Sit down with the highly accomplished members of Athena Alliance, an executive learning community for women leaders, to hear the personal tales behind their professional success. We learn the real story behind their inspiring executive careers — their fears, their failures, and what song they’re singing at karaoke. You don’t get to the top without creating some memorable stories along the way.
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Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Welcome to Voices of Athena, the podcast highlighting women in leadership. I’m your host Priscilla Brenenstuhl. I’ve spent the last year interviewing some of the most successful women in business. I’ve asked them to tell me about their fears, their greatest challenges and what keeps them hopeful. Today I am going to share with you what I’ve learned from our conversations.
I will start with what I perceive as being the most common trait shared among all of the leaders I spoke to. And that is…
Leaders move towards their fears, sometimes even run towards them as catalyst for change. Leaning into what is uncomfortable has the power to reveal your strengths and ability to perseveer. Challenges become opportunities for growth and expansion. Learning how to manage fear opens up entirely new possibilities.
Many of the women I interviewed recalled the most daring thing they’ve done as saying yes to something completely outside of their comfort zone. None of them looked back on these decisions with regret. Moreover, they seemed compelled to say yes more and more. Now this wasn’t because their fears went away but their ability to trust themselves through the fear in order to get to the other side increased.
Being able to trust yourself is at the foundation of leading with integrity. Like with any relationship, trust is built over time and with practice. It starts with how you treat yourself. Do you criticize and even ostracize parts of your personality or are you encouraging, understanding and compassionate particularly when in times of challenge? Taking the time to get curious about your personal narrative, magnifying and dissecting the thoughts and feelings that are on auto-pilot, will uncover what is at the root of your fears and how they are holding you back from living and leading at your potential. There are endless modalities to help with this like movement, meditation, journaling and a personal favorite- community. I have never experienced a more potent medicine than the power of belonging. Finding a community (even if it’s just a few people) who see you in your authentic self and celebrate you when you have trouble doing so, can completely transform your life. Organizations that unite and develop women leaders, such as the Athena Alliance, are not just helpful but necessary.
Support systems are vital. It can be lonely at the top, particularly for women. The more you advance in your career the less and less other women are sitting next to you at the table. As a minority, it can be extra challenging to assert your leadership, to challenge others and to find belonging. We are not only suffering from a lack of women in top leadership positions but from a lack of understanding and appreciation for the divine feminine. Qualities such as nurturing, reflective, compassionate and forgiving are often dismissed, criticized and even seen as weaknesses. This has a direct impact on the way decisions are made, who is allowed to make those decisions and the way business is run. The demands in the race to the top often prioritize money over values, business over well-being. It is a race fraught with casualties. Men are suffering too- hyper-fixation on results and bravado is tiresome and unfulfilling. One often reaches the top only to find that they’ve been running from something instead of towards it- using arbitrary metrics and goals to escape feelings of shame, doubt and unworthiness.
It is not surprising to find that even the most successful leaders struggle with imposter syndrome. This phrase now encapsulating generations of decline in belonging. At least there is a word now to describe a once indescribable feeling. That alone is progress.
In best case scenarios, the pressure of what you don’t want pushes you to move towards what you do want, even if it the move seems risky. And change is upon us, consumers and employees are making decisions based on companies’ values, intuitive leadership is trendy and the circle of inclusivity keeps expanding to bring ever more diversity into the fold. The way business is done is rapidly changing and I am so here for it.
One of the most impactful changes we can make in the future of work is to recognize the value of caretakers and find creative solutions to support them as vital contributors to the workforce and the community at large. I’ll use this time to speak more specifically about motherhood. As a staggering majority of the women I interviewed consider motherhood as their greatest challenge. These are women who have raised millions, sometimes billions of dollars and who’ve left the security of a corporate job to pursue their passions and launch companies on their own and they are saying that motherhood was their greatest challenge. I just want to let that sink in for a moment.
Becoming a mother impacts everything in a woman’s life. A woman in leadership must learn to pivot amidst this upheaval in order to accommodate a whole host of new responsibilities. Priorities shift, skills like time management and multi-tasking become necessary for survival. Mothers are the gatekeepers of our future, the weight of our decisions not only affecting our own children but also future generations. This learning intensive that is motherhood is sacred and must be treated as such. I have decided I am going to honor my experience professionally by adding motherhood to my resume.
This leads me to my last reflection. The best leaders share their leadership, understanding that there is a time and place for everyone’s unique contributions to shine. Leadership isn’t exclusive to those who talk the loudest, are the most convincing or charismatic. Leaders of the future must grow organizations intentionally, considering the varied needs of employees and a commitment to the well-being of our societies and the world we live in.
Thank you for tuning in. I’m honored to share my time with you. Season 2 kicks off on January 20, as I sit down with Liz Tinkham, a fellow podcast host, board director, professor and retired Senior Managing Director for Accenture, a leading global professional services company.
As always, if you are a member of the Athena Alliance and would like to be a featured guest, please reach out to me at [email protected]
Your story matters.
This podcast was created to unravel the stories behind the dynamic and inspiring women of Athena Alliance. If you’re a member and want to be featured, we’d love to hear from you. Your story matters.