About two months ago, I was offered an opportunity to attend UVA Darden School of Business’s Women in Leadership Executive Education course: an immersive program designed to develop the voice and vision of women in business. Needless to say I was excited intimidated. Not only is the Darden School of Business a client of mine, but also a highly ranked Executive Education program by institutes like the Financial Times.
A week with world-renowned professors, experienced mentors, 30 influential women leaders...and me. Here’s what I gleaned:
1. Everyone is human. I was nervous walking into a room of women seemingly far more accomplished than myself. Breaking the ice one by one got easier and easier. And I wasn’t alone; there were plenty of nerves all around. What it taught me: effective leadership includes vulnerability. It’s authentic, it’s relatable and it’s part of your strength. Own it.
2. Mission Impossible is an okay movie and a really bad mindset. For every difficult conversation not had, eight hours of time is lost. Email responses get misinterpreted, a direct question is perceived as combative rather than curious, a ‘k’ text is read one of two ways (but usually for the worse), all causing a downward spiral of How do I respond?, What did they mean by that?, Why don’t they like me?, and on and on.
Taking communications personally gets messy, so rather than reacting on emotion, I’ve learned to respond to the mission. Staying focused on the mission lets us find common ground amongst opposing opinions and reach success without emotional baggage.
3. Basic airline safety. Put on your own oxygen mask first. It seems inherently selfish to put myself before others. But if I’m not in the right mindset, how am I to deal with others? Take a step back, center myself and bring that calm confidence to others.
And sure, Darden taught me a lot more than this. I am now equipped with tactics for strategic change, negotiation maneuvers, leadership presence—the list goes on. But these lessons in particular resonated that week and again today. Sharing them with you just so happens to push the circle of knowledge forward.
Holly Furman is an Account Supervisor at Karma, who’s getting used to being a leader, but has always been an excellent sharer.