LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM WOMEN IN CONGRESS
Early this month the new Congress convened with a record number of 127 women serving in both houses. These ground-breaking 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.
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 his- tory 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.
Amy Vetter is a keynote speaker and runs the B3 Method Institute.
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.
Rep. Ilhan Omar is joined by her children as she is sworn in.