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November 21, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

23 Women Leaders, 64 Leadership Lessons Learned – “People Issues” Dominate:

Guest Blog by WPO Syracuse Chapter Chair, Anne Messenger, President, Messenger Associates, Inc.

“What 1-3 things do you wish you had known when you were a rising leader…say 30-40 years old?”

That simple question was the basis for a survey I did last week of 44 business and non-profit women leaders (Chairman of the Board, President, CEO, Executive Vice President, VP, Managing Partner, Partner, Shareholder, Director). Our company is in the middle of a training and development project for a big company – 3000 people across multiple states – and they’ve asked us for recommendations on leadership development. We have great minds working on this, but I was curious about these particular people’s thoughts.

Total responses – 23/52%
Total lessons learned – 64

By far, people issues dominated the responses – hiring the right people, letting the wrong ones go, respecting/valuing them in any number of ways. Other themes emerged as well:

• Asking for help is a good thing to do.
• Taking care of oneself is important (health, taking time off, going easy on oneself).
• “Assuming the role” – being a leader demands a different kind of self-awareness.

Individual responses: They follow. I’m passing them all on to my 32-year-old daughter

  • Asking for help is a positive not a negative
  • Have the courage to say NO
  • Understand then be understood



One of the biggest things I learned is that you absolutely cannot underestimate the speed or effectiveness of an office grapevine. No matter what personnel or other issue you try to keep confidential, or you think is confidential, word will spread through the ranks like wildfire. Whenever you say something to one person, you should pretend that your words are being broadcast through the office and act accordingly! Always assume that there’s going to be a leak and gauge your communication accordingly. That’s a good way to stay out of trouble as a leader.

Also remember that once you are a leader, especially if you came up from within, your words take on much more weight than they had before. Before, you were making an off the cuff comment. Now, it’s a pronouncement.

I wish I had a greater appreciation for the importance of networking

I wish my ability to ask questions were better, and that I understood that it is not a sign of weakness or ignorance.

The importance of establishing Mentors for both professional and personal guidance. Involvement in peer groups that provide more direct support vs. a networking environment. With that said, it’s absolutely essential to participate in Business after hours networking functions however the addition of group participation such as the WPO is crucial to a person’s success.

The need for both a strong Financial person and legal advisor to put structure in place ahead of time.

Work/Life balance meaning developing a consistent practice to maintain a healthful mind and spirit in order to counter the daily work pressure/stress.

To surround yourself with people that can adapt and have the willingness to continually learn. High energy, high level of enthusiasm breeds a like environment. It’s where people want to be and creates a positive internal culture and helps support efforts when recruiting.

Believing in our gut instincts is crucial and understanding that typically those never steer us wrong.

Lastly, if someone is not working out consistently quick to fire…slow to hire.

1. that I was, indeed, a rising leader….and to “assume the position”…embracing my role fully.
2. focus on only a few things and do it well, not letting people drag me into solving their issues…setting boundaries.
3. I would/should have hired a coach to work with me to develop optimal, results oriented work habits….for accountability purposes.

Don’t trust everyone…not everyone has integrity.

1. How to delegate
2. Importance of giving constructive criticism vs. just shrugging it off
3. Customer is not always right

That time passes too quickly so savor every experience, every small joy, every lesson learned and every person you meet along the way.

Develop mentors to take with you through passages of your life, and then 30 years later become a mentor. It is never too early to think about how to pay it forward.

You can never say thank you enough.

1. That failure could be good for me
2. That if at all possible one should get away ASAP from working for a bad boss, cut your losses and move on because it likely will not get better
3. How satisfying it can be to be in the background rather than up front.

Looking back, I’d say that it would have been helpful for me to have had someone stressing the need for “continuous learning” in the soft skills and business development realms. Too often the technical learning stays at the forefront but those with the soft skills and business development/networking skills become our future leaders.

1. document all employee interactions
2. you can not satisfy everyone-stand your ground and say NO
3. invest in people by training them properly in the front end and reap the reward later

1. How to gracefully terminate an employee and then deal with the fallout of the actions within the organization.
2. How to bring more “fun” to the workplace.
3. How to manage employees who were 20 to 30 years older than me.


1. Don’t presume to know what someone is thinking or expecting – ASK
2. Similarly, don’t worry about seeming stupid – ASK questions to clarify or to better understand
3. The world generally does not end when you make a mistake

1. It’s o.k. to let someone go that is not working out. I let folks stay too long and it only made it harder to let them go.
2. Sometimes you need to step on toes. I needed to hold others and myself accountable. Sometimes conversations are difficult, but need to happen, with a resolution, not just another conversation.
3. I got in to the business at age 18. Most of the employees were much older than me and my father’s hires. In my mid-thirties was when I realized (with confidence) that I was a capable leader and that my team looked to me for timely decisions, reassurance, coaching and security.

1. Take care of myself – body, mind, spirit.
2. Hire the best people.
3. Learn something new every day.

• To listen, and to learn more.
• To balance health and wellness with work, the healthier you are the more innovative you are.
• To take a month sabbatical every ten years to reflect and refocus.
Talent Management:

• Clearly defined roles/objectives for employees and accountability to those roles
• Recognition for meeting expectations and preferred behaviors
• Better understanding of Emotional Intelligence and how to apply it to talent development

I think the one thing that I would like to change is having more confidence in my ability to succeed in a male dominated business. I did not have a great deal of female role models and therefore, no one to really talk to regarding the challenges that I would face. Today is so different because there are so many women breaking the glass ceiling.

One other point, I did know that I didn’t want to get trapped in a job that my income would not match my abilities. I know this seems as if it is a contradiction, but it really is not.

That last point is keep me charging ahead even though it was very difficult at times.


• That you should treat your staff/company like a ‘neighborhood’ – not a family
• That there is no such thing as work/life balance – but there is such a thing as a deliberate ‘family/personal’ life
• Always surround yourself with people that you aspire to be like, not with people who are currently at the same ‘place’ (you are professionally)

1. The definition (and how to’s) of leadership: the ability to influence, motivate, empower others
2. The secret is to learn how they think – not expect them to think like us
3. The Five Hallmarks of leadership: Goal Setting, Communication, Trust, Accountability, Sincere

• Relationships trump skill. Being skilled is the threshold. The ability to rapidly build rapport and then develop enduring relationships is the differentiator.
• Everyone matters. Treat everyone at all levels of the organization with the same level of respect and courtesy. In reality, administrative assistants rule the world in any organization. They can make you look good, or very bad. They provide or deny access to people and resources. They are a good source of intelligence on what is really going on in the organization.
• The concept of work life balance is overrated. Maintaining work life balance creates stress and forces you to compartmentalize your life, which creates inefficiencies. If one looks at all life elements fitting into the flow of time, rather than in a fixed time period, somehow everything fits and life feels better.

1. I cannot have it all, fully and completely, at the same time. Lesson: I shouldn’t feel bad when I may come short in one or two areas in my life.
2. Woman can be your best support system and they can also be your worst enemies in the professional world.
3. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Applied Behavior Analysis (psychological approach to treat people affected by autism and other behavior disorders) are keys to success in pretty much all areas in life (work, relationship, etc.)

About the Author:
Anne Messenger is a recognized career strategist and coach who has owned her own business for more than 17 years, helping people grow in their careers. Prior to founding Messenger Associates in 1997, Anne was a marketing executive at DBM, a world leader in career services. Before DBM, she managed outplacement centers for Lockheed Martin and headed a career development design team for 2200 employees in the company’s Syracuse division. Previously, she was Executive Director of the Syracuse-Onondaga County Private Industry Council (PIC), an oversight body for federal job training programs. Follow Anne on twitter: @AnneMessenger

This post originally appeared on Messenger Associates blog on November 10, 2014.

October 8, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

Top Women-Led Businesses are Seven Times More Confident in the Economy and Grew Three Times Faster Than the National Average

Has fear about the economic downturn loosened its grip on women business owners? The answer is resoundingly yes, according to the findings of the 2014 Business Outlook Survey, conducted by the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO). Economic concerns have plummeted. Just eight percent of members said they believe economic conditions are the biggest threat to their bottom-line growth, a dramatic drop from last year’s findings, when half of the respondents (50%) cited the economic downturn as their biggest worry.

Sponsored by KeyBank’s Key4Women program, the annual WPO survey conducted by the nonprofit, peer advisory group for leaders of multi-million dollar companies focuses on attitudes regarding business challenges and opportunities, as well as forecasted outcomes of top women-owned and led businesses around the world.”

Full Press Release

WPO-Business Outlook Survey InfoGraphic-2014 resized






October 6, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

5 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Ad Agency

By: Beth Bronfman, CEO and Managing Partner, View the Agency

Selecting an advertising agency can — and should be — a positive experience for any business. With the right partner, you can grow and develop your brand and in turn, your bottom line. But like hiring the right employee, selecting an agency partner can be a challenge. To ensure that you find the right agency “match,” consider these five questions to help guide your search for a partner who will serve as a brand steward for you and your business.

1. What kind of agency am I really looking for? Are your needs more focused in digital, print or direct response? Or are you seeking a fully integrated approach? Regardless of your current needs, it’s key to focus on the big picture and to find a partner who can work with you now — and into the future as your business changes and evolves. What’s more, your winning agency should be one who fully understands your mission, core values and business goals. I believe that it’s the agency’s job to ask what keeps you up at night and to be a partner in facing and overcoming these challenges. To do this, it’s critical that your partner agency knows who they are, what they offer and how they can work with you to achieve the set goals.

2. How do they value their clients? If an agency has a number of long-term clients, this can only mean one thing: the agency is making money for these clients. In most cases, this level of ongoing and consistent success will translate to you and your business. Sure, clients shift with time, but there is a big difference between serial one-off campaigns and a healthy mix of new projects and long-term growth. Twenty-seven projects with twenty-seven different companies don’t show a strong track record. When interviewing your agency, inquire about the length and scope of their work with individual businesses and ask about clients who have taken the agency with them, when moving on to new roles. These are always my favorite case studies to share because they allow us to demonstrate both our work and our ability to build and maintain excellent client relationships.

3. Does all of their creative look the same? People are important, but the next step is to turn a critical eye to the end product. If you’re looking at an agency’s portfolio and see the same themes and styles each time, think about what you’ll be getting. Chances are, you’ll be on the receiving end of those same ideas — recycled for your brand. Instead, look for the agency’s work to echo their client’s individual brand promise, style and messaging. If the agency’s “stamp” is too obvious, it may be more about their brand than yours. Remember, the creative should work for the client, not the other way around.

4. Can I see myself working with these people every day? Simply put, the best relationship with an agency is one that will last for years and grow into a true partnership. When meeting with your agency as part of the pitch process, make sure that the A-team who presents won’t be walking away from your account the moment you’ve signed a contract. Then think about the chemistry factor: if you can’t see yourself working day-to-day with the people on your account team, chances are that the relationship won’t last for the long haul. These should be people you can see yourself collaborating with, who make it about you, the customer. On the flip side, I know that having an engaged and enthusiastic team that gets along well with the client will mean better work product, less account turnover and happier employees. Good chemistry is a win/win for both parties.

5. How will this agency expand my network? Whenever you are hiring a new partner, especially an advertising agency that will be charged with increasing your brand’s overall awareness, there is the potential to expand your businesses network. A good agency should be led by people who are resourceful and resilient and who can connect you and your brand to other people and organizations. They should always be on the lookout for ways to help grow your business and be a true brand ambassador. As the principal of my agency, I am always looking to expand my client’s networks through my own, like The Committee of 200 (C200) and the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), of which I am a member. Whenever I’m talking to fellow C200 and WPO members, or anyone in the business community, I’m always thinking about how these relationships can benefit my clients–because my business is only successful if my clients are successful.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post on October 1, 2014.

May 8, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

IN PRAISE OF Entrepreneurship by Manishi Sagar

Guest Blog by Manishi Sagar, CEO, The Kinderville Group                                                                                                                       

There are two kinds of people in the world—entrepreneurs and  everyone else.

An entrepreneur is an artist. An entre- preneur is a magician. We have this huge dream, this huge ambition to create some- thing and on the other hand almost no resources and  yet we make  something out of nothing.

I have this huge dream of building bilingual schools where children can read, write, think and dream in French and English,  where  chess and  yoga  is an  inte- gral part of the curriculum, where we will create  the  leaders of  tomorrow—but  we have   no  money.  Yet  somehow we  build the  schools.  Somehow  students  trickle in. Somehow  we create a team that  we can trust around us. I feel like David Copperfield.

Translating zero resources into  infinite dreams is my job.

As an entrepreneur I have learned to live on  the  verge  of bankruptcy. I  have  a deal with  my  bank  (they  don’t  know  about it). For six months I own my house and  for the next six months the bank owns the house. When I believed that I owned my home  and I had to take a second or third mortgage to meet  my payroll, I would  get  very tense and  stressed. Now I have  changed my attitude. Now I believe that the bank owns my home  and has  kindly allowed  me to live in it. I am happy.
What is an entrepreneur?
I dare to  answer this  after almost  a   decade  of  study- ing   and   learning   from   my peers at my Montreal  Women Presidents’ Organization. She  is  someone  special. You  know  that  within  a few minutes  of  chatting  with  her. She is a leader, she has charis- ma, and she has vision. She is intelligent and ambitious, knows what she wants and has the con- fidence to  build  consensus around the table  in five minutes. She  is large- hearted  and   generous,  and   yes,   at times too proud to ask for help.

A successful entrepreneur would  be bold  yet  prudent, visionary  yet  practical, tough  yet empathetic, focused yet flexible and  brilliant yet humble. These are  not my words; I  am  merely  quoting from  one  of the great speeches I have heard and loved.

I hold entrepreneurs in the highest regard. They  can  change the  world.  And that  should  be  the  role of  business—to make  the  world  a  better place for every- one. Business needs to  make economic sense and must also be sustainable— socially,  emotionally and  environmentally.

This article first appeared in Vol. 15, No. 1 of Enterprising Women Magazine

To Read More, please visit

March 14, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

Stepping into the Unknown

By Guest Blogger & WPO London Chapter Chair, Sue Stockdale

If you are keen to grow your business, it is likely that this will require you to step into the unknown.  That could mean diversifying into a new sector, launching your product or service into a new geographical sector, or recruiting talented managers so that you can step back from the day to day running of the business and focus on being more strategic.

Being prepared to boldly go where others fear to tread requires a preparedness to take risks, make mistakes but to potentially reap the rewards maybe in terms of increased revenues, larger market share or a robust leadership team.

However going into the unknown will mean accepting some type of change, and as humans we are hard wired to avoid loss.  A study by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found that given a choice our brain will tend to choose the option that minimizes loss—the one with the least perceived change. So in other words, we have to work twice as hard to go into the unknown.

In business there are some great examples of women entrepreneurs who have achieved success by doing this.  Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx knew nothing about the pantyhose industry when she started up her business. Similarly Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, started Biocon Ltd, the biotech business based in India back in 1978 from the garage of her rented home, when the challenges that she faced from lack of reliable infrastructure, meant that she was stepping into the unknown as to whether it was viable or not.   

Here are some tips to help you:

Practice being comfortable with uncertainty

It’s not the unknown that people fear, but the uncertainty that is associated with it.   When I skied to the North Pole, there had been no UK woman there before me.  But there had been other expeditions before mine, so I was able to learn from others about what we might encounter along the way. By doing this research is allayed some of my fears and I was then able to feel more confident about the factors that I could control.   Take time to carry out research before expanding into new markets, or recruiting a key player to your team.

Understand your attitude to risk

Knowing your own propensity for risk-taking will help you understand how and why you make decisions.  This can help when you are encouraging others in your business to take risks, particularly if they have a different attitude to risk than you do.  Using an analysis tool such as Risk-Type Compass which identifies eight different risk types ranging from Prudent and Wary, to Adventurous and Spontaneous, can help teams to recognise what will encourage those with different attitudes to step into the unknown.   

Your ability to be aware of, and question assumptions

We all make assumptions that influence our behaviour. For example. “If I lost money on the stock market, it might happen again, so I won’t do it” or  “Venture Capitalists never fund our type of business”   All of these statements contain assumptions that we may never even challenge.  So when planning to step into the unknown, make sure you are aware of any assumptions you are making about the situation as they may hold you back. 

For example, when US store chain, Best Buy expanded into foreign markets, Business Insider reported in 2011 that they messed up their European expansion by failing to observe that Europeans preferred smaller shops to large outlets, among other factors. Laurel Delaney’s article on Exporting can help you learn more about global markets and enable you to question assumptions, before you take action and embark on an ambitious expansion.


Sue Stockdale is Chapter Chair for the London WPO and is  a Motivational Speaker and Executive Coach working with leaders worldwide.  She was the First UK woman to ski to the North Pole and was recently awarded a Global Coaching Leadership Award in Mumbai. Sue is author of eight business books including The Growth Story and Secrets of Successful Women Entrepreneurs and writes regularly for a number of international publications.

January 13, 2014 / Women Presidents' Organization

Why Exporting Matters For Your Business

Guest blog by Laurel Delaney

Think exporting isn’t for your business?  Guess again.   There are more than seven billion potential customers in the world, and 2.4 billion of them are online. How many of those customers is your company reaching?  In a world that is now connected by the Internet, being a successful businessperson means no longer confining your business by borders—whether those of the city, state, or country. Exporting—or sending goods and services out of a country—increases a company’s sales and profits, enhances its prestige, creates jobs, and offers a valuable way to level seasonal fluctuations. Exporting is also a powerful force that contributes to economic growth, development, and prosperity in our world.

The explosion of US entrepreneurs and small businesses—more than twenty-eight million combined—engaging in the world economy in the last few years is largely attributable to the Internet. This transition has taken place as businesses have sought new ways to grow and tap into the more than 96 percent of the world’s consumers and 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power that lie outside the United States. Surprisingly, though, less than 1 percent of these businesses and individuals operate in the US export marketplace, even though the amount of exporters has grown faster than the amount of nonexporters in terms of both goods sold and employment.

Exporting puts you in the driver’s seat, so you can sell more everywhere, get on the world stage, and grow. Other benefits to exporting include:

•    Improving your return on investments
•    Creating jobs
•    Overcoming low growth in your home market
•    Outmaneuvering competitors
•    Becoming more productive
•    Generating economies of scale in production
•    Exploring previously untapped markets
•    Making productive use of excess domestic capacity
•    Extending the product life cycle
•    Insulating your seasonal domestic sales by allowing you to find new foreign markets
•    Broadening your personal intellectual horizons
•    Enriching your country
•    Traveling to new countries

The Current State of Exporting

Export-driven entrepreneurs and small businesses play a significant role in the overall economic growth and prosperity of the United States and the world at large. They have the potential to improve productivity, achieve greater efficiencies, enhance world-class competitiveness, and create jobs. This is possible because:

•    Exporting lends itself to small business. More than 293,100 US companies exported goods in 2010, nearly 16,500 more than in 2009. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—those with fewer than five hundred employees—accounted for 97 percent of all identified exporters in 2010 (Source:

•    Exports generate revenue. The known export revenue of small- and medium-sized enterprises in the United States rose to $383.4 billion in 2010, up 24.1 percent from 2009. SMEs were responsible for 33.7 percent of goods exports in 2010 (Source:

•    Exports are growing. US exports reached historic highs in 2011, which represents an increase of 33 percent from those in 2009. That year, US exports reached a record $2.1 trillion and supported 9.7 million American jobs. US exports of services reached a record $606 billion, boosting the 2011 trade surplus in services of the United States to a record $178.5 billion. Total global exports were higher in 2011 than in any previous year (Source:

•    Exporting helps you find new customers and develop new markets. The International Monetary Fund ( forecasts that nearly 87 percent of the world economic growth during the next five years will take place outside of the United States.

The bottom line is whether you run a product or serviced-based business you need to be ready to take on the world, because the future of exporting literally lies in your hands.  Are you ready?  Let’s export!

Laurel J. Delaney is founder and president of Chicago-based, a management consulting company that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses go global.  She is the author of “Exporting:  The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably,” Apress, 2013 (

December 9, 2013 / Women Presidents' Organization

Advancing the State of Your Empire

Guest Blog Post by Beth Bronfman, Managing Partner, VIEW

I believe in empire building. Especially when it comes to women in business. If you want power, I say go for it. But what happens once you get to that mountaintop that once seemed so unattainable? What happens when the hurdles that seemed so high are now considered nothing more than temporary speed bumps? When you have every reason to rest on a nice cushy bed of laurels?

Wake up. You are now at a make or break moment.

The care and feeding of a successful business is every bit as challenging and critical as the long climb it took to achieve that success. Thankfully, you are now in a position to delegate, draw on the support of longtime contacts, and get advice from those who once had no time for you.

Interestingly, Advancing the State of Your Empire was the theme and focus I chose as the chair of this year’s annual Committee of 200 (C200) Conference in New York City. C200 is an invitation-only membership organization composed of some of the world’s most successful female business leaders and entrepreneurs. I feel privileged to be a board member of such a prestigious group and to share ideas, experiences and visions for the future of our careers — and for all women in business.

Though women are quite savvy about the tools needed to start their careers, they are woefully deficient in understanding what’s needed to progress as leaders. Here are a few tips I consider indispensable, whether you’re in the corporate world or an enterprising entrepreneur:

  • Continue building your list of contacts. It is important to know people with a variety of skill sets you are able to draw upon at any point in time. You never know when someone in another industry might become the perfect partner for your next business goal.
  • Carefully select a board of advisors. It is the old adage: Two heads are better than one. And in many cases, multiple heads are better than a few. Having a trusted team of advisors to turn to for big decisions can help provide important perspective, drawn from combined years of experience in business.
  • Never stop networking. Learn about what other leaders are doing and how they think can only expand your own vision. Surround yourself with equally ambitious and successful leaders, and you will never lack for inspiration or guidance when you need it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’d be surprised at how many other successful leaders have faced similar challenges, and can provide valuable insight into how to approach a problem to find a workable solution.

These tips are valuable at any stage of a career, including the CEO level! In fact, at the C200 Conference, our members, all corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, participated in panels where we leaned on one another for advice on all kinds of topics, including how to make tough choices — in life and in business, how to apply the growing field of big data to improve businesses in any industry, and how to get the most out of each stage of a career. The point is that you’ve never climbed the ladder far enough to stop climbing, or to look around at the scaffolding for support.

*This article originally appeared on Huffington Post on December 4, 2013


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