I just returned home from Terranea Resort in beautiful Rancho Palos Verdes, California, where my Hallmark colleagues and I spent three days being informed, inspired, and connected at the Network of Executive Women’s Executive Leaders Forum, an annual conference for women (and men) from the retail and CPG industries.
When prompted via an app to provide a short description of my experience, I typed words like courage, confidence, inspiration, and rejuvenation. This brief articulation, however, is a woefully insufficient characterization of “Creative Disruption,” the themed event that challenged us to question our ideas about leadership, and to reimagine what true progress looks like. There were vibrant speakers like author Daniel Pink and Instagram COO Marne Levine, action workshops, and candid interviews with actress and entrepreneur, Drew Barrymore, and President of American Express OPEN, Denise Pickett. Every comment and conversation revealed a fresh perspective and a corresponding call to action.
Because the inspiration is certainly worth spreading beyond the three days and the 300 executive women in attendance, I’m sharing my 4 key takeaways here.
1. Embrace Flexibility.
Over the course of the conference, we talked quite a bit about the emerging workforce – millennials and those who’ll follow – and the shift in preferred work conditions being contemplated across corporate America. We discussed the concept of free agency, the fact that traditional expectations of employees being deeply embedded in corporate cultures may no longer serve us, the impact of emerging leaders’ increasing desire for flexible work arrangements, and the need to fully leverage the inherently versatile skill sets common to many digital natives. Do we know how to fully utilize this new wave of leaders? Can we set aside our “rules of the road” long enough to experiment with completely new models of talent management? What do we stand to lose if we do? And what’s more, what might we lose if we don’t? Can we creatively disrupt our historical leadership “must-haves” to embrace a two-way partnership with talented individuals who know their worth, and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want? Food for thought. I’m still chewing.
2. Do What You Can’t NOT Do.
Daniel Pink closed the conference on Day 3 with a story about his own professional journey, and 3 lessons. The first? Passion is overrated. I’m not sure I completely agree with him, as I do believe passion has its place. It’s true, though, that passion isn’t everything. (I tend to think of purpose as the grown-up version of passion.) His bigger point was that passion isn’t as useful a guide as knowing “what you do.” What do you find yourself doing in your spare time, when other obligations aren’t consuming you? What have you done for years, in the margins, whether you were being paid or not? “Do what you DO,” he encouraged us. Or as I like to say it, “Do what you CAN’T NOT do.”
3. “Our job is to be uncommon.”
One of my favorite segments was a candid conversation between Denise Pickett, President of American Express OPEN, and Trish Lukasik, Senior Vice President of Sales at PepsiCo. Denise dropped countless gems during the hour-long conversation, but she blew my mind when she said, “Our job is to be uncommon.” Think about it. How would we behave if we really believed this? Would we try so hard to fit in? Would we waste time thinking about whether our jacket is too loud for the board meeting? Or if we’ll be accepted at work because of our youth? Our parenting responsibilities? Our femaleness? Our race? What would you do differently if you believed it were your job to be uncommon?
4. Don’t Be Afraid.
Have you ever considered that fear of losing your job can make you much less effective in your current role? Today’s marketplace requires creativity. The theme of the conference, Creative Disruption, reinforced it best: How do we disrupt ourselves before we get disrupted? Fear causes us to color inside the lines. When we’re afraid, we shift into protective behaviors. We don’t push. We don’t challenge. I bet your company is asking you to think differently about how you go to market. Fear is a major disabler to innovation. Don’t be afraid. Confident, courageous leaders are needed now more than ever. And if you get fired, take your courage and confidence elsewhere. Believe in your inherent value, and lead on.
I could have written a book on the many themes explored at the Executive Leaders Forum, but since I’m a little busy these days, I’m hoping these 4 takeaways give you something to think about. Even better, I hope they give you something to DO.