Leadership Competencies

7 lessons from exceptional women leaders, inspired by Indra Nooyi

“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder,” says Indra Nooyi, “but if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”

She should know. As a woman climbing the ranks in PepsiCo, Nooyi worked for 12 years before being named CEO in 2006. She then worked in that role for an additional 12 years, leading the company into new markets and growing sales by 80% during that time.

While her experience can be leveraged by all leaders, she leans into the idea of women helping women to grow in their leadership, sharing her view that, “Women helping each other — coaching, mentoring and providing tips — is a great way for us to be our own force.”

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we turn to leadership tips from the inspiring women leaders from the Vistage community who were recognized in our Member Excellence Awards in 2021, and how their perspectives align with lessons Nooyi learned throughout her career.

Vistage members can also hear an exclusive conversation with Indra Nooyi and Vistage CEO Sam Reese and learn about her five C’s of leadership, how they helped her lead through change at Pepsi and her thoughts on how leaders can lead through change and crisis.


Nooyi Lesson #1: “An important attribute of success is to be yourself. Never hide what makes you, you.”

Holly Mazzocca | Cincinnati, Ohio

  • President, Bartlett Wealth Management
  • Vistage member since 2019
  • Impact Award winner

Holly Mazzocca has built a career on authenticity and living her values, and helping future leaders do the same. “For me, the leadership challenge was charting a path
where I could come as my entire self every day,” she reflects.

Driven by self-discovery while pursuing her MBA, Holly made a life-changing leap to Bartlett. Today, she leads a company aligned with her values, putting clients first (for more than 120 years!) with a core of teamwork, honesty and integrity.

Holly’s leadership tips:

  1. Bring people together to solve problems and deliver solutions based on skill sets, interests and capacity.
  2. Put your employees and clients first, and make it central to everything you do.
  3. Align your values with your organization. It will sustain you. 

Nooyi Lesson #2: “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different.”

Tameryn Campbell | Charlton, Massachusetts

  • President & CEO, Masonic Health System
  • Vistage member since 2016
  • Leadership Award winner

Tameryn Campbell helped transform The Overlook in Charlton, a leading senior living provider, into a financially viable operation. Known for her “Culture of Excellence,” post-pandemic, Tameryn is repositioning The Overlook with an exciting vision for the future. “The pandemic tested us like never before,” she reflects. “Every forecast, strategic plan, policy and procedure got tossed in the trash as we were forced to innovate and unpack new ways of operating and protecting our community. It was literally a matter of life and death.”

Tameryn’s tips:

  1. Work hard, assume positive intent, stay hungry and humble.
  2. Keep your team in the forefront at all times.
  3. Always be curious and strive for continuous learning.
  4. Adversity fosters resilience, creativity and new opportunities.

Nooyi Lesson #3: “If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you.” 

Jennie Campbell | New Orleans, Louisiana

  • President & CEO, Stewart Steelwood Investments, LLC
  • Vistage member since 2006
  • Lifetime Achievement Award winner

Leadership roles on 100+ boards. Featured in 100+ publications. $5M+ raised for charity. Reflecting on her leadership climb, Jennie Campbell shares, “If we can move the emotion out of change and let ourselves step back and be grateful for where we are, it’s amazing. Nine times out of 10, that’s when we see people really grow and excel.”

Jennie’s tips:

  1. Be prepared, not blindsided. Understand the numbers and politics of your business.
  2. Be the solution-finder. Even if you have to dig really deep, don’t give up.
  3. How you lead at the top will trickle down to how you lead at the bottom.
  4. Business is about people and connection. Lack of trust comes from a lack of communication.
  5. Be a decisive decision-maker. Stick to it until somebody can convince you differently.

Nooyi Lesson #4: “There’s a constant reinvention: How you do business, how you deal with the customer.”

Michele LexMichele Lex | Napa, California

  • President & CMO, The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley
  • Vistage member since 2016
  • Leadership Award winner

Bucking a traditional food-service sales model, Michele Lex has taken The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley from $18.7M in 2015 to $29M in 2019 (a 54% increase), rebounding with a solid growth pattern after the slowdown of 2020. She explains, “The reason we’ve grown is engagement and customer relationship management.

It’s a great product, but at the end of the day … it’s people knowing people.”

Michele’s innovative sales tips:

  1. Amplify what you do best, even if it’s a break from the norm.
  2. Understand who you are as a brand.
  3. Find the balance between offering a solution (a typical sales proposition) and listening. Sell without them knowing you’re selling.
  4. In any marketing strategy, metrics are the cornerstone.

Nooyi Lesson 5: “To be successful you need to go through a lot of collateral damages and have the strength to power through all that.”

Dr. Katherine McGrady Dr. Katherine McGrady | Arlington, Virginia

  • President & CEO, CNA
  • Vistage member since 2016
  • Leadership Award winner

“Leadership begins when something makes you uncomfortable, and you do it anyway because of your convictions,” reflects Dr. Katherine McGrady, drawing on the courage of her own through deployments in the Persian Gulf and Mogadishu. Recognized with the Department of the Navy’s Superior Public Service Award,

Katherine’s tenure at CNA spans 33 years, during which time she’s provided analysis in support of military and government leaders to help them make the best decisions possible.

Katherine’s tips:

  1. Stop worrying about things you can’t control.
  2. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re being too safe.
  3. Leadership is a lot like mountain climbing. It’s windy at the top.
  4. You are who you are, no matter your role.
  5. Stay out of your head and focused on the mission.

Nooyi Lesson #6: “Take a stand, be known for your courage and confidence.” 

Kris Vockler | Portland, Oregon

  • CEO & President, ICD High Performance Coatings
  • Vistage member since 2016
  • Leadership Award winner

“Being CEO is forged in the experiences we go through,” says Kris Vockler. “It makes us who we are.” Once unsure of her ability to assume control of her family business, seven years later Kris navigated 2020 with no loss in production days, improved profitability and significant growth for 2021.

Asked how she gained the confidence to “become a CEO,” Kris credits Vistage and an innate tenacity. “Just go and forge it,” she shares. “Like a sword. You literally just bang metal all day, every day, until it forms. You can read a job description, but it’s not going to help you one bit.”

Kris’ tips for CEO mastery:

  1. Never give up, plain and simple.
  2. Hone in on the principles others have lain down before.
  3. Let the experiences happen.

Nooyi Lesson #7: “I’ve come to the great realization that I’ve got to learn to back off perfection and live with … a high level of quality but trade-off a little bit of that perfection for practicality.” 

Ality RichardsonAlity Richardson | San Diego, California

  • CEO, i3POS – West Coast Division, i3 Verticals, Inc.
  • Vistage member since 2018
  • Impact Award winner

Following the sale of her third-generation family business, Ality Richardson resumed leadership to bring i3POS back on track amid the pandemic. “We’re making history right now,” she says. “I came back because I wanted to make sure the company was in a good spot, and make sure the people were taken care of. The people are everything.”

Described by Vistage members as a “force of nature,” Ality is also co-founder of Sober Life Recovery Solutions.

Ality’s top seven leadership tips:

  1. No matter how hard it gets, don’t give up.
  2. Make a decision, commit to it, be accountable, stay on track.
  3. Pursue progress, not perfection.
  4. Take a deep breath, take a step back, center yourself.
  5. Keep your sense of humor.
  6. Allow people to make mistakes.
  7. Have faith.

Related resources 

The Women in Leadership Resource Center

Women in Leadership Network [accessible to Vistage members]

Leadership lessons from five outstanding women in business

Category : Leadership Competencies

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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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