10 Leadership Lessons From 10 of Today’s Female Leaders

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

In her recently released audiobook, “Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success,” entrepreneur Elisa A. Schmitz shares 10 leadership lessons from 10 of today’s highly successful female professionals.

Released in December 2022, “Become The Fire,” also details how Smith sold her first business to Disney, started her current venture, and how other “outsiders” can achieve life-changing success.

Below are the 10 leaders and leadership lessons Smith spotlights.

Believe in yourself

“Put yourself at the intersection of your passion and your company’s purpose. Embrace every challenge and be willing to do things there is no roadmap for,” says Laura Desmond, venture capitalist, board director for Adobe and DoubleVerify, and former CEO of Starcom MediaVest.

“Figure out what you don’t know. Realize that not everyone is on the same journey as you. Be willing to give some things up. Let go of what you think you know, to grow.”

Be fearless

“Don’t be afraid. Go for what is in your gut. There’s always risk. You’ve got to take a chance. When you are afraid, there’s no way you can be open,” counsels Desirée Rogers, CEO of Black Opal Beauty, board director for Inspired Entertainment, MDC Partners, and World Business Chicago, and the first African American woman to serve as social secretary for the president of the United States.

“The reason we are stopped from being great is that we worry. We think we’re going to fail. We will fail, but we must keep going. Go for it, give it a try, take charge, get it done. Push forward.”

It’s OK to fail

Everyone fails, observes Paula Boggs, former chief legal officer and board secretary of Starbucks, board director for Avid and Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and governor for the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy.

“What separates successful people is how we respond to that failure…Having started my career with failure, the gift was to know you can overcome it. Recognize it and give yourself the space to freak out when it happens, because it will happen. Don’t take yourself, or any situation, too seriously. You can always find the humor in any situation if you look hard enough.”

Embrace who you are

Sarah Hofstetter, president of Profitero, board director for Profitero and Campbell Soup Company, and associate national commissioner for the Anti-Defamation League, stresses the importance of being authentic.

“I’m my authentic self. You have to embrace your individuality. If you try to be somebody else, it becomes inauthentic.” she says. “I put myself in others’ shoes, and that affects how I react. I ask a lot of questions. The more curious you are, the better at problem-solving you will be. Look at who you are in your totality, then create your own authentic style that works for you.”

See the big picture

For Jules Pieri, founder of The Grommet, board member for the University of Michigan Alumni Association, entrepreneur-in-residence for Harvard Business School, and author of How We Make Things Now, “becoming a self-starter and independently seeking inspiration” are defining attributes.

“Everyone feels fear about a risky choice or a hard decision. Success means getting past the physical sensations of butterflies or a churning stomach. I always look at things sideways. Enjoy the process of figuring out the destination, seeing the big picture. Make a mark.”

Bring your ideas to life

Kim Oster-Holstein, founder of Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels and Twisted Alchemy, and board member for Jewish Women International, explains: “A simple idea can come to you, and you fill it with the hope, creativity, love, aspirations and all you dream of. That idea is a catalyst to build your life centered around the essence of you and all you desire to manifest.

“There’s nothing more exciting than building something out of nothing. Success lies at being true to your creative spirit, bringing ideas to life with joy, enthusiasm, vision and love.”

Never stop learning

Emily Smith, former CEO of Wild Sky Media, and board member for Mamas Uncut, advises that you start exhibiting questionable leadership traits when you stop asking questions.

“I ask a lot of questions. It’s OK if I get it wrong. Having an ego that needs to be protected is fatal. I’m curious, and I always want to learn more…You need to always be learning and making yourself better. Staying up-to-date on tools and adapting quickly to change is so important.”

Show your humanity

Talita Ramos Erickson, chief legal and compliance officer, chief transformation officer and D & I board adviser for Barilla Group, and advisory council member for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, applauds compassion and empathy.

“Being connected to all kinds of people had a huge impact on how I see things. I had a belief that I am more than what I do. I wanted to impact people’s lives,” she says. “It’s very hard to lead when you don’t care about people. As one of my colleagues said to me about the pandemic, ‘We’re all in the storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.’ If you’re a leader, you need to acknowledge that everyone is in a different boat. That’s empathy.”

Always bring your A-Game.

Angela Martinez Korompilas, is a former CEO of American Hotel Register Company, and a member of YPO and the Economic Club of Chicago.

“I always felt empowered to be the very best me that I could be. There were no limits to what I could do,” she asserts. “I am a work in progress. I set super high standards for myself and everyone around me. I am not perfect, and I’m honest about who I am. But I always give it my best. When you dig a little deeper, that’s where all the goodness is. I always ask myself, ‘Is that how you want to be remembered?’”

Be relentless

Perseverance and grit are essential leadership traits for Winnie Park, CEO of Forever 21, and board director for EXPRESS and Dollar Tree Stores.

“I was not afraid to do the grunt work. I learned the business from the ground up. I was given opportunities because of my work ethic and sweat equity, because I’m comfortable solving problems and building teams from the ground up,” she states.

“You don’t have to be the expert, or always be right. Be willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work. I take risks. I know I’m going to be uncomfortable. When you are willing to learn with humility, empower amazing teams and you deliver results, you’re given opportunities to do more.”