Judy Smith, former White House deputy press secretary and president of Smith and Company, said that crisis situations highlight a lot about how to lead and how not to lead.

Her distinguished co-panelists, Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore and managing director of Brazile & Associates LLC, and Brande Stellings, vice president, advisory services, professional services practice for Catalyst, discussed with Smith the characteristics of a leader, in or out of a crisis. They also addressed how GCs can move things forward during a crisis and what GCs should be thinking about before a crisis hits.

Leadership Characteristics

Brazile has modeled her leadership after Gandhi, whose many memorable quotes include, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In addition, she cites resiliency, acting with integrity and mentoring as her key leadership traits. 

She said, “take your seat at the table even if you have to bring a folding chair,” and that she believes strongly in mentoring as well as the need for women to be inspired every day. Stellings cited Catalyst research that suggests mentoring tends to be more powerful for men than it is for women, though women have more mentors than men. Mentoring tends to be a predictor for men getting promoted and getting paid more, rather than women, she said, adding that this is likely due to women’s mentors having less clout than those of men.

The panel then discussed the characteristics or traits for leadership that are different between men and women and how women can cultivate these traits. Brazile noted how both aggressive and sensitive traits in men tend to be heralded. She said that women have specific traits as well -- they're nurturers, inclusive, and collaborative, for example -- and questioned why they don’t bring those ingredients into the board room. Moderator Dorian Daley, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Oracle Corporation, urged the audience to avoid apologizing for those ingredients. Those aren’t bad attributes – play to those strengths, she said.

Asking the audience “what’s your brand?," Smith urged them to know their strengths and weaknesses. She said: What are the three things that someone would say about your work? If it’s not what you would want them to say, change it. When looking to fill a leadership role, you want someone to say you’re strong, you’re a leader, you can make a wise decision, work with other people, are extremely confident and competent.

Along with these leadership traits, the panel spoke about how GCs can keep things moving forward when managing a crisis:

  1. Stay calm – Remain calm and try to keep your management team calm.
  2. Relationship 101 –  If you’ve built some trust and confidence with the management team, you understand the company’s goals, they’ve seen you take on difficult tasks, then they realize they can trust this person’s judgment. Smith reiterated the importance of third parties – it’s difficult in a crisis to make friends, so it is important to have those third parties. Those kind of relationships will serve you well no matter what you do.

 GCs and Crisis Strategy

Finally, the panel discussed the ways GCs can be prepared for a crisis. Smith stressed that GCs can identify the top 10 things that will happen in a crisis – or at least some variation on them. GCs have to be prepared – who am I going to call? Do I need outside counsel? Other outside experts? A spokesperson? Do I have a basic Q&A prepared?

GCs should also think about what the worst crisis is that could happen to his or her company. What kind of crisis would keep you up at night? If you’re not prepared for the worst, you’re not ready.

That’s it from DLA Piper’s second Global Women’s Leadership Summit. Thanks for joining us for this great event!