Leadership lessons from a female executive

International women's day

Former Estee Lauder CTO and current nThrive President Rhonda Vetere shares her tips for success in business and leadership.

“We need to have more women in business supporting other women,” says Rhonda Vetere, president of nThrive, when asked what needs to happen in order to get more women in executive leadership roles. Today, only 4.2 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, and women hold only 19 percent of senior management positions.

Vetere, whose resume includes leading roles in technology at AIG and HP Enterprise Services as well as five years at Estee Lauder as chief technology officer, knows what it’s like to be one of the few females in a male-dominated industry. Growing up, she didn’t have a female role model on which to base her own career. The solution? She became her own role model. “I didn’t have this ‘North Star’ person in mind [whose career I wanted] to follow,” Vetere says. “I modeled my career after myself and where I wanted to go.”

Today, between juggling the day-to-day responsibilities of her job and training for triathlons, half-marathons and IronMans, Vetere is a mentor and advocate for young female professionals and women entrepreneurs. Just in time for International Women’s Day, Vetere is sharing her rules for success in business and leadership, which apply to anyone – man or woman – at any stage of their career.

Rhonda Vetere’s 7 rules for success in business and leadership

  • Listen first: Regardless of where you are in your career or what field you work in, listening is one of the most important characteristics of great leaders and employees. You can’t lead the team or make important decisions until you have a full understanding of what’s going on and what is on everyone’s mind. Most importantly, others will respect you more when you take the time to listen to them.
  • Communicate openly: The best leaders are those who communicate openly and are transparent. They don’t need to close the door or worry that something they said will get back to someone else because they communicate openly with everyone. There’s no doubt what they stand for and they aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.
  • Display managerial courage: If you’re in a high-level position or aspire to be one day, you need to play the part. This means being decisive in your decisions, acting bold and making the best choices for the overall good of your team or company. Great leaders are the ones who have the courage to do what others would never dare to consider.
  • Show respect: No matter how high up the ladder you climb, you always treat everyone with respect. It’s the most basic principle of all that we can all employ, yet sadly, it’s often overlooked. Succeeding in business starts with being nice to people. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone, but everything starts with respect.
  • Be accountable: Everyone loves to be accountable when things go well, but managers always notice those who are accountable when things go wrong. The person who isn’t afraid to stand up and say, “I messed up. I’m sorry. I will learn from this,” is the person you want on your team. Trying to hide things or blame other people will never get you anywhere. “I do what I say I’m going to do...when I do…”
  • Recognize your team: You know the saying: No man is an island. Make everyone feel like part of the team because everyone’s contribution is important to the final outcome. Don’t just verbalize your appreciation. Put it in writing or attach a small gift or token of your appreciation. Most people just want to feel like they are a part of something bigger.
  • It comes down to preparation: I don’t always look to hire the most qualified person or vendor. I’m looking for the one who comes most prepared. You don’t have to have all the answers, but prove to me that you’ve done your homework; can think on your feet; will look to find a solution when you don’t know how; have read up on the company, position you’re applying for and that you know something about me. Anyone can gain experience, but you either believe in good preparation or you don’t.

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