Lead­er­ship les­sons from women in Congress

Chicago Tribune - - SUCCESS - By Amy Vet­ter Amy Vet­ter is a key­note speaker and runs the B3 Method In­sti­tute.

Early this month the new Congress con­vened with a record num­ber of 127 women serv­ing in both houses. These ground­break­ing women have dif­fer­ent back­grounds, ex­pe­ri­ences, re­li­gions, races and po­lit­i­cal lean­ings and many have over­come ob­sta­cles and have some­thing to teach us.

They have barely be­gun their work, but many have al­ready demon­strated valu­able les­sons on lead­er­ship.

Here is a look at three les­sons that stand out and how you can ap­ply them to your busi­ness.

Ig­nore the naysay­ers

A char­ac­ter­is­tic that most of these women share is their re­fusal to be in­tim­i­dated and un­der­es­ti­mated. They didn’t ask for per­mis­sion to run for of­fice — they took it.

Along the way, they also had to over­come many naysay­ers who felt they couldn’t or shouldn’t run for of­fice, not only be­cause of their gen­der, but also their race, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, ap­pear­ance and/or age.

For ex­am­ple, this new Congress in­cludes Ayanna Press­ley, Mas­sachusetts’ first AfricanAmer­i­can fe­male U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive; Rashida Tlaib and Il­han Omar, the first two Mus­lim women elected to Congress; Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; and Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bi­sex­ual per­son in Congress and Ari­zona’s first fe­male U.S. se­na­tor, who has been at­tacked al­ready as “Se­na­tor Bar­bie Doll.”

Despite the naysay­ers, they didn’t let crit­i­cism de­rail what they wanted to do. Fol­low their lead. Have a pas­sion­ate busi­ness idea? Pur­sue it even when faced with dis­ap­proval or a lack of role mod­els who look like you.

En­counter a set­back? Learn from it and forge ahead. Con­fronted with crit­i­cism? Don't take it per­son­ally — even if it is deeply per­sonal — and try to stay fo­cused.

With each busi­ness I have started, there have al­ways been peo­ple along the way who didn’t un­der­stand why I was do­ing what I was do­ing, or didn’t think my busi­ness idea was a good one.

Not all of my ideas have turned out as I’d hoped, of course. How­ever, with­out hav­ing had the ex­pe­ri­ence, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do to­day and con­tinue to grow and im­prove.

Prac­tice trans­parency

Oca­sio-Cortez, 29, has re­ceived praise from some quar­ters for her frank­ness on social me­dia. In par­tic­u­lar, she is known for her in­for­mal In­sta­gram chat about the in­ner work­ings of Congress watched by 600,000 peo­ple.

She also has shared that the cost of health in­sur­ance as a con­gress­woman is much less than what it was when she was a wait­ress, that most mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives do not pay their in­terns and that new mem­bers select their of­fice by lot­tery. That sort of trans­parency is un­usual in gov­ern­ment.

Some peo­ple have told me they are sur­prised by how much I share about my life or busi­ness when I give speeches. One thing I have learned over time is that peo­ple can steal your ideas or copy you, but at the end of the day, they are not you. You have to do what you think is right to res­onate with your cus­tomers.

The les­son here is that most peo­ple re­spect trans­parency. It builds a level of trust from work­ers, clients and the pub­lic that can­not be equaled. Don’t be afraid to share and be more open with your team and cus­tomers, even when it’s bad news, and al­ways have a strategy in place on how to ad­dress is­sues you raise.

Oca­sio-Cortez acted on the in­tern is­sue by an­nounc­ing she will pay hers.

Some ac­tions will not be easy, but you and your busi­ness will be bet­ter for it.

Use your bad ex­pe­ri­ences

Sharice Davids made his­tory as one of the first Na­tive Amer­i­can women to serve in Congress (the other is fresh­man Con­gress­woman Deb Haa­land from New Mex­ico), and also is the first openly gay elected of­fi­cial from Kansas.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Cor­nell Law School in 2010, she trav­eled to South Dakota to work with a Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion on com­mu­nity and eco­nomic devel­op­ment. Yet, she was de­nied hous­ing be­cause she was in a same-sex re­la­tion­ship. Davids has said that the ex­pe­ri­ence has given her a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on work­place and hous­ing pro­tec­tions for LGBT peo­ple, and is some­thing she plans to ad­dress while in of­fice.

Peo­ple have made neg­a­tive as­sump­tions about me and re­jected me based on how I look, my re­li­gion or gen­der. I have learned to not let those ob­sta­cles pre­vent me from try­ing again. These ex­pe­ri­ences also make me more sen­si­tive to oth­ers and I try to en­sure this doesn’t hap­pen to my staff or clients.

Most peo­ple have sto­ries about un­for­tu­nate busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ences. Don’t just toss those sto­ries aside. Use them to help forge change in your­self and how you ap­proach your busi­ness. What can your past teach you about how you ap­proach the present and the fu­ture?

Politi­cians and busi­ness peo­ple share many traits, such as pur­su­ing pas­sions, deal­ing with set­backs and over­com­ing crit­i­cism. Our new fe­male sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be able to use their ex­pe­ri­ences in these ar­eas to sharpen their skills, broaden their think­ing and ul­ti­mately be­come stronger lead­ers.

So the next time you feel dis­cour­aged in busi­ness, re­mind your­self of their sto­ries when you need a heavy dose of in­spi­ra­tion and grit to get back in the sad­dle.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS

Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., (cen­ter) and other mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the U.S. Capi­tol on Jan. 3.

GLEN STUBBE/MIN­NEAPO­LIS STAR TRI­BUNE Rep. Il­han Omar is joined by her chil­dren as she is sworn in.

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