Last Tuesday, I got invited to be part of an amazing evening with a group of inspiring ladies from around Boston. The night was hosted by Camp Campbell, a program started by the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Denise Morrison, to connect young women leaders and entrepreneurs with each other, and with top female leaders at Campbell’s. It’s sort of like a nationwide mentorship program (they do events in a number of major cities throughout the year).
The night–a Jeffersonian Dinner–was hosted at City Landing in Boston. If you’ve never heard of a Jeffersonian Dinner (I hadn’t either), the concept is basically this: Ten to 14 people are invited to dinner (some of my companions for the evening included Stephanie Kaplan, founder of HerCampus, Amanda Curtis, founder of 19th Amendment, and Denise Morrison herself), and one topic of conversation is presented as the “theme” of the evening. The catch: Only one person speaks at a time to ensure that the entire table stays engaged in just one discussion. It turned out to be very effective (and I highly recommend it for future dinner parties!).
Our topic of the evening was, not surprisingly, leadership. We were each asked to go around the table and share a story or idea about what makes a great leader. The conversation progressed naturally from there, and I furiously took notes the whole time because there was some incredibly insightful information shared. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.
1. Great leaders delegate. That first question about what makes a good leader inspired all kinds of answers, but one of the recurring points was that effective leaders trust the people they lead to do their jobs. Personally, I’ve always felt that when I am given ownership of a project and trusted to do the job well, that I’m more likely to be invested in it, and therefore put full my full energy and effort into it, and it was interesting to hear that so many of the other girls felt the same way. As CEO, Denise agreed, saying that “the sweet spot” for effective leadership is “setting guidelines, but giving people space to interpret those guidelines themselves.” I thought this was a good point to remember not just as a leader, but as an employee, too. If you’re not feeling inspired by your work, maybe it’s time to ask your boss for more responsibility–it could re-ignite your sense of purpose.
2. No one can do it all. Throughout the night, we also kept coming back to the topic of “guilt.” Most of us seemed to struggle with the “if I leave the office at 5 to go the gym, I feel guilty that I’m not staying at work longer. But if I stay at work til 7, then I feel guilty that I didn’t work out” scenario. It’s something I’ve definitely struggled with personally, trying to balance a full-time job, my blog, my new marriage, etc. The point was initially raised when Denise was asked about work/life balance. How to manage work life, home life, her physical health….And she admitted to feeling guilty at times for not being everywhere and able to do everything, all the time. But, she made an interesting point by telling us something her father told her early on, that “guilt is anger turned inward,” and that she thinks it’s a waste of energy. Her solution is to always try and keep her “three circles”–the aspects of her life she needs to maintain in order to feel happy and be healthy–in balance: for her, those circles were physical, academic, and spiritual. If she feels like one is out of balance, she puts extra effort into that area, and makes a conscious decision not to feel guilty about getting that need met. A mentality I will definitely employ myself!
3. Don’t be afraid of failure. As cliche as this one might sound, many of the women around the table shared early career mistakes–one had even just come out of a failed startup–that turned out to be valuable career lessons. Denise made the point that risk, and the ability to go out on a limb and push a new, innovative idea, is where the greatest creativity comes from, and that sometimes, failure is a part of that. Her mantra: “fail fast, fail cheap, fail often.” In other words, once you realize something isn’t going to work out, learn from it and move on.
4. Be Present. Our table agreed that social media was a major time suck…but often a necessary evil, since many of us seated there were bloggers, small business owners, and even community managers. Our collective problem seemed to be that, if we let it, social media–managing Twitter accounts, Instagram feeds, Facebook profiles– could take hours each day…but that even then it sometimes didn’t feel like enough when we were trying to get ourselves and our brands “out there.” One of the great solutions I heard was to dedicate time to it each day, maybe an hour in the morning, ten minutes after lunch, and ten minutes at the end of the day, and then be present for the rest of your day. This keeps you from being distracted and disengaged from what’s going on around you, and breaks the mindset that everything needs to be documented.
5. Remember the art of conversation. Similar to #4, Denise made the point that, as much as technology–texting, email, social media–makes you feel connected, it’s also limited as a communication form because it’s one-way, and doesn’t allow for the spontaneous reactions or moments that face-to-face interaction does. She urged us not to forget the art of conversation, since it’s where she’s found the most creativity and the best exchange of ideas occurs.
I know I just talked about how relieving it can be to know that everything doesn’t have to be documented…but I wish I could have recorded this night word-for-word, it was so valuable. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it, and I hope to have more updates to share from future events!