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6 Women Execs Reveal a Leadership Evolution

I served on a panel of women executives for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s PowerUP event. PowerUP is an all-women’s event that includes insights and wisdom from successful business women as well as opportunities for networking. I knew I’d learn something – but I received much more than I expected that day.

First, the keynote speaker was Rhonda Frederick, President and Chief Executive Officer of People, Inc. Rhonda approached her talk in a straightforward and vulnerable way, sharing personal and professional challenges she faced and overcame. Inspired by her story, many of us on the panel went on to share life challenges we worked through toward our ultimate leadership potential. Some of the leaders in the room talked about their divorces, what it was like to be a working single mom, overcoming brokenness as teenagers, unexpected pregnancies, work-life balance, and more. Soon, the audience chimed in, and we began to realize that none of has a “perfect story.” As human beings we all face uphill battles at times. We stumble and fall. Sometimes people might count us out. Yet, through perseverance we gain strength. That resilience helps us to be better leaders.

I loved that this topic came up organically because I talk about this often when giving keynotes and teaching workshops on leadership. One of my favorite authors, Bill George, in his book True North, asserts that great leaders do an “inner work.” They put their life story in context and face and overcome their greatest crucibles. This is what makes them authentic and trustworthy. The PowerUP panelists and keynote speaker embodied that concept.

As the evening came to a close, I could see women reaching out to one another as they engaged in discussion and networking. I remembered when I first began my career sixteen years earlier. It was a different time and women were less able or likely to mentor up-and-coming professionals. Being vulnerable was practically unheard of. It wasn’t the way of the business world back then. I believe many of those women paved the way for us, today, to be vulnerable and find inspiration and support in one another.

So, in that spirit, thank you Mary Travers Murphy of the Family Justice Center, Althea Luehrsen of Leadership Buffalo, Cindi McEachon of Peace Prints WNY, and Morgan Williams-Bryant of Girls Scouts of WNY. As fellow panelists, you inspired me! Thank you, Rhonda Frederick. You set the tone for an amazing discussion. And last but certainly not least, thank you Jacquie Walker from WIVB Channel 4, for serving as hostess and MC.

Each of you is making a difference in the world and I am proud to serve alongside you. So, in your honor and in the spirit of one of the world’s greatest business women, I leave you with this final thought: Dare to be different. Be a pioneer. Be a leader. Be the kind of woman who in the face of adversity will continue to embrace life and walk fearlessly toward the challenge.” – Miss Oprah Winfrey

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