All CEOs face challenges. The challenges women face in corporate America are particularly unique.
“Women remained dramatically underrepresented,” the study reports, “particularly women of color, but the numbers were slowly improving.” Despite the improvement, the study also reported COVID-19 has precipitated an exodus of women from the workforce, which could set back the progress women have made in the C-Suite over the past five years.
As corporate culture for women continues to evolve, the contributions and voices of women in the workplace are more important than ever.
This International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting the female CEOs who bring their expertise and passion to our coaching team here at CEO Coaching International.
We sat down with our partners and coaches — Asha Saxena, Ramona Cappello, Cynthia Cleveland, and Jacquie Hart — to learn more about their experiences as CEOs, how they approach coaching, and their advice for fellow women CEOs working to Make BIG Happen.
If you think any of these women can help you reach your goals, let us know here.
When you were a CEO – what was the biggest lesson you learned?
Asha: The biggest thing is people. People can make or break a company. It’s so important to invest in your people and build culture. When you’re working in an organization and you’re growing so fast, you can easily forget to pay attention to the people who are inside doing the work and serving your customer.
An architect doesn’t focus on building the best house for himself. He’s always building for others. It’s so important to practice what you preach – focus on your own people and then focus on your vendors and other key relationships critical to your success.
Cynthia: Hire the best team possible (hopefully smarter than you are)! Set goals, hold your team members accountable, and celebrate your wins.
Jacquie: We are a product of our own lived experiences. The way we show up is a function of that. Showing up and using a Listen, Learn, Lead model allows us to take in the best of an organization’s history while co-creating a future vision.
Ramona: I learned that you are not alone. If you need help, seek it. Don’t be afraid to ask your mentors, friends, family, your coach, or team at work to help. People will step up, and when they do, accept it.
Another key learning during my time as CEO was allowing employees to ‘buy in’ (invest in the company). When employees are invested in more ways than one, it encourages them to put the company first since their job is no longer just a salary.
What is something you’re most proud of from your time working as a CEO?
Cynthia: Several of my direct reports went on to become CEOs themselves and they came back and hired me to coach them.
Jacquie: Recognizing talent and promoting it. We all have unique gifts and superpowers. Recognizing the talent in others and helping them to identify and intersect their passion and purpose with the greatest need is remarkably rewarding.
Ramona: I’m most proud that I was able to build amazing teams and help them shine. I also never let a closed door end my dreams. My mom always told me to ‘look for an open window’ and during my time as CEO, I always strived to live by that.
Asha: I had a consulting firm for e-commerce and a software company. Our product, an analytics product which we had built, had a direct impact on our customer success, which was quality of care and health care — it really created an impact on physician performance.
We were able to analyze the data to see how to improve the quality of care and whether efforts were effective or not. Looking back, it’s something that was very cool and I’m proud of it.
What’s the biggest roadblock you had as a CEO that you’re proud to help clients overcome now?
Ramona: As with all CEOs, there are so many roadblocks to overcome that I can’t remember them all! That said, I always view that ‘no’ means ‘not yet,’ and I keep pushing to get a win.
I’m not inclined to give up. I have found that viewing roadblocks as speed bumps is effective at work and in life. If I hit a wall, I immediately look for all the things I can do instead of focusing on what I can’t do. I will find a way to win, and usually, it has led me to a bigger and better path.
Asha: Aside from learning the importance of having the right people in the right seat at the company, I also learned that it takes persistence to create a culture of innovation. In order to create a culture of innovation, you have to have people focusing on creating innovation, constantly looking for what’s next.
Jacquie: Gaining clarity and alignment and manifesting a shared vision can be challenging, but powerful. I have the great privilege of working with our clients to crystallize their successful outcomes and work with their talented teams to roadmap and execute against those outcomes.
Cynthia: I’ve learned how to recognize and pivot around a roadblock instead of continuing to run straight through it.
What makes you most proud about your career as a woman in corporate America?
Ramona: I always did and do things in a way that is authentic to me. Even if my style was not consistent with conventional male approaches, I never considered my way of working to be an obstacle. I did not view business and opportunity through the ‘female lens,’ I simply was ‘me,’ and that was enough. If you don’t look for the obstacle, then often, it won’t exist.
Asha: First of all, I’m very proud that I could bring my sensitive side to leadership because I feel like I knew when I needed to be heard and I knew when I needed to be direct. Second, I also feel very proud that, with family support, I found the balance to get married, have kids, and have a business.
Jacquie: I’m most proud that I’ve had the opportunity to amplify impact by creating other leaders — innovation and talent abound. Diversity unlocks innovation, and innovation ensures success.
Cynthia: I was running companies at an early age in a time when it was even more unusual than it is today. I’m proud I was a bit of a trailblazer.
What’s one piece of advice you would give fellow female leaders?
Asha: Stay focused. Don’t get bogged down with noise, politics, issues, and challenges. Don’t worry about it. Everything will work out as long as you are focused.
Jacquie: Pay it forward. I subscribe to Madeleine Albright’s infamous quote, “there’s a special place in hell for women who do not support other women.”
Cynthia: Don’t be afraid to go after what you want, even if you don’t feel 100% confident at the start. Keep learning and taking risks. And, once you’ve achieved your success, don’t forget to turn around and help someone on the way. Sometimes one conversation can change the course of someone’s life.
Ramona: Be nice to other women and be yourself. That is more than enough. Assume you will be successful because you are the best or because you earned it/deserve it, period! You are not the best woman; you are simply the best. And, you may not follow the same path as another leader (male or female), but that is what makes you unique.
Finally, there is plenty of room for everyone to win. Your winning does not mean someone has to lose. When the company wins, there is plenty of success to share with all. The ends never justify the means, so be sure you are proud of how you win.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com