Why do some people rise to leadership positions while others do not? Are there common practices that leaders engage in, common thought processes? And what makes a woman leader stand out? We found five incredible women to tell us what they think.
One thing Amanda Armstrong, CMP, assistant vice president at Enterprise Holdings Inc., as learned in her career is to “Become an expert in areas that excite you on a daily basis.”
She says leaders shouldn’t be afraid to make an informed decision even if it turns out to be wrong. “If you’re wrong, course correct and move on.” And she points to the importance of effective communication, which she calls critical “in terms of influencing, inspiring and empowering others.”
Armstrong’s path to leadership included the decision to not let fear be a factor. “I remember being a meeting coordinator and recognizing that I could do the job above me. But did I want more responsibility and to be held accountable for major outcomes? I didn’t let fear of failure creep in and the answer was — ‘Yes!’”
Armstrong is adamant in her view that everyone brings different skills to the leadership table and that inclusion should be our focus. “While we can group skills by gender,” she says, “I prefer we don’t. It can reinforce stereotypes that already divide us. If inclusion is our larger goal in the workplace, we need to be careful about grouping skills or characteristics by gender, age, race or sexual orientation.”
She lists her own critical skills as recognizing the contributions of others on a regular basis, clearly articulating the vision and bringing people back to it when needed and actively listening. “It’s critical to remove obstacles, find solutions and attain goals.”
Of all she’s accomplished, she’s most proud of being the 2018 chair of the international board of directors for MPI. “MPI played a major role in my career development; I gained leadership training, education and a trusted supplier network. Being elected by my peers and serving as MPI chair was a true honor.” However, she adds, last year was no cakewalk.
“Our industry faced commission cuts, GDPR compliance and the #MeToo movement. I’m particularly proud of the chapter leaders, MPI staff and the board for demonstrating agility and decisiveness to address sexual harassment in our industry. We created tools, training and resources to increase awareness and provide support. Our membership is 80 percent women and studies show 60 percent of women have experienced harassment in their careers. With those stats, you don’t just shrug your shoulders and move to the next agenda item … you mobilize and that’s what we did.”
Like others, Armstrong lists unrealistic self-expectations as a hindrance. “I wanted to hit a home run every time I was up to bat. When I didn’t, I used to self-critique pretty harshly. I still want the home run, even with new endeavors,” she notes. “Now I gather feedback, course correct and apply what I’ve learned. I removed emotion and judgment from the equation and celebrate the effort, rush and never-ending learning curve.”
Armstrong prefers to assess opportunities rather than challenges. She’s grateful for being able to address the social issues she cares about in the workplace. “Unconscious biases creep into our everyday decision-making and are obstacles to inclusive and harassment-free work environments. As a leader, I have a responsibility to address it when and where I encounter it. I think we can agree we all want safe, productive and healthy work environments. What are we doing in our day-to-day lives to achieve that mutually beneficial goal?”
Young women, Armstrong adds, expect more from their leaders these days but are also taking things into their own hands. “From what I have experienced, they’re less tolerant of workplace banter that floats ‘close to the line’ and have zero tolerance for harassment. I think new planners are already leading the way in this area; their expectation for equal treatment and equal pay has empowered other generations to speak up and speak out.”
If there’s one thing she wishes she knew earlier in her career it’s this: “Titles don’t make leaders. Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader; they set out to make a difference.”
Treat everyone like they’re the CEO as you never know if the most casually dressed person in the room actually owns the company,” advises Dana Bartle, vice president of sales and events at Brooklyn Bowl, a combo event and music venue, bowling alley, restaurant and bar.
Bartle’s wide range of experience includes being a sommelier for a Manhattan restaurant and owning her own video production company. She recalls a turning point in her career when she had to wait 18 months for a large NYC ad agency to pay her for her video work although she was on the hook for paying the additional five people she brought in to work on the complex project. She decided to shut down her production company and look for a full-time position. She was recommended for the job of event director at Brooklyn Bowl and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
She thinks her key leadership skills are thinking outside the box to find creative solutions to execute events and a strong ability to collaborate. “Every day I work with multiple departments to produce events. This collaborative effort helps me to see our events from every facet and gives me a better understanding of how to make events a success.”
One thing she’s proud of accomplishing was having Brooklyn Bowl chosen as the only Brooklyn event venue to do a live broadcast with VH1 for the Super Bowl. “This was our first-ever live television broadcast. We had Fall Out Boy performing live, Stacy Kiebler hosting, a marching band marching down the lanes, two Steadicams on the dance floor, plus a full house to watch the show. It was a two-day load in, 18-hour day and not a single thing went wrong. The client was thrilled and we all walked out of the venue at 3 a.m. high-fiving each other.”
Bartle says occasionally male clients question her ability to answer specific questions related to an event and she’ll have to pull in a male counterpart to reiterate what she’s already said. “But ultimately,” she adds, “at a certain point you have to push forward and let them know you’re the expert in the field. At the end of the day when you execute their event flawlessly, your expertise is palpable.”
Bartle notes that her entire team is comprised of women, and her goal is to set them up for success. “When you work with a close team you’re responsible for giving them the tools they need to succeed in their current position and in the future. I take the mentoring aspect very seriously and it’s important to me to help them grow in their positions so they can grow in the industry.”
Likewise, she says, “My team is so supportive of me and any accomplishment I achieve on the job.”
One thing that’s been a challenge is finding that balance between being an effective boss and also being friends with the team. “It’s crucial to effectively manage your team to get the job done right,” she says.
To young women in the industry she advises, “Find good female friends in leadership roles and connect with them regularly. So much of my success has been about having a network of female friends in various industries whom I trust for professional advice.”
Deanna Griffith-House, CMP, CMM, PMP, director, strategic initiatives at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Spectrum Reach, says trust is the No. 1 quality of a valued and successful leader. “Trust provides individuals, teams and colleagues with a starting point of belief.”
Communication and transparency are also key. “By being as transparent with your team(s) as the situation provides, you gain the team’s confidence and their dedication to success,” she says.
Griffith-House thinks it’s important for leaders to “put themselves out there. By being curious and staying curious, you gain volumes of knowledge and solidify your position within the organization.”
She has followed her own advice to be involved, which stems from her mother. “My mother was a staunch advocate for volunteerism and by default, so now am I. Over the years, I’ve joined and volunteered for several organizations whose mission spoke to my core. Through volunteerism, I’ve met so many amazing people and have been provided tremendous opportunities for networking, training, leadership and just leaning in!”
One thing is that there’s no one single path or set of attributes that make a leader.
“I think my most critical skills,” Griffith-House says, “are to see the connective tissue or thread connecting systems, processes and practices. I can easily see the proverbial forest for the trees and lead a team to greater success accordingly.”
Is there a difference in what men and women bring to leadership? Griffith-House is among those who say yes. Women, she says, have “the ability to easily see most angles of a situation and separate the possible from the plausible, moving forward accordingly and getting to results faster.”
As a leader, she puts high value on her team and its successes in evaluating her own success. “I’m always most proud of the success of my team, collectively and as individuals. I am most proud when members of my team exceed their own expectations and gain the trust, respect and loyalty of others in the organization simply by performing their job duties well above the norm.”
In addition to identifying time, or lack thereof, as an ongoing challenge — as in finding the time to do all she wants to for herself, her team and her organization — Griffith-House says making a shift from “doer or taskmaster” to “leader” is tricky. But one way to move past that is to have trust in the team.
“Our industry demands that we excel at managing the details and delivering a quality effort with that emphasis. As a leader, you truly should not ‘sweat the small stuff,’ but rather leave that in the very capable hands of the team you trust. Let go and lead, let the team excel as you excel,” she says.
Griffith-House is among those who think women in the industry have different expectations for female vs. male leaders. “I firmly believe we’re most hard on ourselves due to the expectations, realistic or not, we have set for ourselves. We often more harshly judge those whom we see as a challenge to our own success. Unfortunately, we often don’t see males as challenging to us, which they are for sure.”
As for what she wishes she had known early in her career, Griffith-House says, “To be intentional about the industry you choose, not just your career path. The meetings industry is enormous and provides many opportunities. For example, I wish I would have known to choose healthcare meetings or technology meetings, to not only hone my expertise, but that of the company’s industry.”
To the young women hoping to rise to leadership she says, “Raise your hand. Get involved. Volunteer. There are opportunities all around you to grow, learn and give back.”
Anne Marie Rogers, CIS, CITP, director, meetings, incentives, events at Direct Travel, Minneapolis, Minnesota, which provides corporate travel, meetings and events among other services, has been active in sales, marketing, travel and event planning for more than 20 years. Along the way she’s learned a lot about what it means to be a leader, including that it’s important for leaders to surround themselves with good people and empower them. Among the things she’s also learned is to be a good listener, ask a lot of questions and to not be afraid of making a mistake — own it, learn from it and move on, she advises — and the importance of education and certification, which she says helps planners evolve and increase their expertise.
Rogers says her varied industry experiences, working at a hotel, a CVB and an incentive house, has given her a great blend of skills to use on her job now. And while she thinks it takes both genders to be impactful in the industry, she does think women may be more willing to mentor other women.
“They’re also often very good at cultivating relationships, building teams and “understanding the quest for balance in work and home life as many have struggled with this issue, she says.”
Rogers lists her strengths as being curious and asking a lot of questions, always wanting to learn, good people skills, gathering good people around her and the ability to see the big picture.
Among the things she’s proud of in her career is being part of the SITE International board of directors. She was a SITE Minnesota board member for 10 years.
“After being part of the local board for several years,” she says, “it’s exciting and stimulating to look at things from a global perspective and see how it all fits together.”
Rogers thinks it’s a great time to be a woman in the hospitality industry.
“There are so many more opportunities than in the past. I think it’s important to find good mentors and not be afraid to bring up new ideas and perspectives.”
That said, she notes that “this is a career that evolves,” she advises. “This is a career that involves long hours and a lot of energy. It’s important to delegate and work smarter, not harder.”
For that and other reasons, she echoes the other women highlighted here in encouraging young planners to find good mentors, whether male or female.
“I think it is important to look in many different places for people with good experience who can teach or help you,” she says.
Her best advice to those coming up in the industry now is, “Seek out people that are successful at what you want to do, but don’t be afraid to look outside your industry for different perspectives. Get involved with industry associations, which often have a career-building path and certifications that can help you and be open to feedback and use it to better yourself.”
Adding something she wishes she had understood earlier, she says, “Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to speak up, while of course being respectful.”
Regional general manager of PRA Nashville and PRA Louisville, at PRA Events Inc., Jacqueline Marko, CMP, DMCP, says, “As a leader your top priority is to create an atmosphere that people want to work in. While normal job stressors are inevitable, your team should be excited to come to work every day and feel that they work in a supportive environment.”
She puts emphasis squarely on teamwork. “An effective leader should always promote a team-focused mentality and ensure that praise is directed to the team.”
Moreover, Marko says, “It’s imperative to clearly define your company culture, ingrain its principles into each team member and adhere to it. Defining a company culture means nothing if you don’t act on it and live it.”
At 28, Marko started in this industry at her own wedding-planning company. An aunt, who owned respected DMC Destination Nashville, recognized Marko’s skills and business acumen and made her an offer to move to Nashville and take over leadership of the company. “This was the turning point in my career and what set me on a leadership path,” she says. “An important skill of being an effective leader is instilling confidence in others to believe in their abilities and guide them to fruition. “Women are traditionally good listeners, which is perhaps the most important skill to perfect as a leader — knowing when to lead and when to listen.”
Among her top skills, she says, is organization. “I have lists for everything and write down all discussion points with my team members so that I always follow up with them in a timely and thorough manner. Additionally, I am an ‘over-communicator’ and believe that communication is the key to any successful relationship, both personal and professional. I’m quick with responses to my team members and our clients, striving to set the example on expectation of our level of communication.”
Marko points out that many of the strong leaders in the industry are women. “I learned from my aunt, Rhonda Marko, CMP, DMCP, CMM, who owned Destination Nashville for 24 years before selling to PRA Events Inc., which is currently owned by a private equity firm but was founded in 1981 by industry pioneer Patti Roscoe. We are a female-dominated industry and the only foreseeable challenge women in our industry may face is any personal apprehension that holds them back from achieving their own leadership goals.”
And, she notes, it takes grit to succeed. Although some may expect women to take a “softer” approach, Marko says, “In our industry, and especially when working on behalf of our clients, we have to be tough. While I don’t think the expectation is necessarily different for men, I think it can be surprising to some to see that women are not afraid to put in the long hours and roll up our sleeves to do the hard work needed to produce successful events.”
Marko says mentoring is extremely important. “It’s our duty to mentor current young professionals, pushing them to become the leaders that will take this industry into the next century.”
What she wishes she had learned earlier is that being an effective leader is not about doing everything yourself. “Being an effective leader is learning the art of delegation, trusting in your team’s abilities with the delegated tasks and empowering them to have confidence in their actions and decisions.”
To new planners she advises, “Don’t be shy and don’t be a ‘yes’ person. ‘Yes’ people are regarded as nice and will always be employed, but leaders ask challenging questions. They assert themselves and their opinions when they know they have merit and because of that they gain respect. Start acting like a leader and you will become one!” C&IT