Lessons from Women Leaders

Find out how four women in association leadership positions got where they are and how others can follow in their footsteps.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask for a promotion; don’t be afraid to ask for a raise; don’t be afraid to take risks.

These are just a few of the words of advice given by four women association leaders during a session at ASAE’s Annual Meeting and Exposition this week. The session explored some of the unique experiences and challenges that aspiring women leaders face.

Leadership comes from all different directions, all different perspectives, and certainly isn’t gender specific.

For example, as leaders, men and women get to the same endpoint, but often the way they get there is different, said Susan Robertson, CAE, executive vice president of ASAE and president of the ASAE Foundation, who moderated the panel.

“Leadership comes from all different directions, all different perspectives, and certainly isn’t gender specific,” Robertson said. “However, I do believe that when it comes to women in leadership there are some unique approaches, some unique perspectives, tactics, and ways that we may lead that are different from the way men may lead, and yet the results are outstanding. And so we get to the same endpoint, the same outcome, but our paths to get there, how we lead and interact with people, and how we think about our own selves and our own presence may be very different.”

The discussion covered a range of topics, including how the women got where they are, what they attribute their success to, and what they would tell aspiring leaders not to do. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

The importance of passion

Focus on the things you genuinely care about, said Arlene Pietranton, Ph.D., CAE, CEO, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and ASAE’s incoming chairman.

“I have had the privilege throughout my career to be able to pursue things that I really cared deeply about,” said Pietranton, whose initial career was as a speech-language pathologist. “Because of that I was able to really give a lot of commitment and put a lot of energy into what I did, and I was fortunate to be successful at what I did. And that, thankfully, was noticed by others and helped others have confidence and trust in me.”

On courage

Be courageous, advised Antoinette Samuel, MPA, FASAE, CAE, executive director of the American Society for Public Administration. Even if you don’t know what the outcome will be when taking risks, be brave and take on the challenge.

“I really believe you have to be courageous,” she said. “When I think about the pivotal point in my career where I took that footstep, it was situation where I had to be courageous and have enough courage to open the door and walk through.”

‘You are the CEO of you’

“I sometimes see women waiting to be noticed in the workplace,” said Susan Neely, CAE, president and CEO, American Beverage Association. Sometimes women are waiting to be told they’re doing a great job or waiting for a supervisor to tell them what will make them happy, she added. But you have to figure that out for yourself.

“Always remember that you are the CEO of you, and that means you are in charge of your life, not just your professional life but your personal life and making sure that things are where you want them to be,” said Neely, incoming chairman of the ASAE Foundation. “Sometimes it’s easy to be busy with life and not take the time to think, ‘Do I like what I’m doing? Am I getting challenged enough? Am I spending enough time with my children? Am I getting the time to work out?’ … You have to take control of that.”

Use your networks

“Don’t be afraid to call on your network and have them advocate for you, especially as you try and go after the more high-profile positions,” said Esther Aguilera, president and CEO, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “There’s competition out there. And if you’ve done a great job in the interview, you’ve presented yourself well, don’t assume that others aren’t leveraging their networks. … Call in those points of reference and have them put in a good word.”

Have any advice for aspiring women leaders? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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