What Pivotal Moment Influenced Your Leadership Style as a Business Leader?

What Pivotal Moment Influenced Your Leadership Style as a Business Leader?

We gathered insights from a diverse group of CEOs and Founders to share their pivotal career moments that reshaped their leadership styles. From 'Dream Big and Inspire Others' to 'Embrace Authentic Femininity in Leadership', explore the transformative experiences of fourteen business leaders that have profoundly impacted their approach to leadership.

  • Dream Big and Inspire Others
  • Authenticity Over Adaptability
  • Prioritize People, Profits Follow
  • Empowerment Through Trust and Delegation
  • Adapt to Individual Employee Needs
  • Collaborative Decision-Making Drives Success
  • Empower Others for Greater Achievement
  • Emotional Intelligence Enhances Team Success
  • Navigating Crisis Strengthens Leadership Resilience
  • Coaching Skills Transform Leadership Approach
  • Creativity and Teamwork Overcome Challenges
  • Inclusivity and Safety Foster Success
  • Innovative Strategies Boost Organic Traffic
  • Embrace Authentic Femininity in Leadership

Dream Big and Inspire Others

A pivotal moment in my career as a business leader came during the early days of Vantage Circle. We were a small, ambitious team, eager to bring major clients on board. I started initiating conversations over emails with senior leaders at large MNCs about what we do as a company. To my amazement, they not only responded to my emails but also agreed to schedule meetings with me. These experiences taught me the value of dreaming big and taking bold steps. I did realize it's not just about having a vision; it's about inspiring others to pursue their own ambitions. These lessons have become a cornerstone of my leadership style.

In my opinion, creating an environment that encourages collaboration and innovation, and motivating people to join a shared mission, can lead to incredible achievements. Today, Vantage Circle exemplifies what a dedicated team can do when united by the goal of transforming workplace culture. This journey has reaffirmed my belief in the power of pursuing your goals and the critical role of collective team effort.

Partha Neog
Partha NeogCEO and Co-founder of Vantage Circle, Vantage Circle

Authenticity Over Adaptability

My first foray into leadership was a disaster! The typical tale of a high performer seeking promotion (e.g., I wasn't really mature enough in hindsight), I was lucky enough to have some training which taught me that everyone needed to be managed according to their individual style, and you needed to adjust your style to accommodate theirs. So I did that. Six months later, my 360 review showed that my team didn't really trust me. Why? Because I kept changing my style! They felt they never knew which version of me they were going to get, and they thought I had different (possibly favorite) relationships across the team as a result. I was devastated—so much so that I went back to being an individual contributor.

The first time I really wanted to be a leader, and I was burned by it. The second time I was asked to do it, I was really reluctant. But when I agreed, I carried two critical lessons forward:

1) Leadership training is susceptible to trends and fads, rather than being based on facts. Don't drink anyone else's Kool-Aid—mix your own. Do your own experimentation and make your own decisions about what works for you.

2) Just be yourself. Try to bring your best self, but even on days when you can't, still be you. It's not the leader's job to make relationships work by adjusting who they are all the time. Relationships—at work or home—are a two-way street. At work, as adults and professionals, both parties have responsibility for meeting in the middle and making it work—it's not for the leader to shoulder alone.

Rebecca Houghton
Rebecca HoughtonCEO, BoldHR

Prioritize People, Profits Follow

A pivotal moment that profoundly shaped my leadership style occurred early in my career. In the late '90s, while leading a training division for a telecommunications company, I invited a master facilitator to teach Stephen Covey's '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' program. After several transformative months, he honored me with the Covey Golden Goose for Leadership award. This recognition stands out among my achievements because it symbolized my growth into an effective leader who empowered, nurtured, and motivated the team. Today, I prioritize people over profits, and consistently, the profits follow. Taking care of your team truly pays off.

Adriana CowdinCEO and Executive Coach, Be Bold Executive Coaching

Empowerment Through Trust and Delegation

One pivotal moment that profoundly shaped my leadership style occurred early in my career when I faced a major project deadline that seemed impossible to meet. The pressure was intense, and my instinct was to micromanage every detail to ensure success. However, during this crunch time, I realized that trust and delegation were critical. I empowered my team, clarifying roles and trusting their expertise. This shift not only lifted the burden off my shoulders but also empowered my team members to excel. It taught me that effective leadership isn't just about directing but also about empowering others and fostering a collaborative environment where everyone can thrive. This experience has influenced my leadership approach ever since, emphasizing trust, empowerment, and collaboration as pillars of success.

Josh Burris
Josh BurrisCEO, STNDRD

Adapt to Individual Employee Needs

About a decade or so ago, I was fortunate enough to take on a role leading a new team of Operations Associates at a leading PR agency. One of my new hires needed a great deal of hand-holding. It went beyond the normal level of managing. She was insecure and needed constant reassurance. I quickly learned that my voice and my help calmed her and helped shape her career. I was patient and understanding, and I feel that she learned a lot and, eventually, with my help, gained more confidence in her contributions to our team. Every employee is different and requires a different approach, and every manager needs to be adaptable.

Susan Sweenie
Susan SweenieFounder, New Path Careers

Collaborative Decision-Making Drives Success

A major turning point for me at Leverage was during an early investor meeting. I used to call most of the shots myself, but this time I decided to bring my team along. It changed everything.

Our CTO suggested a tech idea I hadn't considered, which impressed the investors. Our marketing head shared crucial market insights that made our pitch stronger. Realizing how valuable their input was, I knew I needed to change my approach.

Now, I always involve my team in decision-making. We brainstorm together, share ideas openly, and it’s made a huge difference. This collaborative style not only builds a stronger team but also leads to better results.

At Leverage, we believe that everyone’s voice counts. This change has been key to our success and has made me a better leader. I’ve noted that together, we’ve achieved way more than I ever could alone.

Rhett Stubbendeck
Rhett StubbendeckCEO & Co-Founder, Leverage Planning

Empower Others for Greater Achievement

I was at Apple, and my manager told me, "There's a lot of talented people here. The single most powerful thing you can do is leverage the people around you." This forever changed my leadership style—it reminded me to empower others, and we'll always achieve more as a team.

Taige Zhang
Taige ZhangCEO, Fairytrail

Emotional Intelligence Enhances Team Success

One day, during a particularly challenging phase of a project, a team member opened up to me about feeling undervalued and overwhelmed. This conversation was a turning point. I realized that acknowledging and addressing the emotional and psychological needs of my team was just as important as meeting project deadlines and goals. I worked with this team member to adjust their responsibilities and provided additional resources to support their workload.

This experience taught me the value of empathetic leadership. By prioritizing the human element and creating an environment where team members felt heard and appreciated, productivity and morale improved significantly. The project was ultimately completed successfully, and the team emerged stronger and more cohesive.

This moment reshaped my leadership style, emphasizing the importance of emotional intelligence, open communication, and fostering a supportive work environment. It reinforced my belief that successful leadership is not just about directing tasks but also about understanding and nurturing the people who perform them.

Suzanne Ricci
Suzanne RicciChief Success Officer, Computer Coach Training Center

Navigating Crisis Strengthens Leadership Resilience

The pandemic was a pivotal moment in my career that significantly influenced my leadership style. My business partner and I had to navigate keeping an international tour operator afloat when all international travel had been halted around the world. It sounds odd to say, but after surviving that experience, I'm confident that I can weather any storm as a leader. Post-pandemic, I've gone from someone always pushing for high growth to someone more concerned with ensuring the company's long-term sustainability and saving for a rainy day. I still love to take risks as a leader, so having a conservative approach and having greater cash reserves allows me the ability to take chances that may pay off in the long run without betting the company on it.

Matt Wilson
Matt WilsonCEO, Under30Experiences

Coaching Skills Transform Leadership Approach

A pivotal moment in my leadership journey was undergoing coaching-skills training, which profoundly transformed my approach and led me to introduce coaching-skills training for other leaders in my organization.

Coaching goes beyond encouragement; it involves validating, supporting, and empowering employees. It fosters communication, reflection, and self-correction, helping individuals become more autonomous and take ownership of their work. This approach also cultivates a more confident workforce, as people develop greater self-belief in their abilities. I also noticed that employees became more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, better equipped to tackle challenges, and more committed to their ongoing development.

Gemma Bullivant
Gemma BullivantStrategic HR, Reward & Executive Coaching, Gemma Bullivant HR & Coaching

Creativity and Teamwork Overcome Challenges

Picture this: It's a typical Tuesday, and I'm knee-deep in digital analytics when suddenly, our campaign performance takes a nosedive. I'm talking about plummeting faster than a rock in a pond. It was a moment that could have sent anyone into a tailspin, but instead, it was the turning point of my career.

Instead of panicking, I rallied the team for a brainstorming session. We ditched the conventional conference room for a nearby coffee shop—because caffeine is the fuel of genius, right? Surrounded by the aroma of fresh brews, we started tossing ideas around like confetti at a parade.

That day, we didn't just save the campaign; we ignited a creative firestorm. The experience taught me that true leadership isn't about having all the answers. It's about creating an environment where creativity thrives, where every voice is heard, and where you can turn a potential disaster into a success story over a cup of coffee.

So, whenever I'm faced with a challenge, I remember: Sometimes, all you need is a great team, a fun environment, and maybe a latte or two.

Phil Laboon
Phil LaboonCEO, Leadstacker

Inclusivity and Safety Foster Success

One pivotal moment in my career as a Business Leader that significantly influenced my leadership style occurred during a challenging project in Alaska. At that time, I was tasked with leading a diverse team of professionals from various cultural backgrounds to complete a high-stakes project under tight deadlines. The project required not only technical expertise but also a deep understanding of human behavior and safety culture, which were crucial for its success.

One day, while conducting a routine safety inspection, we faced an unexpected incident that put the entire project at risk. A piece of critical equipment failed, causing a minor injury to one of our team members. This incident highlighted the gaps in our safety protocols and communication channels. It was a wake-up call for me as a leader, emphasizing the importance of proactive risk management and the need for a more inclusive approach to safety.

In response, I initiated a series of open forums where team members could voice their concerns and suggestions. These forums fostered a culture of transparency and collaboration, allowing us to identify and address potential risks more effectively. I also implemented regular training sessions focused on situational awareness and critical behavior management, ensuring that every team member, regardless of their role, was equipped with the knowledge and skills to maintain a safe working environment.

This experience profoundly shaped my leadership style. I learned that true leadership goes beyond making decisions and delegating tasks. It involves actively listening to your team, fostering a culture of trust and accountability, and being adaptable in the face of unforeseen challenges. By prioritizing safety and encouraging open communication, I was able to build a resilient and cohesive team that not only met but exceeded project expectations.

This pivotal moment reinforced my belief in the power of inclusive leadership and continuous improvement. It taught me that effective leadership is not about having all the answers but about creating an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute to the success of the organization.

Charly WigstromCeo, WFS Energy

Innovative Strategies Boost Organic Traffic

I spearheaded a rebranding campaign for a mid-sized tech company two years ago. The company had struggled with a major SEO overhaul, which caused the website's organic traffic to stagnate, and we were struggling to rank for key competitive keywords.

A junior SEO specialist suggested an innovative approach: focusing on a more siloed content-driven strategy that prioritized user intent and long-tail keywords rather than just high-volume search terms.

It was a risky deviation from our established methods, but I decided to go ahead with it.

We restructured our entire content strategy around this new approach. This involved creating highly targeted blog posts, optimizing product pages with rich, informative content, and building a comprehensive internal linking structure. We also started leveraging data-driven insights to refine our keyword strategy continuously.

Our organic traffic increased by 50% within six months, and we started ranking on the first page for several high-intent keywords. More importantly, our conversion rates improved significantly as we attracted more qualified traffic.

This experience taught me the importance of fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, and that great ideas can come from anyone, regardless of their position.

Ahsan Zafeer
Ahsan ZafeerContent Strategist, The D2D Experts

Embrace Authentic Femininity in Leadership

One of my biggest mistakes was believing the false narrative that I had to be hard and strong—more traditionally masculine leadership qualities—to be a successful business leader. I started to hide my true self to be 'one of the guys' and to be respected. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, 'Don't be so sensitive,' 'You can't be a mother and a CEO,' or 'You can't make a decision based on a gut feeling.' We've been taught for too long that being feminine is seen as weak, but this could not be further from the truth. My emotional response to a problem in the world gave me the grit and determination to pioneer a new industry and start one of the first social enterprises. The most successful leaders I admire lead with compassion and empathy. There is nothing more empowering than a female entrepreneur owning her femininity and embracing who she truly is in business. When I stopped trying to fit into someone else's mold and started being true to myself—embracing my femininity and not worrying about others' opinions—that's when my career and personal life truly flourished. It was a freeing moment that empowered me to lead authentically and achieve success on my own terms.

Anna-Mieke Anderson
Anna-Mieke AndersonFounder & CEO, MiaDonna & Company

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