Modern Leadership As Told by Women in Power
What is effective leadership in the modern age?
Rose Zhong: It’s vital to build trust and strong relationships with your direct team and your peers, and that you understand what’s important to people in the organization and communicate as frequently and directly as possible to keep everyone informed. Also, understand how to leverage data to inform or validate assumptions, but be aware of how the data was constructed and what could be missing from the picture.
Lastly, learn how to execute fast and what tradeoffs are okay to make (and which ones are not). Do this by setting clear, quantifiable goals and explicitly state what isn’t a goal. Don’t micromanage your team, they’re professionals so treat them as such but do set clear expectations and frequent check-in points instead.
Jennifer Hyman: I think effective leadership isn't sufficient for the modern age. Everyone, every employee is working for an inspirational leader; they are looking to get inspired by what the mission of the company is by the CEO's vision and by how their work contributes to the overall success of the company.
Sheryl Adkins-Green: Effective leadership today requires a high level of authenticity and agility. Leaders need to be able to quickly assess issues and opportunities, and then collaborate with key partners and team members to take action.
Carrie Schaeffer: Leading by example is good but not enough. Effective leadership involves motivating others to innovate and achieve beyond their expectations and yours.
Ursula Burns: I will use a quote that I have adopted as my my personal model, “Effective leadership is defining reality.” So where are we really? And it’s about giving people hope that we’re going to get there. So, it’s defining reality and giving hope. This is not just to tell stories to people. Defining reality is: where are we? Why are we where we are? And what things can we control and not control? And hope is how can we assure that the outcomes that we want to happen are actually viable? It’s putting in place plans. It’s having the right team. Effective leadership is putting in place all that’s needed and having a really high ability to be able to operationalize your hopes.
How has the pursuit of higher education furthered your success?
RZ: The pursuit of higher education has taught me many valuable business skills. But almost as importantly (or even more importantly), it has opened up unique career opportunities and introduced me to new professional networks.
It’s important for education at all levels to help structure the way students think and approach solving problems with an open mind. I had an opportunity to do this during my MBA with people from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds.
JH: I never would've been able to build Rent the Runway without pursuing higher education. It would be close to impossible to start a business without any form of secondary education. College education is essential to becoming an entrepreneur.
SG: While Harvard Business School certainty developed my analytical and strategic thinking skills, the greatest benefit was the incredible global network of friends and alumni business mentors.
CS: Building construction is an intersection of technical and business challenges that can be very rewarding to solve. I was an enthusiastic student, strong in math and visualization, with good communication skills. But as a young woman, complex construction was not presented to me as a career option. I discovered it only after arriving at college and I thrived in the building science curriculum.
UB: My entire success is based on the fact that I hold a set of skills. In order to prove that you can enter into the marketplace of those skills you have to pursue higher education and do it well. It’s kind of a crazy question. It’s everything. It’s the ending point. Without higher education, for me and for many people going into the future, you can’t even play in the game. You can’t even enter the game. Higher education attainment is absolutely required, it’s absolutely required. There are certain people that can pursue their goals without getting additional education after high school. It’s just very unlikely that you’ll get be able to walk into a career right out of high school. Even if you want to become a tradesman, you’ll need additional education.
What is the biggest obstacle you faced during your career and how did you overcome it?
RZ: One of the biggest obstacles I faced was that I didn’t have a straightforward career path. At each step, I had to evaluate what I wanted and find roles that would help me best achieve those goals. Having a non-traditional career path has helped me find opportunities I otherwise wouldn't have done (such as coaching girls volleyball) and helped me accelerate to where I want to be faster.
JH: In the fashion industry, rental would be a new channel within the industry and some people thought it would break the industry. Designers hated the idea when they first heard about the concept of renting, they thought that it might hurt them because they thought if customers had the opportunity to rent as opposed to buy, they wouldn’t sell anything anymore. And I had to convince designers that resale might attract new customers to try a brand they would have never considered. For me, it was giving people the freedom to try things from the brand that they wouldn't have otherwise purchased.
SG: Being an optimist, I typically look at obstacles as opportunities to learn. For example, when a promotion seemed to be taking “too long,” I pursued a cross-function assignment which broadened my skill set and prepared me for more rapid advancement over the long term.
CS: I’ve encountered my biggest obstacles due to a hesitancy to act when faced with a challenge. When I reflect on my career, I have more regret about times that I didn’t take action than from times that I did. I regularly remind myself to have the courage to move forward.
UB: The greatest obstacle was people’s expectations of me and what I can do. I overcame it by ignoring them. I am a black female and literally ask me, just assuming that I wanted something different. There were all the stereotypes you could think of. Sometimes those beliefs play out in very active ways. They only give you access to opportunities that they think you’d be interested in and they think that you could do, they decide your spectrum and the world that you play in for you. Instead of you being the arbiter of your future. In the beginning, I was just a black girl. And people thought, “Of course you’re not going to be good at X or Y or Z.” Or they thought, “You’re poor, of course you’re not going to be good at X or Y or Z.” Or, “You only want A or B or C.” There’s still so much of that for women today. Even in the United States today we only pay 80% on the dollar for women. Obviously, there is some belief that that’s all we need. That was all the biggest obstacle, what people thought I could do and what they thought I wanted.
If you had one piece of advice for women looking to find success in your industry, what would it be?
RZ: The best piece of advice I can give other woman looking to find success in my industry is to put the time in via networking and research to find the best environment(s) where your skill sets will allow you to create immediate value. Be direct and ask for what you’re looking for whether it’s a specific expectation for the role, a compensation level, or anything else. Find a way to communicate in a straightforward and confident way.
It’s paramount that you have the ability to execute in order to deliver the right results that your company needs. Being able to plan and deliver end results will significantly multiply your opportunity to succeed.
JH: It's very important that women don't follow old mass industry. It is in a massive period of disruption and change and transition. This is contingent upon young people with new ideas and new ways of looking at old way reinventing how the industry works. A few years ago, I created a foundation that has raised money with the sole purpose of helping other companies build their business
I've dedicated a lot to advising and mentoring young entrepreneurs all over the country. What's really interesting is that this isn't just a private pursuit of mine, it is something that is in the fabric of our company.
SG: Comparison is a confidence killer. My advice is, “Be you, do you, for you.” In other words, compete with yourself, not others, and leverage your unique talents.
CS: Be self-confident enough to both speak up and to ask questions without apologizing.
UB: It would be to get into my industry. So, let’s suppose that you’re a teenager and you have a choice in what you study. We have too many people who opt out of pursuing one of the highest paying and high impact fields: engineering. My first point is: pursue it. And women in the field need to encourage others to pursue it. I think that as women, we have to be better and more impactful role models for girls and other women. For women with power, you have to be louder. We have to, as I say, call the ball. And right now, we’re seeing some of it, we’re seeing women speaking up about the lack of women representation in various places. There’s all these things that are happening now and one of the most important things to do is to not shut up. And the third thing, is you got to be pretty good at what you do. There’s absolutely no long-term way around working hard and doing well. And for women, for black women and men as well, for people who are not normally thought of in the game, it’s really important that we outperform our male peers. We are as good as we can possibly be. We have to run a little harder and be a little bit better. We have to play the game at a higher level.
How do you find an equilibrium between work and your personal life?
RZ: It’s important to set expectations and be realistic with yourself, people at work, and family. Balance does not always need to be evaluated every day, or even every week. Some weeks I spend significantly more time at work and others I spend more with family and friends.
I plan as best I can, but sometimes still need to be agile and adjust to the latest situation, whether it’s at work or in my personal life. I’ve been incredibly lucky to find people in my personal and professional lives who understand this.
JH: I think it's very easy to find that one. You love the person you're married to and you love the work you do. So, you know I have never actually struggled with work life balance because my number one is always family. I have a daughter and a husband. As a mother, I'm very passionate about building the Rent the Runway. You have to go into an environment that has flexibility and the respect, the trust, that you're going to get the job done no matter when what.
SG: While equilibrium is difficult to achieve every day, I have been able to achieve a balance that works for me and my family by learning to accept help when it is offered, and to ask for help when I need it.
CS: Not sure equilibrium is achievable, but flexibility helps. I try to be honest with myself about things that cannot be missed, such as certain family events or business deadlines. Then I’m flexible about everything else.
UB: If you followed my interviews you’d know that this is one of my least favorite questions and let me tell you why. Because I think the way that we approach this is crazy, right? I have to balance sleeping and being awake. I have to balance eating and exercise. How do you balance it? You just do it. We make choices every single day. This really isn’t rocket science. I very rarely get a question about balancing how much sleep I get. You literally figure it out. There’s not this huge distinction between work and my personal life; work is part of my personal life. Women have to take on this question because they have taken on the burden that their personal lives are a 100% burden of their spouses and their children. We overplay this as if women have a particularly special affliction here. We have the same affliction as men. We just happen to have super unrealistic expectations. WE believe that it’s our responsibility to find a husband, to have a baby, to raise the baby, to go to work, to have a career and just keep going. And yeah, we have that responsibility. But, we have that responsivity in conjunction with our spouse. And if not, we manage that responsibility as though we don’t have a spouse. So how do I do it? You just be realistic about what you can do. We call if work/life balance, but I think we should call if life/life balance. That’s what we do every day. We make choices about what we want to do. And sometimes, those choices will disappoint another option we have. Balance your life by being very mindful of what you’re doing.