Women to Watch on How They're Leading Differently Than Anyone They've Worked for Before
While there may not be inherently right or wrong leadership styles, there certainly are some approaches that are more common than others. Yet sometimes success is all about relying on an unfamiliar strategy. Such is the case for the following 24 female leaders from the Dreamers & Doers collective.
Rather than sticking to the status quo, these women have chosen to reimagine what leadership can look like. The results they’ve witnessed speak for themselves. They have noticed an increase in team performance, strong foundations built on trust, overall happiness at work, and so much more.
If you’ve found yourself in a new season of leadership or are looking to revamp the approach you’ve been using, the following insights may provide some fresh perspectives to up-level your team and your management style.
Founder and CEO of Gabrielle Thomas Consulting, a business consultant for health and wellness leaders.
My approach: I have three core values to my leadership approach: be self-transcendent, be trauma-informed, and let go and accept what is instead of what I wish. Self-transcendence is where I expand my boundaries beyond a selfish point of view. There I can serve my clients, colleagues, and employees with a sense of unity and partnership. Trauma-informed is a universal precaution that with every interaction I have with someone, I'm mindful of if they have a past or present experience with trauma. Letting go and accepting what is instead of what I wish is the radical acceptance in myself and others that things don't always go the way you want them to go.
How it's led to my success: My approach has helped me to be a stronger strategic thinker and problem solver. Powerful insights surface when I've disconnected from my noisy mind and inhabited my body. It’s there I can really see things and hear people in a different way.
Founder and CEO of OTITỌ Executive Leadership Coaching, coaching serial high-achievers and ambitious entrepreneurial leaders to accelerate into more impactful leadership positions.
My approach: My approach to leadership stems from my core belief that leadership is not in a title or a label. Every single person is a leader. The question isn't if you are a leader—the question is how well you lead. As a result, I encourage all my partners—my team, clients, even my nieces and nephews—to exercise their leadership and not defer it to me. This means seeing me as a peer, taking ownership in decision-making, and pushing back with confidence. And I expect the same of myself, whether I'm speaking to the newest member of my team or the CEO of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund.
How it's led to my success: This approach has helped me step into my leadership quicker and gain respect from very senior leaders who see me as a peer. It has also been crucial to business success because it has empowered my team members to step into their leadership potential quicker as well.
Founder of Chuan's Promise, a natural skincare line focused on sustainability and inclusivity.
My approach: A lot of leaders and managers say they're flexible and open to change but when push comes to shove, they tend to stick with what they know. I've approached leadership differently by always asking myself "why" when I sense my own resistance to change. While this doesn't mean I always end up choosing to change, it does prompt me to be more thoughtful and deliberate with my decisions.
How it's led to my success: It's pushed me to use my resources more efficiently and helped me think through problems as my business grows and scales. Adding this additional step to my work has helped me better prioritize and build relationships, too.
Founder and CEO of Tandem Consulting Group, providing strategy and organizational development consulting, executive coaching, and training.
My approach: Early on in my conflict resolution career, I learned that you can be gentle with people while being assertive with the process. That led to a clear view that compassion and strength as a leader are not mutually exclusive. Combined, they’re actually the bedrock for building up psychological safety in the workplace. The number of times my team members have said, “I didn’t know it could be like this,” is frankly alarming. So I focus relentlessly on laying a foundation for trust.
How it's led to my success: One of the greatest compliments I've received from a colleague was that when I make a mistake, I own it and immediately fix it. When asking people to follow you, they need to know what you’re going to be like on your worst day, not just on your best. That kind of confidence in your leadership is critical to get the team through tough situations.
CEO of Magical Teams, a hiring consultancy for small businesses looking to uplevel and build their dream team.
My approach: First, I align my intention with actions and confirm through feedback from every team member that they feel safe, seen, spacious, and supported. Next, we expect mistakes will happen and then openly discuss so we learn from them and each other. Finally, responsibilities and metrics are clear, but they are also completely customized to each individual, their strengths, what they love to do most, and anything else they need to thrive.
How it's led to my success: Treating people with the utmost respect and kindness while mentoring and empowering them has meant each team member feels valued and has personally experienced massive growth. They regularly say this is the first time in a long time they actually look forward to Mondays. This has created such passion and commitment to growing the business that we outperform on our metrics and delivery of results to clients.
Valerie Red-Horse Mohl
Co-Founder of Known Holdings, a financial services growth platform helping leaders of color build institutions that last and serve as vehicles for multi-generational prosperity.
My approach: I refuse to accept that you have to be cutthroat to be successful, bold, and innovative in business. I've been criticized for being "too nice," and I'm glad I never let those criticisms change me or harden my approach.
How it's led to my success: My unique approach builds trust. The only way to build businesses that last, with teams that excel, is to do so on a foundation of trust. Perhaps even more importantly, this approach is the only way you can get to a place in your career where you're still happy to come to work every day, even decades later.
Founder and CEO of Martha, a consulting agency that is developing brands from the inside out.
My approach: I put consideration for others at the center of everything I do—both in terms of my team and my clients. It permeates how I brief my teams and conduct new business with prospective clients, as well as how we present our work. In fact, consideration was actually the impetus for the Martha business model. Every person on my team chooses to work on the projects they want to; they’re never assigned.
How it's led to my success: When people’s expectations are met and they’re happy, it leads to quality work. They’re more excited and engaged in what they’re doing, whether that’s doing the work or receiving the work. Obviously there are always circumstances that can impact this, regardless of how hard you try. But I find even if things don’t go perfectly, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, people show up differently.
Founder and CEO of Hire Breakthrough™, helping founders take the breakdown out of their hiring breakthrough.
My approach: I like to bring everyone together so we can discuss our ideas and collaborate. In my opinion, it is more important to listen before I lead because everyone's feedback is important. In almost every organization I've worked for, leadership wasn't susceptible to feedback, causing disengagement and resentment.
How it's led to my success: Without my team, my business cannot move forward. They are experts in their own skill sets and it's important for me to listen to their ideas and give credit when it's due.
Founder and CEO of Well Traveled, a club for travelers, foodies, and adventure seekers.
My approach: My approach to leadership involves embracing failure and learning from it. Rather than approaching leadership from a fear mindset, I approach it from a growth mindset. Every week our team shares their, "Oh shit!" moments and their big wins from the week. I want our team to feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes.
How it's led to my success: Failure is key to growth. Every failure or set back I've ever had has helped shape me into who I am today. Being able to own my mistakes and confidently learn and grow from them has given me the confidence to be successful.
CEO of Colonai, providing artificial intelligence tools for precision colonoscopy, in order to reduce the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer (CRC).
My approach: Surbhi Sarna, founder of nVision Medical, once referenced an Emerson quote that states, “Good indignation brings out all one’s powers.” As a woman of color with moderate-to-severe ulcerative colitis, I experienced firsthand how health concerns of women of color are often slighted. Determined to turn my disability into ability, I sought to build Colonai and remove inter-physician variability and bias to promote accurate patient outcomes. Good indignation has personally been an impetus for me to build an ecosystem in health and medicine that services a greater diversity of patients, and it is a core tenet that I encourage founders to keep.
How it's led to my success: Every pain that I have personally experienced in health and medicine has spun from a seed of anger at injustice, and blossomed into innovative solutions. To think differently and lead differently, one must not be an automaton in a broken system. She must get angry enough to build a different system for herself and women after her.
Founder and CEO of happyly, an innovative corporate wellness benefit for working parents supporting micro-wins in mental and physical health.
My approach: I am passionate about creating a deeply meaningful professional environment where people can live with purpose and attain work/life balance. As a goal-oriented mom who has witnessed the impact of burnout firsthand, I prioritize healthy boundaries. I nurture realistic timelines, recognize the necessity of true vacation time, and refuse to be blind to the obvious benefit of treating weekends and evenings as sacred. Our team deserves the right to focus on family time in ways that support their ability to deliver their very best.
How it's led to my success: When I started my first company, someone I respected greatly told me something that changed my life. She said, “I love you but I don’t want your life.” I had no balance and nobody wanted to aspire to that life—I didn’t even want that life. So a decade later, I was very aware that I couldn’t build a wellness company without being well myself. Leading by example is the most important thing I can do for my team and for myself.
CEO of FORTË, enabling gyms to create a premium digital experience for their members, so they can connect with the brand at home or on the go.
My approach: I approach leadership as I used to approach playing sports. My employees are not only my teammates, but also my family because we spend so many waking hours working on a shared mission. Athletes can easily burn out when they are training super hard, and we spend more time together than we probably do with our family, so it's crucial that everyone feels like we have one another's backs, best interest in mind, and truly care about each other as people.
How it's led to my success: When a strong team works together and has their mind right and in check, they are unstoppable. If a great athlete's head is off, then they can't perform. So making everyone feel like family, loved, and supported makes our strong team able to go out there and win championships.
Founder and CEO of Christina Langdon High Performance Coaching & Consulting, supporting ambitious women to lead themselves first to lead others with more impact.
My approach: Defining your signature leadership style starts with creating your owner's manual that you follow each and every day. When you do and when it's shared, it will help people work better for you and with you, especially in the hybrid work environment. There is no right leadership. There is your signature leadership. Define it. Share it. Be accountable to it.
How it's led to my success: I'm very direct, oftentimes to a fault. My team knows this about me and also knows that my directness is in pursuit of them becoming their best. They also know exactly where they stand with me.
CEO of PositiveHire, connecting Black, Latinx and Indigenous women who are experienced scientists, engineers, and technology professionals to management roles
My approach: Many people in management roles focus on their leadership style as opposed to focusing on their individual team members' needs. I change my leadership style depending on the team member and their individual needs and situation. Whether I'm providing direction, implementing plans, or motivating my team, my style changes to enable them to perform at their very best.
How it's led to my success: In the past two and a half years, PositiveHire has had team members contract Covid-19, and seen a decrease in productivity and a loss of workforce. In response, I focused on creating an empathetic remote work culture, and being more intentional with how I serve my team. Approaching my team in this manner provides them the space, comfort, and opportunity to perform and succeed as they need and prefer.
Founder and CEO of UnlimitMe Technologies LLC, a next-level leadership and educational platform that helps high school and college students unlock their potential.
My approach: I believe that real leadership comes from being curious, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, and committed to lifelong learning. It’s about shifting out of limiting paradigms and cultivating a growth mindset where everyone matters and everything is an opportunity to grow and learn. It’s about focusing on your wellbeing and letting go of your ego, which allows you to bring your whole self into everything you do.
How it's led to my success: It gives others and myself permission to simply be ourselves. Personally it has taken the pressure off of needing things to be perfect, and has allowed me to take risks because there’s no such thing as failure—there’s only growth. It’s also allowed me to dip into my whole humanity and to be vulnerable with my team when I am struggling or unsure of things. This has created a psychologically safe space that’s focused on the whole person’s well-being.
Founder of I'm All Courage, a school for ambitious leaders to reclaim sexual power, lead their business from pleasure, and reach their untamed highest potential.
My approach: When I have a big project or a product launch, I schedule my self care and pleasure time before I create the strategy. And when it's time to lay down the strategy, I make sure that I have time to slow down. Between projects, I completely indulge in pleasure and practice trusting my team when I need to disconnect and let the next project idea and vision come through.
How it's led to my success: I used to approach product launch in hustle energy, leaving me depleted, trying to yank my body to where my head says I should be, and unable to tap into my creativity. And while many entrepreneurs are still doing it that way, I'm in a spa getting a massage, in the forest for a long walk, or on a weekend getaway with my partner during the launch. It is crucial for my success as it centers me, and fills my cup and soul so that I can show up, give, be of service, live, and lead wholeheartedly.
Owner and Founder of Hashtag Legal, a business providing accessible legal services to creators and entrepreneurs.
My approach: When I founded Hashtag Legal, I vowed that my employees would have flexibility in their schedules and that I would foster open communication. Making a mistake is not something that should be feared, but rather viewed as a learning experience. I want my employees to feel comfortable approaching me under any circumstance and feel safe knowing we will work through any issues together.
How it's led to my success: My team is much more efficient, open, and happy. We have great employee retention and I can see how my employees have grown over time.
Senior Project Manager, Supplier Diversity at Starbucks, the world's largest coffeehouse chain.
My approach: I've approached leadership by taking a pause to get to know my team—what motivates them, how they like to be recognized, and how we align on a shared purpose. Then we can work toward understanding what we really need to focus on and execute.
How it's led to my success: Many teams end up focusing on the wrong issues and spend money and time on things that won't really move the needle. This deep work takes time. It may not provide results right away, but it is a great way to set your team up for trust and a shared vision.
Founder and CEO of Everviolet, creating functional and beautiful intimate apparel for the special needs of women after cancer and other meaningful life events.
My approach: My approach is to lead by example. My goal is always to model the work ethic, effort, and attitude I want to cultivate and nurture in others. This approach permeates all aspects of my business.
How it's led to my success: Being willing to roll up my sleeves alongside my team shows a commitment to collaboration and teamwork. Our success has also come from being real and open with one another regarding personal struggles or moments of growth. This allows our own human experiences to contribute to our corporate mission and our connection to each other.
Founder and CEO of The Lane Collective, an anti-agency agency for future-focused startups.
My approach: As the CEO of a growth collective, leadership to me is all about collaboration. My role is to bring other leaders together, and cultivate an environment where everyone's individual strengths can shine.
How it's led to my success: Collaboration fuels creativity and innovation, especially when lots of different perspectives are involved. Our collaborative approach adds an extra creative oomph to our work as a successful growth partner to startups. Plus, focusing on cross-disciplinary partnerships with other experts has unlocked both exceptional results for clients and shared growth for the business
CEO of Be the Benchmark, LLC, an organization dedicated to empowering and equipping teens and tweens with the habits, attitudes and mindsets they need for success.
My approach: I empower and equip everyone I work with to find their specific zone of genius. This enables them to feel confident in their contribution, know their value and worth, and gives them the freedom to create a life they love. I do not believe in trying to fit square pegs in round holes.
How it's led to my success: When a leader views you as a whole person, you’re able to show up as your best self and contribute at your highest level. This method helps me attract the absolute best clients, collaborators, and contractors who are most energized by the impact of what we can create together.
Co-Founder of ControlHQ, a fintech company empowering independents with flexible financial solutions.
My approach: Many startups are still focusing on full-time hires with traditional equity compensation structures. We are trying to diversify our workforce, which is totally new and uncharted. Not every job should be a full-time job and not every person wants to work in a full-time capacity. We are chunking up work that needs to be done into smaller pieces that enable us to find talent that may otherwise be unavailable to us. I’ve had more women and moms end up applying for roles that were three or four days a week as it worked better for their schedule.
How it's led to my success: We have been able to find talent that would have previously been unattainable to us—whether this is niche talent that we don't have enough work to justify a full-time role for, people needing flexible work environments, fractional roles, or international talent.
Founder and CEO of Lee London Co., a unique tech marketplace prioritizing women.
My approach: I ask for ideas and feedback from clients and employees every single day. Leadership I have previously worked for communicated in one direction. That model is antiquated and ineffective in most businesses today.
How it's led to my success: This tactic is one of the best practices to retain talent. Giving feedback empowers clients and employees to have IP ownership in our solutions and offers alternative perspectives to what I alone can create.
Founder and CEO of Keepler, a human-first, community-driven dating app.
My approach: I strive at every moment to be more of a "servant leader" than a dictatorial one. I have worked under leaders who use fear rather than buy-in and facilitation to get things done, and I recall palpably how that method affected not only my motivation, but also my product. It is my job to set my team up to succeed by eliminating external obstacles, smoothing lines of communication, and providing the resources they need to find unexpected solutions.
How it's led to my success: When a team embodies the company's mission and vision as much as a leader does, every solution is a step in the right direction. Psychological safety helps people stretch their imaginations, use resources in creative ways, and dig deeply into the problem you are all trying to solve.
All individuals featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community and diverse ecosystem amplifying extraordinary entrepreneurial women through PR opportunities, authentic connection, and high-impact resources. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to its monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.