Advice and Lessons from Women Leaders Who Drive Change

Figure 1: A leader sets direction, aligns resources, and motivates action.

On April 29, 2014 IntelliVen sponsored the San Francisco Bay Area Organization Development Network (BAODN) panel discussion on the topic of Women Leaders Who Drive Change.

BAODN President Steve McGee facilitated the discussion in front of an audience of over 40 people at Big Heart Pet Brands Headquarters, One Maritime Plaza in San Francisco.


  • Christine Hunter; Vice President of Talent at Big Heart Pet Brands, formerly Del Monte.
  • Rochelle Kopp; founder of Japan Intercultural Consulting, wrote a book for non-Japanese about working at Japanese company, and teaches cross-cultural business communication.
  • Dena McFarland; was part of a significant change at Xerox where they restructured the company yet didn’t lay off anyone.  She was also a consultant for hospitals to change their mindset from physician-centered to patient-centered.
  • Jeanamaria M. Alayaay; co-facilitated Lean Startup Product Development training for the White House Presidential innovation fellows and Presidential leadership programs, Enterprise Ireland (the Irish government’s tech accelerator), Evernote, and Microsoft Imagine Cup.  She works at Luxr.

A rough summary of key points panelists offered in response to opening questions follows:

Advice from women who drive change:

  • View everything you experience as “one more piece of an ever-evolving whole”.
  • Do what makes sense at the time…which is not always what you learned in school or from a book.
  • Build a diverse team of strong mentors early in your career.
  • Meet people where they are … don’t assume or expect people to be where you want them to be.

Lessons learned based on what contributed most to success:

  • Always ask: …and then what?” 
  • Follow your interests; do what you love and love what you do.
  • Be genuinely curious about why things work and why they don’t.
  • Be tenacious, focused, and driving.
  • Bring the outside (as in outside perspectives) in (to whatever you are doing)
  • Be willing to speak truth to power; that is, be willing to say: “the emperor has no clothes!”
  • Listen to those you work with. Speak in their words and on their behalf.  Be genuinely interested in helping those you work with and serve to do better.
  • Do not be afraid to “look ugly in the face”.  Everything and anything can break.  The weakest part, and that which usually breaks first, is the seam…so first find the seams and learn why they might break.
  • Know who is in the room.  Everyone is a person first and foremost.  Know those you deal with as people.  Genuinely connect because connections make everything else easy and will be remembered longest.
  • Choose your clients and those you work with just as you would choose friends.  It is too hard to work with and to serve those who are not a good fit for a relationship with you.
  • Be prepared to help those you work with and serve with the basics; what is normal and routine for you may be foreign and unknown to them. For example, some from non-Western cultures have a hard time the value of conducting a needs assessment, team-building, and coaching.
  • At the bottom of Pandora’s Box there can be hope. Change is hard but it has to happen.  Be patient, have heart, and be comforted knowing that you are out in front of all the change that has yet to come.
  • Advise those in power that change will not happen unless they change first and that if they ever even blink the change won’t happen…so: Don’t Blink!
  • Reward and encourage those who try and fail because you and your organization learn and grow the most from trying and failing.  Punishing those who fail teaches everyone to behave conservatively which is not conducive to driving the change needed for a prosperous future.

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