10 Hard-Won Lessons from Women CEOs
In this excerpt from a recent CEO Coaching International webinar, three of our coaches discuss the most important lessons they’ve learned as women who built, led, and grew BIG companies.
Angela is a former CEO with 25 years of global sales and distribution experience. For more than seven years, she served as Chief Executive Officer of American Hotel Register, a privately held, $1B supplier of operating supplies and equipment servicing customers in more than 170 countries around the world, including Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.
1. Take up the appropriate amount of space.
“When you’re in the room, in the BIG chair, in the meeting, own the responsibility that you have to show up physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Share your thoughts, your opinions. Ask questions. Project when you speak. Demonstrate that you belong there.”
2. Seek the support of other brilliant businesswomen.
“When I was promoted into senior management for the first time, I was the only female on a leadership team of 14 people. I had just had a baby. And I really didn’t have anyone to speak to about what I thought were really unique circumstances. I desperately wanted a female mentor, role model, coach, but I just didn’t have a lot of options in my own company or industry. So I had to look elsewhere. And since then I’ve really been encouraging executive women to seek a female mentor, coach, confidant. Someone to serve as a trusted sounding board. Earlier in my career, I actually hired a female coach and it was one of the best things that I did to help me take up that space.”
3. Be your authentic self, but adopt characteristics you admire in other leaders.
“I think authenticity is one of the greatest leadership attributes. And then seeing things in other people that you’d like to deploy — bring those into your own style. If you’re a very feminine female, wear a dress. No one says you have to wear a men’s three-piece suit. Be your authentic self, but take on the attributes you most admire in other people as you’re able.”
4. Don’t let Imposer Syndrome get in your way.
“Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon where someone feels like they aren’t capable or intelligent enough, or deserving of the position that they’re in, and they’re worried that at some point they’re going to be exposed as a fraud. That feeling, for me, was very paralyzing. It can stop a person from applying for a new job, or asking for a promotion, or participating in events, or speaking on a panel, or showing up at certain meetings.
My ‘aha moment’ with Imposter Syndrome came eight or nine years ago when I was applying to a YPO forum. The man I was meeting was the founder and CEO of this huge financial services company. They had $50 billion of assets under management. He had a lawyer’s education. When he greeted me, I said, ‘Honestly, I’m completely intimidated and feel very out of place.’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s just the imposter syndrome messing with your head. We all have it, including me. Have you read your own resume? I’m the one feeling intimidated!’ And with those few words, he immediately put me at ease and taught me a very valuable lesson about Imposter Syndrome. It changed my perspective entirely.”
Ramona spent spent the first two-thirds of her 35-year career as a hired gun turning around big brands in the food and beverage industry, including Nestle (creating Coffee-mate Liquid Creamers), Celestial Seasonings, and Kendall-Jackson Wineries. In the last third Ramona was a successful entrepreneur.
1. Change your lens.
“I speak on campuses all the time, and one of the first questions I get is about the ‘glass ceiling,’ about obstacles. And I literally say, ‘If you don’t look for them, you just may not find them.’ I’m a big believer in not letting that cloud the lens that you look through. And when things don’t look good, change the lens. I remember trying to raise money and being told that people don’t fund female businesses and they don’t fund female entrepreneurs. I wasn’t going to let that get in the way. I never let negativity impact my self-confidence. I raised $20 million when the other men in the room couldn’t even raise $2 million. A lot of it is about just puffing up your chest and going after things.”
2. Your winning does not mean somebody else has to lose.
“I have always told my clients and the teams that have worked with me, if we make decisions that are in the best interests of the company, there will be plenty of success for everyone to share. There is a lot of room for everyone to win and winning does not mean somebody has to lose. When the company wins, there’s a lot to go around and we should share that. And I’m also a big believer that the ends never justify the means. Be proud of how you do win.”
3. You don’t have to have all the answers.
“I happen to believe in surrounding myself with folks whose strengths are my weaknesses and let them do what they do really, really well. I am a very creative thinker, so I look to other businesses or other thought leaders who may have experienced a similar issue, even if it has nothing to do with my business or industry. If somebody else could do it somewhere else, then maybe I can apply that to my business as well, and I don’t give up easily. I keep searching for answers in all kinds of places. Generally the answers are in the room. and part of being a great CEO is to get the best out of all who I touch.”
Meghan Watkins has over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and supply chain management in the wine and spirits industry. Her skills are focused on leadership programs, building high-performing teams, and scaling businesses at speed.
1. Go after what you want.
“Even if you don’t feel one-hundred percent. Because — spoiler alert — you probably never will feel one-hundred percent confident. Fears are always going to bubble up, and we’re always going to have that hesitation and that pause that could potentially pull us back for wanting to go for what it is that we really are passionate and enthusiastic about. We just need to put that aside and let those emotions go by the wayside and go for it anyway.”
2. Being a mom and CEO is not a zero-sum game.
“I’ve started multiple businesses with newborns. I’ve done it twice and it is definitely possible to have babies and businesses at the same time. Plan out your day. Be really careful about time management and setting boundaries between your family and your work. Let your team know when you’re available and also when you’re not. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Time with your team is really crucial, and so is hiring the right people around you that you trust with those responsibilities. Invest in help so that you have the time to spend time with your family. Maybe that means ordering your groceries and having them delivered. Maybe that means a housekeeper that used to come once a month now comes once a week. Make time for exercise and hobbies and relaxation. Communicate with your family regularly so that they know what your priorities are. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. And lastly, don’t strive for perfection. None of us are perfect. Accept that mistakes are going to happen and we learn from them.”
3. Amplify other people, especially women.
“If you come across a piece of work that was created by someone else, share it on social media, share it with friends, share it with colleagues. This can help their work be seen by a wider audience and helps build them up. Give credit when it’s due. If you’re in a meeting or in a conversation and someone brings up a great idea, make sure you credit the woman who came up with it, recognize her. This will help to ensure that this woman’s contributions are acknowledged and are valued. Consider mentoring or supporting other women who are just starting out in your field. Attend and promote events by other women. And take action when you see any sort of discrimination or unfair treatment towards women. Speak up and take that action as well. Amplify others as much as you can and rest assured that will be reciprocated back to you as well.”
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.