Building Trust-Filled Relationships and Other Lessons from Icons

Inspirational women in finance shared their very personal leadership lessons at FEI's ICONS: Women of Note.

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Be unique. Take calculated risks. Develop trust. As I reflect on my notes from Financial Executive International’s 2022 ICONS: Women of Note conference, those three themes permeated the day’s learning. FEI’s annual event honors diverse women who embody exceptional commitment to developing their genuine selves, breaking down barriers, and shifting organizational cultures.

Thank you so much to event sponsors EY, PwC, Robert Half, and Protiviti for your commitment to the program and acknowledging female icons of finance. A special thank you to Angela Lurie, from Robert Half, and Andrea Spinelli, from Protiviti for offering opening remarks.

The inspiration began with a session entitled Wisdom: Living the Life of a Wise Leader, led by psychologist, executive coach, and expert in the brain science of leadership, Dr. Donna Marino. Dr. Donna, a TEDx speaker and author of Unleash the Wise Leader in You, shared a heart-breaking story of her sister committing suicide and how that event completely changed the course of her life. She shared that over 20 years of research and coaching executives and family-owned businesses helped her identify five obstacles to becoming your most authentic self - fear, imposter syndrome, self sabotage, scarcity mindset, and the lack of a tribe. Through wonderful back and forth exchanges with the virtual audience (I couldn’t keep up with all the responses in Zoom’s chat box), Dr. Donna offered numerous tools we could use to overcome each obstacle. In her comments, she said a few things that struck me, “wise leadership is being uniquely you,” “done is better than perfect,” and “decisions made from fear are usually wrong.” We were then offered 20 minutes in breakout groups to interact with peers and exchange diverse perspectives on wise leader takeaways.
Felitia Lee, Marriott International’s Controller and Chief Accounting Officer, led our next session, A Matter of Perspective - Shaping One’s Career. Ms. Lee talked about advancing through her career quickly by taking calculated risks. Intentionally choosing to enter the arena, surrendering how goals are accomplished, and walking the less traditional path gifted her the experiences needed to understand diverse international perspectives. As a single mother, Ms. Lee found appropriate life balance by defining what was most important to her, working through painstaking detail on how she would navigate a change, and continually suggesting non-traditional win-win solutions. The less traveled path is often full of unexpected blessings.

The next ICON was Kalpashree Gupta, Founder and CEO of Knekxt Group. I’m deeply grateful FEI invited me to emcee the day’s event, and that they allowed me to interview Kalpa in fireside chat style. In October 2018, Kalpa hired me to be her executive coach. It was immensely meaningful for me to see Kalpa “on stage” because her and my initial conversations impacted me to my core. I even wrote about her in Chapter 4 of my book, I Know (under the stage name “Avni”). As she walked the audience through her life journey, she and I both began to cry. Kalpa was raised in a multigenerational home in India and was sexually abused as a child and in her teenage years by multiple family members, multiple times. Kalpa shared how suppressed and shameful she felt growing up not being able to be herself or trust those near her. She chose me as her coach because I had guided other abused executives to convert their pain into their purpose and to identify more empowering patterns in their lives. Kalpa also shared statistics from the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Company, in partnership with Lean In, and a host of strategies female finance executives could deploy to make their workplaces more equitable. Earlier this year, Kalpa returned to India to mourn her grandmother’s passing. While there, she confronted her abusers, forgiving herself and them. Because of her courage, slowly, trust is being reestablished in her extended family.

The memorable Women of Note conference was brought to a close by Patti Humble, UPS’s Chief Accounting Officer, discussing the importance of trusting your intuition and developing your emotional intelligence to climb an organization’s ranks. She suggested, that for many years, her superpower was an invisible force field metaphorically helping build her resilience. I loved when she shared advice she’d received years back that she could create an “I love Patti box” that could be filled with career accomplishments, recommendations received, handwritten cards, printed emails, etc. They’d help deliver a boost of confidence just when she needed it most. Ms. Humble closed by saying that the superpower she was developing now was akin to Spider-Man’s spidey sense. To customize communication to, and build trust-filled relationships, she was learning to read people, identify patterns, and honor others’ uniqueness.

In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg said, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

For attendees of this year’s ICONS, thank YOU for being leaders.

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Author Michael S. Seaver served as emcee of the 2022 ICONS: Women of Note conference. To learn more about Michael, please visit https://linktr.ee/michaelsseaver.