What makes a great leader in an age of rising competition and rapid globalization?
That question drove a lively, illuminating discussion at DLA Piper's fourth Global Women's Leadership Summit in Chicago this week. We heard an array of speakers and panelists share their perspectives on the evolving role of the general counsel and how to effectively lead, innovate and manage risk within their organizations.
Among that accomplished group were three women who have achieved tremendous success in traditionally male-dominated professions. And while each of our keynote speakers – Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments; Monica Crowley, Political Analyst and Columnist for Fox News and The Washington Times; and Molly Fletcher, Sports Agent and CEO of The Molly Fletcher Company – brought unique stories and experiences, their collective wisdom produced three common themes on the question of what it takes to lead and inspire others in today's business world.
1. Embrace Change, Encourage Risk-Taking
A great leader is comfortable taking risks and establishes that standard for the rest of the organization. For example, Mellody Hobson is passionate about drawing out boldness in others by helping them feel safe both failing and succeeding. But she also emphasized the importance of learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable – feeling scared is critical to risk-taking, she told the female GCs in the room.
In her extensive experience observing how athletes deal with adversity, Molly Fletcher has learned that those who perform at the highest levels are not afraid to embrace change. She also said that those who consistently rise to the top have the ability to recover and bounce back more quickly than others. They recognize that great things happen when we feel that pit in our stomach.
2. The Power of Humility and Listening
Looking through a political lens, Monica Crowley discussed how we can apply the qualities of successful presidents to the business world. Conventional wisdom tells us that our greatest political leaders are the pinnacles of confidence, but in fact humility is equally as important. For instance, Abraham Lincoln sought and considered conflicting views and ideas before making important decisions. Many effective presidents have displayed the same trait, drawing on a team of knowledgeable advisors to inform and drive their agenda and to inspire the American people.
Listening to and observing others likewise helps business leaders identify the behaviors they want to emulate – and those they do not. Describing herself as "enormously curious," Mellody Hobson noted that she is constantly listening to people and learning new things from those interactions. For instance, when she's feeling too comfortable, thinking about a bold leader helps to push herself to think bigger.
3. Build Trust, Discover the Gaps
In her two decades as a sports agent, and as a successful entrepreneur, Molly Fletcher learned to be relational in business, not just transactional. Business leaders need to show their constituencies – clients and employees, among others – that they can be trusted, and one way to build that trust is to recognize your audiences' needs so you can identify where your contributions can fill the gap and add value.
Lisa Haile, Ph.D. is a partner at DLA Piper and chairperson of the firm's Global Women's Leadership Summit. She also serves as co-chair of DLA Piper's Leadership Alliance for Women, an initiative that is focused on helping the firm's women lawyers maximize their opportunities for business generation and leadership.