Five Things I Learned at WFF 2016

There is something remarkable about being surrounded by smart talented people. It lifts your game and makes you want to be more and contribute more to the world. For me, being around smart talented women is especially empowering and it reminds me of arriving as a first year student at Smith College, realizing that I had only begun to tap my potential. No matter how old I get, every time I find myself in these groups I come back to one crystal clear thought:

Holy crap, there is so much more to be done.

I’ve spent three days (so far) at the Women’s Foodservice Forum annual leadership conference, and I could easily write a handful of blogs on any number of interesting topics. For now, I am going to draft my executive summary, or as I call it Five Things I Learned at WFF 2016:

Number 1. It’s good to share your story. When we were planning for the event, one of my colleagues asked me to sit on a panel of women leaders — she thought that sharing how I came to be the primary breadwinner in my family would resonate with our company’s women. I hesitated, because I felt there were better stories or more interesting people. I shouldn’t have hesitated. More than ten women have approached me throughout the conference sharing that their own story mirrored mine and thanking me for sharing. Turns out, we all thought we were special, but I found out in a later session (@laurenchivee) that we’re not. 38% of breadwinners are women. 

Number 2. Be fearless and embrace your competence. On the flight out to the conference, I wrote about my fears and how I am owning them and working to move beyond them. It was ironic to find myself in a session on Fearless Leadership where the speaker (@EricLBoles) seemed to look right at me when he said, “Why is it that extremely competent women look to incompetent men for approval?” There he was, an ex-NFL football player telling a room full of women that we needed to own our prior success and not diminish it as luck. He told us we had competence but not confidence. Later that day I got a text from a male colleague that said, “Very nice!!! You are awesome” and instead of my normal response (awww, shucks it was nothing) I texted back, “Yes I am!”

Number 3. Before I die I want to… It is hard to take the time for self-reflection, and harder still to reflect about the finite nature of human existence. And even though I had heard the speaker’s TED Talk before (@candychang), listening to her in person one clear idea emerged: I desperately want to show my daughter the ropes and take her on a trip to Paris. Now I also know that it feels right because in some ways it meets all five of the categories of responses people generally put on the “before I die” walls: Love, Travel, Helping Others, Family and Personal Well-Being.

Number 4. It matters who is in the top job. Sophie Bellon, Chairwoman of the Board of Sodexo, spoke about her experience stepping into the operations of the global company and being surrounded by men. She shared that she asked where all the women were and was told, of hearing,”it just isn’t a woman’s job.” Perhaps it would have remained acceptable to act as if that were true if Ms. Bellon had not been poised to take the top job, but she did take the top job and now Sodexo is recognized not only for top results but also for gender diversity in leadership.

Number 5. I’m brilliant. I’ve always been brilliant. In fact, I am “oh brilliant one.” I know this because the speaker (@SimonTBailey) assured me of this fact as we were talking about ways to shift dialogue and experiences to bring out the brilliant in everyone. It reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility and the chapter on giving everyone an A. I know it sounds hokey — believe me, I know it — but I was reminded because I truly believe that if you start with assuming someone is capable and engaged it is much easier to leave with a real success.

So that’s it — five new thinks I learned. And, on top of that I learned this week that as an engaged and enthusiastic leader I have a rare opportunity to build up strong teams and deliver results for myself and my business. 

And that is something I can’t be reminded of enough.