Passion and Purpose – Why Leadership Means Following Your Heart

SHE Summit 2013By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Last week, thousands of women took part in S.H.E. Summit Week, a week-long event designed to empower women to take ownership of their careers and dreams. The week of pop-up events around the world culminated with a two-day conference on work and life in New York City. Speakers included people like Cindy Gallop, Joi Gordon, Gloria Feldt, Reshma Saujani, and John Gerzema, who examined the powerful and positive ways women leaders are reshaping the 21st century.

For Claudia Chan, the powerhouse behind the S.H.E. Summit, stepping into leadership meant following her true passion and purpose. Although she became a successful entrepreneur at 25 when she founded what would become the girls’ night out entertainment company Shecky’s, it wasn’t until she left her business nine years later that she began examining the greater impact she wanted to make for women and for the world as a leader. She explained, “During my latter few years of my last business, I had achieved material success but I wasn’t fulfilled on the inside because I lacked a deeper sense of purpose. Experiencing what I did as a female entrepreneur, I really started learning and thinking about the state of women. When the a-hah moment came that I needed to build a more purposeful women’s media business that would share and scale the advice of today’s female role models in a modern way, a whole new definition of leadership kicked in for me. To be the best leader I could be, I had to take the leap to pursue a vision that I believed could positively impact women at large, and I am extremely proud of what we have achieved since we launched just 15 months ago.”

Being a leader isn’t just about being successful in business, she explained. “It also means having a clear vision of what you want to build, knowing what is needed to achieve that vision at different building stages, acquiring and empowering talent where you have weakness, knowing when to fight versus be patient and humbled, never giving up even when it feels harder than ever, and building something profitable that improves the lives of everyone involved — from partners to clients to employees.” These are big themes for Chan – and they are themes of the S.H.E Summit as well.

“I had to ask myself, ‘Am I doing what I’m really passionate about? Why am I doing this? What am I doing this for?’ I realized I really lacked focus. And I really wasn’t doing something that was making me happy.” She continued, “It was going through those challenges, several years ago, that forced me to create positive change in my life and to create a platform that would inspire women to dream and do big with passion and purpose, just like in my experience.”

Leadership is often born out of turmoil, she explained. “It’s not the cliché of having success and making a lot of money and all of the sudden I became a great leader. I always say obstacles create opportunities, and the number one quality for leadership is humility. Going through challenges helped me become a leader.”

Chan says her goal with her business SHE Global Media (parent company to, and her global women’s week S.H.E. Summit), is to be the leadership and lifestyle media company that creates only positive and empowering content and products for women. “It’s about building a business that is of service to others – making a positive dent on this universe. That is really how I define great leadership.”

Defining Empowerment

One of the conference’s speakers, John Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine, suggested that moving forward, the world will be seeking something different from its leaders. “We polled 64,000 people from 13 countries and we asked people what they are looking for in a leader and how to solve the problems [the world is facing].”

By and large, he continued, people said they were dissatisfied with male leaders. “By that they don’t mean men, but the underlying structure,” he explained. Male leaders have mostly been the architects of power in the modern world, and as people grow disillusioned with existing power structures they are growing disillusioned with male leaders and the traits that define them.

“Two thirds of people around the world thought the world would be a better place if men thought more like women,” he explained. He cited traits that are identified with women leaders that emerged again and again in his research – like “having the courage and conviction to be themselves,” and “people coming together and throwing their lot in to help each other.”

He added, “There are also important aspects of long term thinking – people are looking for leaders to not be expedient, but actually dig in and solve problems.”

The conference certainly provided a lot of vision around what it means to be a female leader, and what female leaders can offer the world moving forward. That is reflected in how the S.H.E. Summit was designed.

Chan says that this year, she was excited to add the two-day conference to S.H.E. Summit Week. All week long, pop-up events – ranging from investing to fashion to negotiation to physical wellness and more – were held to address the many facets and passions of women’s lives. “The 100 events happening throughout the week then all culminated in a Friday and Saturday extraordinary event that gathered almost 50 female thought leaders with over 1,000 dreamers and doers. It was a magical experience and I am still high from it,” she said.

“What I’ve learned to do differently next year is that I’m going to need to take a lot of time off,” she said with a laugh. “It really has been a personal summit and mountain to climb, but it has been so worth it.”