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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s