Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » Leadership- You Take It With You

August 14, 2014

Leadership- You Take It With You

Posted on LinkedIn Influencers on August 14, 2014

Leadership. It’s a very big topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately. One of the main reasons I’ve been giving it a lot of thought is because I was asked to talk about leadership in the context of my career at Goldman Sachs and my current role as CEO of Women Moving Millions by Porsche as part of a series they are doing called, “There is no substitute for….” The videos include profiles of many amazing leaders, including Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of Indiegogo, Brian Spaly, CEO of Trunk Club, Ruth Zukerman, Founder of Flywheel Sports, Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, and Kenny Dichter, Founder and CEO of Wheels Up. Needless to say, I was beyond honored to be included. The shoot was in July, and the completed video was just released.

Of course, I tried to prepare for the shoot, but the goal was to not have something scripted out, but rather for it to just be in conversation about the topic. What you see above is a few minutes of a very long conversation. Flying home that night from Los Angeles, I drifted back to so many memories from my time at Goldman, and in particular, to the work I did in those last few years that really ignited my interest in leadership development. I was part of a core team that created the first conferences for women at the firm (1990s), and I obsessively collected and shared the best articles I could find on subjects ranging from creative thinking to team building, facilitation, time management, listening, change management, and much, much more. I still have all of those articles, and I store them in a dedicated file room in my house that continues to expand on a daily basis. I think this shows commitment. My kids call me a hoarder.

photo 2[1]Back then, Goldman noted my obsession with the concept of leadership development, and I was invited to serve on the initial task force that created Pine Street, Goldman’s leadership development effort, as well as helping to hire the firm’s first Chief Learning Officer. During the course of that process, we held endless conversations with experts in the field, and I consumed massive amounts of research on the subject. Not only did I want to be a great leader, but I wanted to understand how to help others become leaders as well. It was that work that helped me to see how connected those two things really are. I don’t think you can truly be a great leader without being a great teacher and a mentor to others as they move through their own leadership journey. Looking back I realize that while doing the best I could at the time, with the knowledge and wisdom I had, I could have been so much better.

What I wish someone would have told me earlier in my career, is that leadership, and management, is something you can truly learn. You need to learn. There are skills involved with both that don’t just ‘happen’ when you get promoted. How you learn it is by watching others’ actions closely, by reading everything you can get your hands on, by putting it all into practice, and intentionally monitoring outcomes and being willing to adjust. Ideally, you put it into practice on behalf of something you are truly passionate about. (If you watch the other Porsche videos you will see some amazing examples of this.) I said in the video that for me, being a leader is not the same thing as having a big title. There were and are a lot of people with big titles who are not strong leaders, or good managers. At In fact, one of the reasons why we created Pine Street was because we realized that there were many senior member of the firm with big titles who were managing lots of people and running big business areas, but did not have the skills they needed to excel in their roles which included developing the talent underneath them. Thankfully, there were a lot of excellent ones as well. We also set up the firm’s first executive coaching program and if you have the resources, there is perhaps no better way to accelerate your development.

photo 3[1]I loved the work I did at that time so much. I could not get enough of it. Though I did not think about it like this at the time, I now see that my life’s work would become centered around helping to develop and advance women’s leadership. In fact, one of the last major projects I did at Goldman was to help launch ASCEND: A Women’s Leadership Exchange, which brought together internal women leaders at the firm with the most senior external women leaders from all areas of business that had touch points to Goldman. The year was 2002. It seems almost silly now, but one of the reasons we did it was to prove just how many women leaders there were out there and how incredible they were as leaders. Because we were inviting only the top women in the areas of money management, corporate CEOs/COOs/CFOs, wealth holders, and such, it was not until we actually put the list together that people came to see the growing power and influence of women. In other words, we were trying to prove the business case for women’s leadership. That event was a game changer for me. I realized that although deeply honored to be a senior woman, I was also tired of often being the only woman in the room, and I wanted to be in places and spaces where I could learn from amazing women leaders.

photo 1[1]When I left Goldman, I did not go on to another paid position, but instead, I began working full time in service of a bigger mission and purpose: to make the world a more just, equitable, and gender balanced place. For a while, it felt really weird to not have a big title and a team of people to work with, but over time, I came to see that you can take your leadership with you. By that, I mean that when you leave a leadership role, you can bring all of the skills and knowledge you have acquired and apply them to your next role. For me, it took a while. It was 10 years later, in 2012, that I became President and Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions. I now lead a small team of amazing staff, partner with an incredible Board of Directors, and I do work that helps to amplify the leadership of over 200 women (and a few men) who have given large gifts in support of girls and women. To do this, I often find myself digging through the piles of books, research, and notes that I was surrounded by 12 years ago, and pulling them out for current use. The great news is that women and men, but according to studies, more women then men, rank making a positive difference in the world very highly in terms of what to do with their time and money.

So I write, give speeches, host events, serve on boards, and do all that I do because I have grabbed hold of a vision for what I want the world to be like, and with everything I have, I will it forward. Does that make me a leader? I hope so. But as I said in the video, it is indeed an honor and a privilege to ever be called one.

I am feeling this leadership theme and will do some other posts on this topic including my favorite leadership books, articles and quotes. If you have suggestions for topics, please let me know.

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