Lessons from the Simmons Leadership Conference

Young woman gesturing positive business perspective.Contributed by Liz O’Donnell, Author of

The theme of this year’s Simmons Leadership Conference, held in Boston last week, was “Passion & Profession,” and the program examined how passion fuels success. The Conference took place at Simmons College, home of the first and only MBA program in the US designed specifically for women.

Eileen McDargh, a speaker at this year’s event, helps individuals and organizations transform their careers, their lives and their businesses by connecting them with their passions. We had the opportunity to sit down with McDargh during the conference and examine how women can blend a productive career with a personal passion.

McDargh has first-hand experience. Thirty year ago she walked out of her public relations job and never looked back. “I just couldn’t write another press release,” she said. And she leapt at a time when she needed the money. She was confident, though, that if she followed her passion, she would land on her feet.

And she was right. Realizing, of course, that not all women can walk out on a steady paycheck to pursue a new idea, McDargh acknowledged, “Sometimes, it’s our job that supports our work.”

She encouraged women to pursue their passion, even if they aren’t totally clear on the outcome. “You don’t have to be crystal clear,” she says. “But you must be crystal on the intention.” And forget about achieving work/life balance.

Balance is Baloney

“Balance is baloney,” she said. She used the metaphor of a sailboat in describing how women manage the many roles they play. In a sailboat, she explained, the sailor is consciously connected with the most important parts of the boat. And when the wind shifts, you “come about” – the sailing term for “change directions.”

McDargh furthered the metaphor by explaining how the five key parts of a boat represent the five key elements that must work together to maintain a successful career. The mainsail represents the intellectual, the work. The tiller represents the physical – nutrition, exercise, sleep. The centerboard represents the emotional. And, McDargh noted, to maintain this aspect of life it’s important to determine who you want to have sit in the boat with you, and who you toss overboard. The rudder represents the spiritual, and the material e.g. teak or fiberglass, represents the lifestyle you choose.

She pointed out that sailors never sail in a straight line to their destination. Instead, they tack according to the wind, zigzagging across the water. “How do you figure out how to chart the course? Focus on the quality of the journey, not on ‘Will I get there?'”

Building a Corporate Culture of Inclusion

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is focused on the journey. Nelson is the chair and former CEO of Carlson, the largest travel and hospitality company in the world with brands that include Radisson Hotels, T.G.I Friday’s restaurants and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. She also serves on the board of ExxonMobil and is Chair of the Mayo Clinic Board.

Nelson is proud of the work she’s done as the head of Carlson. When she first joined the company, then headed by her father, she formed a woman’s support group. Since that time, the company’s management team has evolved and is made up of 49 percent women. She credits the gender parity with creating a corporate culture of inclusion. “We found the culture we were creating for women was attractive to men,” she explained.

But it is clear that Nelson’s true passion is her family and that she has connected her business accomplishments to the legacy she is building for her grandchildren. Following the tragic death of her daughter, Nelson made a commitment to evaluate each night whether she lived the kind of day that she would sign her name to, much like an artist signs her canvas.

0 Response

  1. Barbara Heffner

    It’s rather a relief to hear someone say: “Balance is baloney!” If you’re passionate about a cause, a job, a purpose, your family – there will be times without much balance. Thanks Liz for the great summary!

  2. Kalimah

    Love the great messages for professional women trying to figure it out. Very affirming and inspiring. Thanks for what you do.

  3. Really appreciated: “Focus on the quality of the journey, not on ‘Will I get there?’” Sailing takes constant adjustments according to the wind and water. This is just the inspiration I needed. Thanks.

  4. It’s amazing the path our lives and careers can take over the years. When I was 32 I found myself doing work that was highly lucrative but I hated. It took awhile – but I decided to shift my values and place far greater importance on loving what I do – every day. It has made all the difference. I am squarely in the middle class – and I have a very strong connection to living with a freedom, joy and creating income most people never know.

    You’d think in the two decades since, it would be a slam dunk to keep that up. But, occasionally I still have people dangling that carrot trying to entice me with dollar signs. Once I check in with what I call my Guiding Principles, making decisions about these “opportunities” is easy.

    For every woman it may be a little different – but for me those principles include: honesty and integrity, I get to use the gifts and talents that bring me the greatest sense of satisfaction, there must be a good potential for success and profit, I’m working with people I enjoy – and well, you get the idea.

    I’m just getting warmed up – but I hope these comments are helpful for a few women readers.