What skills have helped you achieve success in your industry as a female executive

Effectively providing direction and leadership for a growing company can challenge even the most passionate entrepreneurs. As leadership diversity increases and female executives become more common, this new wave of CEOs must hone these critical skills. Keep reading to find out what traits supported these female executives in their business pursuits.

Somer Hackley

Somer Hackley

Somer Hackley is the Founder and CEO of Distinguished Search, a retained executive search firm focused on technology, data, product, and digital, across all industries.

Asking the right questions

I’ve been recruiting for 18 years, and I spent over a decade in the financial services industry – first banks, then hedge funds and asset managers, then fintech. There has been an interesting trend in recruiting. Clients have gradually started to prefer candidates from other industries versus continuing the game of “executive musical chairs” from their direct competitors.

The skills that contributed to my success in financial services have continued to help me be successful across all industries. Clients don’t have time to waste and prefer directness over fluff. I grew thick skin and learned how to present myself so that people respected what I had to say. It took years of deliberately paying attention to my tone, elevating my vocabulary, and later presenting bold opinions versus simply taking orders. Later in my career, I gained the skill of presenting my true self with authenticity. The biggest skill that has helped me get to where I am today is asking the right questions, listening, and ultimately truly understanding the journey my clients’ companies are undertaking, and having the ability to think creatively about where to go for talent.

Curiosity is a skill

I’ve worked in the consumer-packaged goods industry my entire career, and in recent years, have focused on the pet category. I can’t think of a better category! It’s fun (part of my job is watching pet videos), emotional (some stories are incredibly heart-warming), and we have the best “consumers.” It feels good to know that our food provides them with great nutrition.

Problem-solving has always drawn me in. Any problem is a puzzle, and I’ve always loved puzzles. The thought occurred to me – why couldn’t there be a better, more sustainable [food] options for pets? I started researching alternative proteins, and it was clear that we needed better, more sustainable options. Alternative proteins tread lightly on the earth’s resources.

I think curiosity is a skill and an absolute necessity for an executive. You may not have to come up with an original idea, but your curiosity should push you to maximize one. My curiosity led me to explore all the protein options available and land on something truly different – insect protein! Further down the road, fed by my curiosity, I had a lot of ideas on where to go with my business with lots of new products using our alternative protein.

I’m also an activator, and I like processes. Taking a nebulous idea and making it a reality excites me. There are voids in every industry where a new product would serve a need and sometimes a great need. In most cases, we’re not even aware that these voids exist, but those are opportunities. I think our insect protein fulfills a great need – a pet food that offers sustainability and fights climate change. It’s been rewarding to fill that void. I’ve seen the protein go from an abstract [idea] to reality. It doesn’t get much more real than a literal ton of fresh pet food all developed from the ground up.

Anne Carlson

Anne Carlson

Anne Carlson, Founder and CEO of sustainable pet food brand Jiminy’s.
Bonnie Schiffman

Bonnie Schiffman

Bonnie Schiffman is the founding owner of sustainable skincare brand, This Stuff Goes Bad.

I needed so much more than just passion

In order to start my own business, I needed so much more than just passion for what I was creating and selling. [I needed] the ability to actually market and sell it! In addition to the scientific knowledge needed to create a skincare product, I also needed my experience with web design, my previous product management experience, my service industry skills, and even my background in dance and modeling.

I found that almost every experience, every odd job, every connection I had, gave me necessary tools to start a business from scratch. Understanding what makes a photo pop on social media was just as important a skill as understanding my financials. Understanding how to appease difficult customers was just as important as understanding how to optimize websites for SEO. As a woman who has worked in so many different fields, I found that there was no previous job, no matter how small or mundane, that did not teach me something useful in starting a business.

Ability to ask others for help and to recognize what you don’t know

I work in the performing arts industry and founded my own theatre and events company straight out of university, for which I am the company director and creative producer.

One of the biggest skills that helped me is probably not the most obvious. It is the ability to ask others for help and to recognize what you don’t know. Theatre and creativity are not what you would immediately associate with business acumen and running a company. [When I started,] I had no background in business, finance, or management and therefore not the slightest idea where to even start with establishing a theatre company. What I did have was the self-awareness to recognize this [deficiency] and the humility and honesty to reach out to the right people for guidance and support. Asking questions gets you everywhere. Over 18 months later, the company has survived a pandemic, staged our first fully-funded professional production in the middle of the said pandemic, and even interviewed interns.

Similarly, creativity, resourcefulness, and innovation are not to be overlooked. My artistic background gave me the tools I needed to think outside of the box, find inventive solutions for problems, and most importantly, be highly flexible and adaptable under unexpected circumstances. Finally, it takes tenacity to start a company and drag others along for the ride, especially in such a hard-to-break-into industry, and flourish as an entrepreneur.

Elspeth Dale

Elspeth Dale

Elspeth Dale, Founder/Company Director/Creative Producer of Three Left Feet Productions, Lancaster, UK.

Hollie Kitchens

Hollie Kitchens

Hollie Kitchens is a Brand Strategist and the founder of the Agent Authority Academy. Find her at Holliekitchens

Embrace my “flaws” and how to use them to my advantage

The skill that has really helped me achieve my role is to embrace my “flaws.” I have found out how to use them to my advantage. For example, I am extremely introverted. I hate phone calls. I don’t like group settings. I prefer groups of five people or less, and I am so socially awkward. I’ve always found that when I force myself to pretend to be a people person, I am miserable, and I just wasn’t good company.

In high school, though, I loved Myspace. Why? It was because I wasn’t forcing myself to speak to people in social settings that made it awkward. I obsessed over [adding backgrounds and music to] my Myspace page. Learning to do those things has helped me cope with my antisocial personality, and it’s made me pretty good at HTML. I use that knowledge in my business and to help others too. To be honest, I save thousands of dollars in developer fees because of the HTML I have learned.

Also, being on Myspace helped me connect with people through social media and learn how to communicate with people over text, which has been an amazing opportunity. We’ve been able to land some stellar interviews simply by connecting with people via social media. So, embrace that inner David and show them up with your so-called weaknesses.

Seize the opportunity and set boundaries

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I worked in the entertainment industry where I had to dodge all sorts of behavior to make it. In order to be successful in my career, I definitely learned some bad habits [such as] shying away from confronting rude behavior. It was a survival mechanism that helped me navigate an industry where I had to prove my skills and credibility over and over again.

In order to become a boss, I needed to change this behavior and step into my power. It doesn’t all happen at once, but I realized shying away from confrontation meant an inability to seize the opportunity and set boundaries. It’s not easy to unlearn bad habits, but I no longer silence myself.

Melissa Kiguwa

Melissa Kiguwa, CEO of Obánj, a luxury jewelry company where our members borrow Dior, YSL, Gucci, and more.

Branka Vuleta

Branka Vuleta, Founder of LegalJobSite.

I’m in the legal industry. Given that I’m also managing my business online, the skills that helped me achieve business success are:

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

I think most women have that special something that differentiates them from their male counterparts – a heightened sense of caring for other people. I think women are natural caretakers, which is something I found to be crucial in business. Managing employees requires you to know how to assess their needs, see when they’re struggling, and effectively listen before any major thing happens. It’s important with clients as well, as you’ll need a lot of patience and care to satisfy their unique needs.

Attention to Detail and Delegation Skills

I think one of the most important skills that helped me achieve business success is the ability to pay close attention to detail and be ready to delegate tasks without fearing they’ll be completed right and on time. I think the ability to measure everything twice before cutting, so to say, allowed me to minimize the risks when it comes to business management. I feel like the responsibility towards myself, my family, and my employees pushed me a bit harder and made me even more cautious than I was before. Also, I think my willingness to assign and delegate tasks to others without micromanaging them helped me set my priorities right without having to fear burning out or not having time for important tasks that need my attention.

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