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Leadership tips from the trenches

12.10.2015 Frazier & Deeter's marketing leader, Adelle Erdman, reflects on wisdom shared by six senior executives at the firm's recent Women Business Leadership events.

4 Tips from the C-Suite Trenches

It is fairly certain that anyone with whom I have lunch in the near future will not live up to my recent lunch companions. Recently I went to Nashville to hear a panel that included Hannah Paramore, Claire Tucker and Julia Polk. If you’re not from Nashville you may not realize Hannah founded one of the largest marketing agencies in Tennessee, Claire is CEO of CapStar Bank and Julia is a former Wall Street banker and CFO who now focuses on providing mentoring to start up companies at Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center.

A week later I was in Atlanta, listening to a new group of senior executives: Laurie Ann Goldman, a board director and former CEO of Spanx, Kiko Harvey, Vice President, Corporate Audit and Enterprise Risk Management at Delta Air Lines, and Sandra Hofmann, also a board director and the former Georgia CIO of the year.

Packed rooms of women (with a sprinkling of men) came to hear these panelists share leadership insights culled from 20+ years in corporate America.  Anyone who heard these executives could not help but admire their generosity in sharing their experiences with such candor. 

So what were some of the “lessons learned” these six C-suite executives shared? 

Tap into your competitive spirit. 

Some of the panelists had been told early on in their careers that their goals were unrealistically high, and it only made them more determined.  One of the CEOs was interviewing for a job when she realized, “I have as many of the answers as they do – they should be working for me instead of me working for them.”   And she made it happen.

Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. 

Constantly seeking ways to improve, even when you’re the CEO, was a common thread of discussion. The best leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge them.   They value honest criticism that helps them continue to grow as a leader.  Putting up a professional façade of perfection is stressful and over the long haul it’s counter-productive. 

Be deliberate in how you build your team.

Hiring strong contributors who work together effectively as a team is the Rubik’s cube of leadership.  Just ask anyone who watches Top Chef or Project Runway - the Team project is often the demise of the most skilled individual contributors.

Yet the art of building a team becomes increasingly critical as an executive advances to the top of a company. Some of the best advice can be the hardest to accomplish:

-Don’t feel threatened by other people’s ideas – hire people with better ideas than you have

-Find people who will be honest with you

-Set an example – don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself and demonstrate how a good team player acts

Be decisive.

The Atlanta panel discussed the importance of decisiveness, even (especially?) when you don’t have all the information you would like. They noted that sometimes women in particular spend too much time trying to make people comfortable versus making a decision and moving ahead.  As one of them noted, “If you make the wrong decision, fail quickly, learn from it, and then make a new decision.” 

The world moves quickly, and leaders need to be able to recognize changes in the landscape and make course-corrections quickly if they want the first-mover advantage versus competitors.

As I reflected on what I heard at these two lunches I couldn’t help but feel bad for the men who didn’t attend because the event was promoted as part of a Women’s Leadership event series.  The insights these executives shared were not about being female; they were about being a great leader.  

About the blogger

Adelle Erdman leads the marketing efforts of Frazier & Deeter, FD Fund Administration and FD Venture Farm.  She develops the programming and content for the firm's programs for entrepreneurs, CFOs and women executives.


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