Grace: Bosses shouldn't be so bossy, leadership expert says in Omaha talk - Omaha.com
Published Friday, October 25, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:12 am
Grace: Bosses shouldn't be so bossy, leadership expert says in Omaha talk

The leadership expert offered this simple advice: Be kind. Be generous. Be sincere.

Do it as a CEO and your company will rise to the top. Do it as an underling and you will rise to the top.

This approach worked for Southwest Airlines, which employs someone whose sole job is to find, hang and display family photos of some of the carrier's 36,000 employees.

Southwest is the nation's largest domestic carrier. Its employees overwhelmingly say in surveys that they love working there.

This strategy, for lack of a better term, also has worked for a woman named Betsy Myers, who was in Omaha on Thursday to motivate about 1,000 Omahans, most of them women, who attended her talk.

Myers, 53, has served two U.S. presidents (Clinton, Obama), heads a center for women and business (Bentley University in Boston) and has published a book (“Take the Lead”).

She was in town to help the nonprofit Women's Fund of Omaha, which supports women-oriented causes, at the group's annual fundraising luncheon.

Command-and-control, know-it-all, top-down leaders are out, Myers said. Collaborative, service-oriented, vulnerability-showing leaders are in.

“The new leadership model today,” she said, “is about getting someone's heart.”

Well, Betsy Myers got mine. But not in the big auditorium with the bigwigs.

She impressed me right before that, in a small room with a group of college students who want bigger things for their lives.

Here was Ndu Kowa, an 18-year-old business major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Here were Lisbeth Delgado, 19, who wants to be a paralegal, and Yenci Rivera, a 32-year-old mother of two and hairdresser who wants to have her own business.

The women had dressed up. They had come early. They were ready to hear what a Harvard-educated leadership expert was going to say.

Myers, casually holding her Starbucks, was both big sister and cheerleader.

She said: Dress sharp. Go the extra mile. Make yourself invaluable to your boss. Don't engage in office gossip. Don't surround yourself with downers.

Listen, listen, listen to the beat of your heart and follow that.

She asked the women to examine their lives, to ask themselves what makes them most happy and joyful and find out what makes them want to get out of bed in the morning.

The answers, she said, are “pearls” — and you want to gather your pearls.

She then told the women that they will know— as instinctively as she did when serving as chief operating officer of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign — when a job is a bad fit.

It will be like that uncomfortable sweater, she said, the one that is too tight, with a hole in the armpit that makes you squirm all day. So don't wear it.

Myers said her job with the Obama campaign involved so much desk work that it didn't make her happy. It wasn't a pearl.

So she quit and ended up heading a get-out-the-vote group called Women for Obama that involved her people skills. It made her happy.

“Listen to yourself,” she said. “If you're not feeling passionate, that's a clue for you.”

That's why one of the most important words women can learn, she said, is this one: No.

Say yes to what brings you closer to your goals. Say no to the rest. And don't feel guilty.

Myers urged the women to be “thoughtful” and “strategic” and to take control of their lives and not “let life happen to you.”

This means being circumspect and not popping off at some injustice with an email you would regret later. This means not posting that bikini selfie on Facebook. This means doing your homework and being prepared.

Ultimately, she said, rising is about relationships.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

Myers recalled an intern named Molly, who worked for her in the White House's Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach during the Clinton administration. So many interns cycled through the office that Myers had a hard time remembering them. They were young college students who often acted as if they were above making photocopies and other intern grunt-work.

But Molly was different. Molly noticed Myers' dry plant and watered it. Molly noticed Myers hadn't eaten lunch all day and brought her a sandwich.

Soon Myers was taking Molly to meetings and having her handle heavier work. She also learned her name.

Here's a name for Omahans to watch: Ndu.

Ndu Kowa, the business sophomore, is finishing up a term on the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors. Ndu was the student rep while she attended Metro, before transferring to UNO.

Ndu was born in Zambia and spent her first 10 years there. Her mother left Zambia when Ndu was 5 to pursue a better life in America.

That better life was in Omaha, where Ndu's mother works as a nurse. Ndu came here in 2005 and graduated from Omaha Westside in 2012. Her brother attends there now.

Ndu is young. She doesn't know yet what she wants to do.

But after listening to Myers, she learned this.

“My biggest takeaway was to bring kindness and generosity to every situation,” Ndu said, “because you never know what kind of impact you will have on someone.”

Exactly.

Misspelling: An earlier of this report spelled Myers' last name as Meyers.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace

erin.grace@owh.com    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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