Building Skills to Help Women’s Initiative Fellows Lead
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I am humbled by the female history-makers around me. As one of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) faculty and past mentors for the George W. Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship, I have had the privilege of teaching and coaching four amazing groups of Fellows from Egypt and Tunisia.
This program gives the women the gift of confidence, stronger leadership, and a strong network of support. Each group of Fellows begins their program with a week at SMU, where the women build invaluable leadership skills that will serve them for years to come. The road to democracy is not an easy one, so a diverse set of skills are critical.
In their first class, the Fellows define their purpose and passion, which fuels their drive to be part of the change they want to see in their home countries. Then in my class on Presence, I take that one step further to help them define who they are as leaders and develop strategies to reinforce that through their communication and presence. They leave understanding how to build a strong leadership brand and how to convey their value through a one-sentence elevator speech. The room is full of laughter as the Fellows help each other get to the heart of what they do, and as each woman gets up in front of the room to share and “own her value.” This prepares the Fellows for the hundreds of new introductions in the weeks and months to come as they meet leaders in Dallas, Washington D.C., New York, and Silicon Valley.
It may not surprise you that one of the biggest indicators of a woman’s success is the strength of her network. So, this topic gets a lot of attention in the program. I teach the Fellows a class on how to build a Power Network of Advocates. I start by explaining what types of networks enable high performance and then help the Fellows evaluate their own networks through that lens. By helping them focus their networking efforts and by giving them simple, time-efficient strategies to build their networks, the Fellows learn how to get their networks working for them.
Every course the Fellows participate in is designed to help them affect the change and progress they want to see in their countries. Each SMU professor focuses on building practical skills. The team-building and conflict management courses help the Fellows more effectively partner and collaborate to leverage their collective power. The hands-on negotiations class gives them the right mindset and approach to create win/win solutions. This is key, given that women negotiate four times less than men and these skills are typically less developed.
Finally, resilience, the ability to stay the course despite challenges and roadblocks, is invaluable. In this class, the women learn how to keep moving forward in the face of adversity, so they can fulfill their purpose and follow their passion. We all need support to keep forging ahead. Knowing this, the program provides a successful, experienced American mentor to help each woman stay the course and implement her action plan, and leverage the foundational skills she builds during her week at SMU.
As I reflect on the impact of this program, I am filled with gratitude for the freedom we may take for granted in the United States and the opportunities we have to lift others up. It is an amazing gift to be part of this program and to see how the confidence, capability and impact of each woman grows exponentially. It reminds me that we can all make a difference.
Neena Newberry is the President of Newberry Executive Solutions, a company that specializes in helping women leaders accelerate results through executive coaching and targeted development programs. She is an adjunct professor at the Cox School of Business Executive Education at Southern Methodist University, and a former mentor with the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship.
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