As a highly-successful business woman, Maryann Bruce has spent years honing her leadership skills and working to inspire confidence in women like her trying to “make it” in their leadership roles. When Maryann ended up as a passenger of the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash (the seventh disaster she’s survived!), her perspective on success and being a leader shifted.
What ignited your passion for growing women into leadership?
Maryann: My passion for advancing women in leadership was ignited from personal experiences I encountered in the financial services industry. I noticed that women were frequently subjected to various stereotypes and there were few female role models to admire and emulate. Men were viewed as being aggressive or assertive and these were considered admirable traits, while women with those same attributes were viewed as being pushy and stubborn; men were stern taskmasters while women were often labeled as too difficult to work for; women can’t see the “big picture,” we’re too soft to make hard decisions, and we take things too personally.
On several occasions I was told my emotions were a liability in the workplace and made me look weak. After years of experience, I believe that if you want to be truly successful, you need to forget the old stereotypes and allow yourself to be vulnerable, especially at work. Give yourself permission to laugh, cry, get angry, and ask for help. Your vulnerability will make you more real to your supervisors, colleagues and employees and help you connect with them at a deeper level.
Because I witnessed women enduring a great deal of biased thinking when pitted against their male counterparts for positions of leadership and power, I was determined to change that narrative. I wanted to be a strong role model and help and encourage women at large to reach their full leadership potential. I began reading and studying the concept of leadership when I was promoted from being an individual contributor to a manager in the early 1990’s. I was curious about the difference between managing and leading and anxious to become an effective leader, so I wanted to learn as much as I could on the subject. I was particularly interested in learning about the qualities or skills that were attributed to the most successful leaders.
I observed many different leadership styles and frankly, I probably learnt more from a few former ineffective leaders or bosses than from the good ones.
It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I began to narrow my leadership focus specifically on women. I worked in the financial services industry and rarely encountered women colleagues at my level and there were precious few female executive role models. As a result, I began to wonder if gender was a factor in determining whether an individual would be an exemplary leader.
Walk us through the “8 Cs of an Effective Leader” that you developed.
Maryann: What are the critical qualities and characteristics for leadership success? I believe there are eight common traits among successful leaders and I refer to these as the “8 Cs of an Effective Leader.” They are: communication, commitment, courage, character, creativity, caring, confidence, and competence. I’ve tried to incorporate these attributes in my professional career and life. With the right frame of mind, coupled with energy and enthusiasm, I’m confident you can benefit from them as well.
- Communication: A leader must have the ability to convey optimism, inspire, and create an upbeat, positive atmosphere in which two-way dialogue replaces one-way, top-down monologues. A leader must communicate both emotionally – having a sincere interest in their employees and/or clients – and professionally – recognizing and celebrating success. A leader needs to create a team spirit whereby cooperation, enthusiasm, and enjoyment is developed by working and succeeding together.
- Commitment: The primary component of commitment is dedication. Going after something you really want takes discipline and the fortitude to stay the course. My personal motto is, “If you are willing to work like no one would, you can live life like no one could.” To be committed means to be passionate, for passion is contagious.
- Courage: In my experience, leaders are typically gutsy individuals. To have courage means to take intelligent risks. Intelligent risks are those with both a reasonable chance for success and a reasonable measure of doubt. Leaders embrace change. They take chances and go out on a limb because according to them, the view’s better out there. Leaders recognize it’s okay to be different and are willing to stand out in a crowd. They aren’t afraid to speak up or offer advice that runs counter to the conventional wisdom.
- Character: This is a key trait of every successful leader. Leaders must not only be passionate about “taking care of business,” but also about taking care of those who they serve and support. Like communication, character helps form the framework for mutual trust, loyalty and integrity. As a leader, you are the role model, so model well.
- Creativity: A good leader thinks and acts with the help of a constantly developing imagination. Build a mindset for the unconventional. Ponder ideas that go against the grain. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. As the Pulitzer Prize Winner, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Being creative means being open-minded. You never know where or from whom the next great idea will come.
- Caring: To garner cooperation from team members, you must show you genuinely care about, appreciate, and respect an individual’s contribution and that you will do your best to help employees maximize their potential. Leaders provide positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback is easy to give and remember to “praise in public.” Negative feedback is often harder to deliver, and it should always be done in private. Remember the saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- Confidence: You must believe in yourself if you are going to inspire confidence in others. Confidence comes from within, from knowing deep down inside that you’ve got what it takes. Successful leaders exude success. They radiate purpose and resolve. I’ve found far too many capable women who were their own worst enemy because they were too embarrassed to proclaim their talents, strengths and successes. We need to learn how to be more outwardly comfortable with the power and position we’ve earned.
- Competence: If you’re not competent, all the Cs in the world won’t help you get to the top, let alone stay there. Competence is based on knowledge and the capable imaginative application of that knowledge. It’s a blend of mental agility and on-the-job training to keep on learning. It’s an ability to turn learning into leadership. To be truly competent, you must know your business inside and out.
How can women find confidence in themselves and their abilities?
Maryann: Women need to be flexible and open to possibilities and remember that the toughest situations are in fact the greatest teachers. It’s fine to have a plan for yourself, your career, or your business, but don’t be so tied to it that you miss opportunities or mishandle obstacles that you encounter. When something bad happens to you, use it as a learning opportunity. One of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt is “A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” You will learn more from these bad experiences than you could ever learn from a good one. Remember, adopt the attitude that mistakes are marvelous; just don’t repeat them.
Once you’ve started to gain confidence in your leadership abilities, how can you keep that momentum going?
Maryann: Leadership, like any skill, needs to be continually honed and fine-tuned. One successful way to do that is to cultivate coaches, mentors, and sponsors throughout your career. A coach helps you achieve a specific personal or professional goal by providing training, guidance and encouragement and holds you accountable for the desired results. Mentors are someone you can trust, confide in, seek advice from, and someone that can help you learn new skills. Sponsors help you gain access to key leaders in your organization as well as networks of influence. They advocate on your behalf even when you’re not in the room. The simplest way to distinguish between these three individuals are as follows: coaches speak to you, mentors speak with you and sponsors speak for you.
An incredible part of your story is that you were on the plane that landed in the Hudson. How did that experience shape how you view your life, past and present?
Maryann: My life has changed dramatically since the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Prior to the crash, I was a senior operating executive and former president of thriving divisions within two Fortune 100 firms. I was on the typical career “treadmill” working 24/7, five days a week, 52 weeks per year. I traveled constantly and missed numerous family occasions, but I loved my job and the fact that I could provide a great lifestyle for my family and me. Post-crash, I realized my priorities were wrong and I needed to more fully embrace my life.
Today, I am no longer working full-time. I am an independent director of public and privately-held companies as well as several non-profits. I no longer define “who I am, by what I do.” I take a much more balanced approach to life. I spend more time with family and friends and am resolved to discuss and share my true feelings, never holding back on expressing gratitude and love. I try to live “in the moment” rather than always planning for the future and missing out on what’s happening today. And I’m determined to make a difference.
Throughout my professional life, I’ve followed what I refer to as “The Two P Principle” – have purpose and passion. Believe in what you’re doing and be excited about doing it. I thought that was all the motivation I needed to succeed. But it wasn’t until I was looking at the city skyline from a raft in the middle of the Hudson River that I realized I was missing the most important “P” – perspective.
Landing on the Hudson was the seventh disaster I’ve survived. That’s right, seventh. I was in my office in the World Trade Center when the car bomb went off in 1993, drove down LA roads during the earthquake in 1994, and flew through Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Four natural events, two terrorist attacks, and landing on the Hudson. These “hand of God” events in my life should have shaken me to my core and made me question whether or not God cares about me. Instead, I realize God must have massive plans for me and my life! I recognize that life only has meaning when it is lived and shared with others and that we make a living by what we get yet we make a life by what we give. And quite frankly, that’s the only perspective that matters.
How can current leaders inspire confidence in the women they may lead?
Maryann: Many women enjoy and thrive by being a member of a team. One of my favorite sayings is that the acronym TEAM stands for “together everyone achieves more.” Successful leaders empower their female employees by providing the freedom to take responsibilities for their ideas, decisions and actions. Effective leaders give women (and men) control over where and how they work. They understand that the unwritten rules of success are often different for men than for women, and they comprehend, own, and address the conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding. Successful leaders recognize that women need career sponsors and access to networks of influence. Finally, the best leaders recognize that anger makes you old, ugly, and mean-spirited while laughter keeps you young and healthy, and makes other people want to be around you.
Are you a leader struggling with confidence? Do you feel like you could never be a leader and don’t go for those “step up” job opportunities? We hope that Maryann’s incredible advice and 8 Cs of leadership help give you the confidence boost you need to not only become a leader but inspire others around you to do the same!
Maryann Bruce is an experienced independent director of public and private companies, a respected C-Suite advisor and keynote speaker, and former senior operating executive and President of thriving divisions within two Fortune 100 firms. An expert in the financial services industry, Maryann has more than 30 years of experience in strategy, distribution and marketing.
Maryann serves as an independent trustee of PNC Funds. She is also a Founder of the National Association of Corporate Director’s (NACD) Carolinas Chapter, where she serves as an Executive Committee Member, Treasurer, and Chair of both the Finance and Nominating Committees as well as the Treasurer and Investment Committee Chair of the C200 Foundation Board. Formerly, Maryann served on the Compensation & Governance and Audit Committees of the board of MBIA (NYSE: MBI), was the Compensation Chair of the board of Atlanta Life Financial Group, and was an Allianz Funds Trustee.
Maryann was recently honored by Directors & Boards magazine as one of twenty accomplished female board members in Directors to Watch 2017: Governance Insights and Ideas from Top Women Directors. US Banker magazine also named Maryann one of “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking,” a list that recognizes individuals who personify business vision, personal excellence, and professional integrity.
Maryann earned the NACD CERT Certificate in Cybersecurity Oversight from the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University demonstrating her commitment to advanced cybersecurity literacy. Maryann graduated magna cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics.