I have to be honest. Until very recently, the words “leadership” and “passion” were not part of my generation’s lexicon. Having to use them together in a sentence, I for one was flat out uncomfortable. Thanks to conversations about “leaning in,” the “quest for perfection” and “why women still can’t have it all,” a dialogue was started – albeit at a bit of a distance from Latin American and the Caribbean professionals.
At the IDB headquarters in Washington, DC, the Vice Presidency for the Private Sector sought to bring that dialogue closer to home. Over a hundred colleagues and I attended a conversation with Inez Murray, CEO of the Global Banking Alliance for Women. The personal insights shared left staff smiling, debating and, most importantly, reflecting.
It is not often that industry leaders come to your office and open up about their childhoods, personal commitments and professional lessons over the course of a breakfast. Inez was honest and eloquent. Her thoughtful advice targeted colleagues of all genders and ages, framing her remarks around how she found her passion. It is a passion which has taken her all over the world and allowed her to become a leading figure promoting the “Women’s Market” – a push to create wealth and access for traditionally under-served women-owned businesses. Her advice can be summed up as follows:
- Go back to your roots. Inez opened by mentioning her parents’ humble beginnings in Ireland and values of hard work and gratitude, sharing that “where you come from… your sense of place, your understanding of who you are and why you are lucky form your identity.”
- Stay authentic. It’s hard to “lead with passion” if you don’t have a passion. Inez dedicated many years in the fields engaging those with whom she was most interested to work – women microentreprenuers. She spent time in India and Nicaragua, among other places, understanding women’s behaviors, aspirations and needs. Staying true to what she was passionate about and learning everything she could, she inspired herself. This connection between who you are and what you do is what Inez defined as “authenticity.” Such authenticity is also what inspires and calls others to action.
- Recognize the benefits of a work-life balance. She stressed that “life” in the “work-life balance” is not only about women having children but about all people having a “life” that is outside of work. There will always be trade-offs, some more difficult than others; yet she encouraged us to think about what else we might gain from the “life” part. Surely there are lessons to learn from a spouse’s style of problem-solving, a child’s innocent question or a zeal for a hobby that give us new ideas and perspectives to bring back to the office?
- Go get that promotion. Positioning herself for promotions at particular points in her career was a solution to gaining more flexibility, limiting travel and cutting out unneeded, laborious tasks when the “life” part required more of her time. Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, “Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.” Inez provided a real-life testament to how accelerating works. Now she is fortunate to have both a respected career and the ability to be home most nights for dinner.
- Maximize your day. Whether it’s a desire to rush home to help with homework, care for an elder family member or simply watch the Winter Olympics, we were privy to concrete tips for fulfilling it while still being a top performer at work. Combine your commute with your daily exercise, forego unnecessary meetings, make time for creativity and try to efficiently manage (yet not ignore) office politics.
- Build a brand. As careers evolve so do passions, and eventually they all come together in the form of a personal “brand.” Building a brand helps you position yourself and allows others to know when to call on your help. Inez shared, “Nothing is inconsistent about working your passion and bringing success to your organization. Make it a win-win.”
- Don’t sell yourself short. These remarks specifically targeted women, as we were asked to observe our male colleagues. “Have you ever met one that didn’t ask for a pay raise? Ask for stretch assignments, ask for promotion? Learn and model.” Annual performance review time can be a time to reflect on what you want and have these conversations with bosses.
- Have fun. Life is short. Spend that time wisely doing something you enjoy. This, it seems, is how passion and leadership come most naturally.