The four women honored at the inaugural Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership Lunch have more in common than the silver pins they were awarded.
The local honorees were each asked to speak on an aspect of leadership, and their themes overlapped.
Jacque Douglas, Tracy Embree, Lynne Hyatt and Cindy Waddle each touched on integrity, entrepreneurship, collaboration and teamwork.
The honorees represent different sectors of the community — Douglas is an educator, Embree works for Cummins, Inc. Hyatt is a merchant, and Waddle is in hospitality.
But they told the audience they have made some of the same discoveries about leadership on the way to the top.
That’s what inspired Cathie Ritchie, chief operations officer for Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, about the event.
The Girl Scouts devotes many resources to growing girls into leaders, and Ritchie said Thursday’s event aligned with that mission.
“What I really appreciated was how honest each of the recipients was about what their leadership journey looked like,” she said. “They really talked about the good, the bad and the ugly, and the people who helped them along the way. I think that’s a really important message for women to take away.”
Chamber President Cindy Frey said she’s sure most of the nearly 300 attendees left the event similarly inspired, which made the lunch a success.
The event, which replaced the Women’s Professional Development Conference sponsored by the chamber for 15 years, was more accessible to professionals who could not spend a full day out of the office.
“These are four outstanding professionals,” Frey said of the honorees. “These are four professionals who have made an incredible contribution, and I think that’s what came through at the event.”
Focusing on integrity, Douglas recited one of her favorite stories about Abraham Lincoln.
It goes like this: Lincoln learned by borrowing books from neighbors. And he once borrowed the “Life of Washington” from a nearby farmer. He tucked the book between slats of wood in a cabin one night, and it got soaked by rain. The next day, he told the farmer and offered his labor as repayment.
That’s a tale of integrity she’s kept near and dear as she progressed through her career.
She tried to do the right thing for the right reason when she was leading the Frankfort Education Association through contract negotiations with the lingering threat of a strike, which did not materialize.
She discovered her leadership was making a difference when she was dealing with disciplinary issues at Roosevelt Middle School in Monticello. She always wanted students to take responsibility, but it was not often they did.
She remembered one particularly troublesome student who one day appeared in her office without a referral slip.
“He sat down and said, ‘I wanted you to know what happened before you hear it from someone else. Do I have integrity now?’” she recalled.
Hyatt, a third-generation merchant and owner of Lockett’s Ladies Shop, moved the store back into the heart of downtown and has since competed successfully against online retailers and big-box chains.
There’s a few reasons for that, she said, and it’s more than just a deep pocket and a good credit rating.
“That’s not necessarily a requirement if you love what you’re doing,” she said.
She said entrepreneurs need to find a product they know and love and feel comfortable promoting. For Hyatt, that was clothing.
And they need an imagination — entrepreneurs need to imagine it is possible to be your own boss, work your own schedule, and set your own rules.
“We are so fortunate in Columbus that we have a focus on arts because it enhances the imagination and creativity of both the young and the old,” she said. “You must have the imagination to put out a viable product or a new service or see your way out of a dark corner.”
Entrepreneurs must also be trusting, Hyatt said. They must trust in their team and in themselves because high reward comes with high risk.
Hyatt learned to trust early on, when Judy Shepherd came to work with her and warned her: “I am the kiss of death.”
She had worked at four retail shops before Lockett’s, and each had gone out of business.
But Hyatt hired for attitude, not aptitude.
“We really are a team,” she said. “We have a nice mix of people for a nice mix of customers.”
When Waddle took up her post as regional manager of Dora Hotels, one message was made very clear to her: Be nice to the Columbus Area Arts Council and the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
She said it’s because of that directive that some of the partnerships exist that are making downtown a more vibrant area.
Tim Dora, owner of the hotel company, said when Hotel Indigo was built, the managers wanted it to be part of the effort to rejuvenate downtown Columbus. Part of that role was to develop more restaurants downtown, and Dora said any general manager would have been threatened by that effort.
“Cindy took the opposite approach, and she understood all boats float,” he said. “She sees things globally, and I think that’s an uncommon trait.”
She’s taken that global approach to develop collaborations with community groups including the Columbus Area Arts Council, the Columbus Museum of Art and Design and YES Cinema.
“When people are guided by a vision, when people share a common goal, teamwork and collaboration can produce some pretty fantastic results,” she said. “You only have to look around our community to find evidence of this.”
Embree learned early how to work as part of a team. It was in Ohio, where she took one of her first jobs in a manufacturing plant.
One of her employees had mistaken her for the newest temp worker, only to cringe with embarrassment when he discovered she was his new boss.
“We laughed. What else do you do?” she said. “I realized then I had to do more laughing, more listening and more learning.”
At the end of her tenure there, another employee said to her: “I swore up and down I would never work for a lady, let alone a lady that was my daughter’s age.”
She didn’t get offended or angry, but she did feel sort of accomplished.
“In fact, I thought how brave is that, that he’s telling me what’s in his head,” she said. “That told me something happened, maybe I had an impact on them, because they had certainly had an impact on me.”
As a result of that experience, her focus has been on people and teams; and she said that’s how she got to where she is today.
“It’s not about my job title or the scope of my responsibilities that motivate me,” she said. “It’s when teams of people can come together to do amazing things. That is how I find success.”