connect with your people
It takes courage to stand up and speak, as well as to sit down and listen. The easiest way is to shift from employees being extrinsically motivated to intrinsically motivated. In business, we fling extrinsic rewards at intrinsic issues.
3. Do the work to get back on course: Be the leader everyone wants
Aspire to be the leader that people admire and are attracted to. Trust and safety are critical; leaders create psychological safety.
Indeed, her exercise to demonstrate how ingrained bias can be was perfectly summed up by one attendee, “I am humbled about what this exercise has brought to my attention. And I am a person of color believing I am not that person of judgement. WOW!”
Inspiring takeaways from the Vistage community
Inspiration also came from leadership tips shared by top women speakers from across the Vistage community:
- Corinne Hancock reminded us that chaos is a competitive advantage and helped attendees feel empowered by reminding us about the resiliency we have as women.
- 2021 Vistage Speaker Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Dr. Eve Meceda shared the worst advice she received, with an impactful message to “not dim your light.” One attendee shared her cringe-worthy worst advice “Try to be more interested in what the fellas like & always make the coffee.”
- Justine Froelker shared the importance of being vulnerable and showing up as ourselves.
- Amy Goldsmith — who will be a panelist on our expert roundtable on artificial intelligence later in June — shared how she lives by the rule of three.
- Kathleen Quinn Votaw — who we recently featured in our report, Managing Workforce Velocity: Improving Employee Retention — shared the importance of leaning on each other.
- Gwen Resick-Rennich shared the meaning behind how leaders bring “the weather” to their organizations.
It takes a village, and the women in Vistage created an inspiring day — by women, for women. Christine Yap shared that “Learning is a continuous process. Encourage people to express [their feelings] by showing a genuine willingness to listen. Make them feel valued, appreciated, and heard.”
The day added to my learnings, and I trust all attendees felt valued, appreciated, and heard.
Additional resources for Vistage members
To keep the inspiration flowing, Vistage members can watch the recordings of the speakers with women in your organization while they are available. You can also join the Women in Leadership Network, where you can engage with other women leaders across Vistage for monthly meet-ups on a variety of member-driven topics.
Another resource content and resources are also available in the Women in Leadership Resource Center.
Looking ahead, expect to be inspired by another great female leader[c] who is a trailblazer in her field as one of the keynotes at The CEO’s Journey: Business Growth Vistage National CEO Conference. This event will be on December 8; put the date on your calendar and opt in for exciting announcements about our keynote speakers.