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15 leadership lessons from the NEW Forum

Rachel Mushahwar

It’s lonely at the top for women executives.

Being a senior-level female leader is like climbing a big mountain. You need a base camp. That’s where you rest, meet other climbers, take in oxygen and acclimatize.

At the NEW Executive Forum 2018, I felt I was at base camp with 350 other climbers. Here’s what I learned from them:

You need to see things other people aren't willing to see and hear what they aren’t willing to hear.

We've all done it: Seen things that aren't what we want to see. Most people are great at ignoring and pretending they haven't seen or heard. Leaders need to really see things, hear things, acknowledge them, adapt and respond to them — and convince their teams that it's important to see them, too. As a leader, you must have the hard conversations.

During times of change, there will be periods when peers and teams deny, belittle and exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. But a real leader needs to see the truth and not waver.

People are waiting for you to make the tough decisions.

If you're the leader, look around the room at your team. They are looking at you and waiting to hear what your decision is. They want you to make those tough decisions.

You take responsibility and accountability for everything in your domain.

Everything — even if it's not your fault. Even if you didn't do it. Even if it's embarrassing. You don't throw anyone under the bus. You own it, deal with it and move on. We all make mistakes and it's not the end of the world. We all second-guess ourselves and we all struggle. And we all want to quit sometimes.

Learn from your past, but focus more time on changing the future. And don’t go forward alone — you can’t do it alone (either personally or professionally).

Your job is not to be loved. It’s to do the right thing.

Too many times our desire to be liked causes us to delay tough decisions, even though we know they need to be made. It can be hard to separate those feelings of neediness and not look for the “Atta girl."

Your job is to do the right thing, with love.

There is a place for love in the life of a leader. That place is everywhere and with everything and everybody. No matter what you do, it's always better done with love. But don't think that doing things with love means needing to feel loved in return. You still need to do the right thing, just in the right way.

If you don't believe in what you are doing, no one else will either.

People often think that leadership is about that corner office, the big paycheck, the nice car, perks and ego. Nothing could be further from the truth. Real leadership is about creating a vision in your heart and mind and bringing the energy of manifestation to that vision so that others can see and believe in it, too. There are many people in positions of power who no longer believe in what they are doing, and, as a result, the whole organization loses faith.

You need contingency plans.

Surprises happen, usually daily. Know your backup plan. Doing scenario planning in your mind is helpful. But don't overdo it, because you might become distracted from your initial goal. Hope is not a plan. 

Strategy without culture is powerless, but culture without strategy is aimless.

Impose strategic discipline, but avoid bureaucracy. Ask yourself regularly: Are we doing what we said? Do we have what it takes to win? Is our culture change ready? 

Sacrifice and long hours don't really matter, results do.

This is a tough one for many people to swallow because it's so counter to our culture. The whole idea of face time and long hours and burnout are badges of honor in the traditional workplace. With digital tools, we have more flexibility than ever, but it's still the same obsession. Hard work and sacrifice don't automatically lead to success; more often, it's creative ideas, strategic intelligence and innovation that lead to real advancement.

Get out of your comfort zone and encourage your teams to do so, too, because that's where creative ideas, strategic intelligence and innovation come from.

If you do the same things over and over again, you'll either get the same results or slightly worse results over time. The only way to get new ideas is to do new things.

Travel often. 

Getting lost will force you to find yourself. It will require you to open your mind, your heart and your arms to new things, new people, new cultures and new ways of thinking.

Balance is a myth.

If you are in perfect balance, you are not moving. You are standing still and trying to balance everything. Stop trying to balance. Being a working parent isn’t a tight rope walk; it’s a beautiful Portuguese ballet dance. Strive for rhythm instead of balance and trust yourself to move to the ever-changing beat. 

Being a working parent, caregiving for aging parents, dealing with an illness or almost any other personal situation will bring you face to face with the best and worst of yourself. It is terrifying and it may break you. But it will also rebuild you and you will be stronger than you ever thought possible. 

Look for joy and happiness every day.

You’ll find it in the middle of chaos or in between the busy. With a child hanging onto your leg like they haven’t seen you in months. In a bar with a great group of colleagues singing karaoke. Sharing your challenging personal stories with a peer, only to realize that you are not alone in your challenges.

Remorse is what you did poorly, regret is what you didn’t do.

The crazy, the crying, the cuddles. The screaming, the sacred, the scared. The minutes, the magic, the mess. It's all part of it. And it's all worth it.  Don’t regret your life. Accept that you will fall apart and do it all wrong. Forgive yourself. Say sorry if you need to.

This is life.

Messy and magical. Sacred and spectacular. It is, always, fiercely worthwhile. Make it count.

Members: Post your comments in our NEW Member Community.

Rachel Mushahwar is general manager,  U.S. enterprise, government and cloud industries at Intel. She shared her career insights during her "Stepping Out and Over" general session at the NEW Executive Forum 2018.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.