Five former Athena Award recipients discussed the meaning of leadership at the closing panel discussion at the 36th Annual American Express Women & Business Conference last Thursday.
Chamber Executive Vice President Natalie Gochnour described the panel as women who have “evolved into leadership ambassadors in our community.”
The panel included Deborah Bayle of the United Way of Salt Lake, Chris Redgrave of Zions Bank, Carol Carter of IC Products, Becky Potts of Frontier Communications Corporation, and Senator Pat Jones of Dan Jones & Associates.
The Athenas say a leader is someone who can communicate a vision, recognize the appropriate goals to get there and then know how to bring that vision to fruition with everyone’s help.
“A sign of good leadership is the ability to get someone through the difficult times and come out the other side still whole,” says Bayle
When the women talked about the people who taught them the most about leadership, Sen. Jones described her inspiration, Judy Ann Buffmeyer, as being able to “tell someone to go to hell in a way that they would look forward to the trip.” She says that came from Buffmeyer being polite and diplomatic in her dealings.
Carter says another trait of a leader is the ability to recognize future leaders and help them develop their skills and their voice.
“People rely on you more than you even think,” Potts says, “Help mentor and get people to the next location.”
A hot topic was whether leadership was more of a female or male-dominated role and if gender made a difference. The women generally agreed that leadership differed by the individual person, independent of gender. Even though male leaders tend to be more predominant in our society, there was excitement among the panel about an emerging pattern of more women stepping up to the plate.
“Women who come forward with that voice [that doesn't agree with the majority] are often the ones who spearhead change,” Carter says.
Redgrave focused on choosing self-discovery over self-advocacy. She says it’s all about finding your voice and developing it, not just speaking out whenever you think it’s helpful.
Each of the women noted that we should be focusing on being our best self, recognizing where our own strengths lie and remembering where you started, where your foundation lies.
“If you go into a situation thinking you’re the best, you can be the best,” Potts says, when the topic turned towards the possible glass ceiling on the leadership ladder for women. “People will make that ceiling a crutch, but we can’t do that.”
Another thing is that the best decisions can be made when leaders are willing to step outside of what everyone else is saying—finding that voice and believing in their abilities to make a change can make the difference in being a leader. From there, you can start making those tough decisions and directing people to get there in the right way.
The panelists say leadership is defined by questioning the status quo, daring to have your voice heard, having a vision and seeing it through to the very end.
We’d like to know more about the leaders who have influenced your life. Please share your influencers in our comments section below.