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15 leadership lessons by women leaders from YouTube, Pepsi Co., Standard Chartered, and more

15 leadership lessons by women leaders from YouTube, Pepsi Co., Standard Chartered, and more


Here's why each leader's advice works, and how you as a leader can turn these quotes into action according to your circumstances.

Small business lending company OnDeck has created a shortlist of 15 successful women leaders, and scoured through biographies, news clippings, and interviews to identify their top quotes about leadership. Each quote was then taken apart to provide further analysis as to why their advice works, and how you as a leader can turn these quotes into action according to your circumstances.

The 15 women leaders includes Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder & CEO, Bumble; Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors; Indra Nooyi, CEO, Pepsi Co.; Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube, and Rowena Everson, Former CEO, Standard Chartered.

[Scroll below to find each of their leadership tips.]

#1 Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder & CEO, Bumble

When you accept that failure is a good thing, it can actually be a huge propeller toward success.

According to the report, this works because failing once, twice, or even hundreds of times doesn't mean we've hit the end of the road – it means we're one step closer to success. These experiences give us an opportunity to learn, find new solutions, and grow as individuals.

In terms of how we can turn this into action, the report referenced author Chris Myers' Enlightened Entrepreneurship. In it, he offered three recommendations for accepting, processing and learning from failure:

  1. Don't worry about what people may think, everyone is too preoccupied with their own lives to notice.
  2. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, learn from the experience and use it as an opportunity to grow.
  3. Accept that failure is part of the journey and keep moving forward, it is impossible for you to really fail.

#2 Caterina Fake, Co-Founder, Flickr

So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.

The report noted that prioritising our workload can help to reduce stress, improve productivity, and help us focus on the work which matters the most. And this could be achieve if we try Brian Tracy’s ABCDE method to give each task multiple layers of prioritisation. By using this method, it would mean we:

  • Assign every task on the to-do list with a letter from A (highest priority) to E (lowest priority).
  • Letter by letter, we assign each task a number in order of importance (1, 2, 3, and 4).
  • Repeat until all tasks have letters and numbers (i.e. A1, A2, B1, and B2).
  • Work through your list from A1 until you have ticked off every task.

#3 Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors

It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s more than okay to listen to the people you lead – in fact, it’s essential.

Research conducted by leadership development expert, Zenger Folkman suggests that leaders who exhibit a preference for listening are rated as significantly more effective than those who spend the majority of their time talking.

The report suggests that we follow Michelle Tillis Lederman's The 11 Laws of Likability as effective listening is the "single most powerful tool" for building and maintaining a climate of trust and collaboration. As such, here are the dos and don'ts we can take note of.


  • Maintain eye contact and focus on the speaker.
  • Limit your talking.
  • Confirm understanding, paraphrase, and ask questions.
  • Give non-verbal messages that you are listening (nod, smile).
  • Manage your emotions.


  • Interrupt or finish someone’s sentences.
  • Assume you’re being attacked.
  • Use condescending, or aggressive language.
  • Listen with biases or be closed to new ideas.
  • Jump to conclusions.

#4 Indra Nooyi, CEO, Pepsi Co.

Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organisation.

The report shared that a survey conducted by training experts, TalentLMS, revealed 74% of employees think their managers need reskilling and upskilling training. CEOs must lead by example and continue to dedicate time to learning new methods.

With that, OnDeck explained that we could assess our current challenges in the workplace, and seek feedback to uncover areas of improvement, such as developing confidence, improving organisation, knowledge building, and managing time or stress.

#5 Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube

Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. 'Here, open it, it's perfect. You'll love it.' Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognise. They're risky. They challenge you.

A successful leader, the report stated, should be able to distinguish the difference between an opportunity which is worth seizing and could yield results, from an opportunity which isn’t aligned with our beliefs or that will not benefit our business.

On that note, it was recommended that we keep up-to-date with industry trends and insights to stay ahead of the game by:

  • Subscribing to relevant publications (i.e. Human Resources Online and Marketing-Interactive).
  • Setting Google Alerts for key industry terms.
  • Joining groups and associations within our niche.
  • Following other industry experts on social media.

ALSO READ[Infographic] Why 38% of employees surveyed would prefer to work for a woman boss

#6 Janett Liriano, Co-Founder & COO, MadeMan

Be willing to walk away from things that cease to align with your values and mission. One of the most challenging things to do is saying NO.

"The right ‘yes’ allows you to help others, make a difference, collaborate successfully, and increase your influence. To make every single ‘yes’ count, you want to gain a reputation for saying ‘no’ at the right times for the right reasons," OnDeck said. To do so, it is as easy as following the flowchart below.

lester 15 leadership lessons ondeck body image

#7 Lisa Su, CEO, Advanced Micro Devices

Run toward the hardest problems. This approach has helped me to learn a tremendous amount from both success and failure.

In the report, it was said that better decision making has the potential to significantly impact our success as a leader and improve the engagement and productivity of the people we lead. As such, the report suggests we look at Gilbert Probst's Tackling Complexity: A Systemic Approach for Decision Makers and use a six-step process for optimal decision making. The steps are:

  1. Gather the data. Focus on the main contributing factors to your problem.
  2. Dive below the surface. Identify the root cause in order to solve it and prevent this being an issue in future.
  3. Widen your focus. Take into account the roles and goals of all key people.
  4. Define the boundaries of the problem. Exclude all the factors that are not directly related.
  5. Identify causes, effects, and key stakeholders. Focus on the cause, its key drivers, and their effect.
  6. Analyse future developments. Make forecasts based on past and current patterns for how the problem might evolve in the future.

#8 Emily Weiss, Founder, Glossier

I learned to push the envelope when it comes to asking questions or making requests. And if you hear 'that's not possible', then to ask 'what is possible,' instead of just saying 'thank you' and leaving.

According to OnDeck, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. When you clearly ask for what you want, you have planted not only the seeds of better communication but of meeting your basic human needs. In that vein, there are four tips we can abide by to be clear and confident when asking for what we want:

  1. State your need specifically and clearly
  2. Ask for what you want in the present tense
  3. Communicate what you do want, not what you don’t want
  4. Ask in the form of a request, do not demand

#9 Tyler Haney, Founder, Outdoor Voices

You need to have unbound enthusiasm for what you’re building. Energy is contagious, so your team and everyone you interact with feels it.

"Leading by example doesn’t start and end with work performance, it comes down to the way you talk about your work and the emotions you express, too. If negativity breeds negativity, the opposite is also true," the report stated. And positive energy could be harnessed if we, according to Small Business Trends' Anita Campbell, appeal to passions, celebrate accomplishments, and do something unexpected for your team.

#10 Sheryl Sandberg, Founder, LeanIn

Trying to do it all and expecting it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy.

Whilst the desire for things to be perfect can motivate you to perform at a high level and consistently produce top-quality work, the unnecessary added pressure can also increase anxiety and actually slow you down. To manage our perfectionism, OnDeck suggests, we can try to see the big picture, adjust our standards, and create a checklist for the key components of our task.

ALSO READHow Citi is driving pay equity, and pushing for women in leadership

#11 Ambika Singh, Founder & CEO, Armoire

Recognising how your employees work, and knowing that this takes individual attention, is important to being a successful leader.

The report shared: "Motivated employees are more likely to think creatively, go above and beyond, want to learn and grow, feel personally connected to the company, and ultimately drive the business forward." As such, it is crucial we find out what kind of environment our employees thrive in by asking them these three questions:

  1. What is your favourite project you've ever worked on, and what made it your favourite?
  2. What was the best team you were ever a part of and what made it the best?
  3. Which of your former bosses brought out the best in you? What did they do or not do that you appreciated?

#12 Rowena Everson, Former CEO, Standard Chartered

I like to find smart, capable people and set them up for success by giving them the information, tools and connections they need. I’m clear in my expectations and value regular feedback. If I’m micromanaging, that’s usually a bad sign!

Micromanagement kills creativity, breeds mistrust, causes undue stress, and can demoralise your team. Setting clear expectations and offering timely feedback can make the world of a difference, stated the report. On that note, as leaders, we can tell our team what we want them to strive for, not how we expect them to do it. We could work and clarify a few things with them. Such as: what you’re hoping to achieve; what is the timeframe required for the task to be completed; how will success be measured, and how often will we be checking in with them.

#13 Helen Robertson, Franchise Owner, Expedia Cruises

You never need to feel like you have to be the smartest person in the room. Building a good team requires you to hire people that may know more in a certain subject than you do. Find individuals who have a diverse set of skills and experiences and feel free to rely on them for advice and responsibilities.

By conducting a skills gap analysis, we will identify which areas of the business to invest training and resources in. This will help us build a stronger, well-rounded team and in turn help grow our business. To do so, the report suggests the following:

lester 15 leadership lessons ondeck body image 1

#14 Karen Young, Founder, Oui the People

The simplest time management skill as an entrepreneur comes down to understanding what’s most important, knowing that it can change by the day or by the hour.

"Learning how to manage your time effectively can help you feel more relaxed, focused and in control," the report said. Hence we can practise the ‘4 Ds’ to avoid an anxiety-inducing email inbox, for instance.

  1. Delete: Old emails, emails with no value, spam etc can all be deleted.
  2. Do: Complete any action from an email which is urgent or where the task can be completed quickly.
  3. Delegate: If the email can be better dealt with by someone else, delegate it.
  4. Defer: Set aside time later to respond to emails which may take longer to deal with.

#15 Miku Hirano, Co-Founder & CEO, Cinnamon

I think that fixating your dream within your current mind and ability is limiting yourself. That is why I continuously update my dreams — as I grow, evolve and learn, so do my dreams.

Checking your plans periodically, the report explained, helps us stay on track with our strategy and identify any goals that are no longer serving our business. With that, it is important we evaluate our business goals regularly at a frequency that works for us - whether that is monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually.

ALSO READHow GEODIS is pledging for gender diversity in a sector seen as "hard and unwelcoming" for women

Image / OnDeck

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