IMEX Frankfurt attendees were treated to an insightful meeting of two forceful industry minds last week, when SITE CEO Annette Gregg sat down with IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer as part of this year’s #IMEX23 educational program.
Here are the highlights of what these two impactful leaders discussed, reflecting just some of the questions being bantered around the “she-suite” right now.
Given IMEX’s human nature talking point this year, is there anything “natural” that female leaders in particular can bring to a workplace?
Last Wednesday’s conversation kicked off with this question, posited to Carina by Annette. Carina began by pointing out that what’s historically been labeled “soft skills,” or the “human side” of business has historically leaned female. It’s about what’s typically been valued — men do also have these skills but were not always encouraged to display them, she said.
However, Carina argued, an ability to showcase qualities such as empathy and are increasingly becoming pre-requisites to serving as a leader of any business — a charge women have led, and indeed shown the value of firsthand.
She also added during the session’s Q&A portion that part of IMEX’s “human nature” talking point relates to valuing the inherent and the unique characteristics each individual brings to a workplace, regardless of gender.
How did Annette find her way to the “she-suite” as SITE CEO?
Interestingly, said Annette, making the leap to serving as CEO of an industry association was not a career path she saw for herself, even a year or two ago.
Her initial plan, said Annette, was to work up to a chief operations officer (COO) role for the last half of her career. With the encouragement of a strong sounding board though, Annette said she started challenging what she saw as “limiting beliefs.”
In looking at her career trajectory, Annette decided it could be an appropriate move to “skip” that COO step and move right toward a CEO position when the SITE role became available, given that she was already doing CEO-level work in past positions.
What she needed, Annette realized, was license to think that way — and adopt the right mindset shift to stay open to paths that didn’t necessarily move in lockstep or logical order.
Reflecting on shared challenges
During another round of discussions, Carina spoke about the weight of responsibility she takes on as a CEO, especially when there are difficult decisions that need to be made.
There are lots of voices and people to talk to, Carina said, and it’s difficult since you often don’t fully know or understand the impact of your decision without hindsight.
You have to trust your instinct and use the right tools and processes in these scenarios, Carina advised. Get consultation, but in the right ways: ask for proper feedback, talk openly as a team, and ultimately know who is the decision-maker responsible for making the final call.
Annette agreed, saying that data shows women are not always seen as risk-takers or positioned within an organization to make change. When you’re CEO though, she said, the buck ultimately does stop with you; and you can’t wait for 100 percent consensus or certainty and sometimes need to forge ahead anyways.
It’s not about getting it perfect or completely ready, Annette said — as long as you have the right guardrails in place to make decisions strategically.
Carina agreed, noting that when wheels spin and no decision is arrived at, that also makes people unhappy. Carina described one simple technique they use at IMEX of allowing people a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote, with a third option of giving a thumbs down to signal that while you still disagree, it’s not a complete veto or refusal to take part in whatever the outcome may be.
How do you find focus?
If you want to read what top industry leaders are turning the pages of: Carina spoke highly of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.
It’s become an internal mantra of sorts, said Carina, and has shaped her thinking of how to do fewer things, but to a better and higher standard. Keeping this focus ultimately helps teams and organizations move forward without fighting the bogged-down nature too many ideas can create.
Annette agreed, saying it also links into wellness issues the industry faces around stress and burnout. Women especially tend to raise their hands or feel pushed into people-pleaser roles, which can lead to that exhaustion, described Annette.
What’s the secret to taking charge, especially as female leaders?
Carina wrapped the session by saying she’d tell her 23-year-old self to get better about this concept of essentialism and focusing on what gets you those extra millimeters, to borrow from the world of sport, and eliminate the rest of the noise.
She’d tell herself to be less scared of saying no, and to focus on how getting down to the essentials really changes the game. It would’ve amounted to less work for the same result, Carina laughed — and forced her to think harder about what was really the most valuable use of her time, in the office and out.
Carina also said she’d tell herself to make sure we remember to enjoy what it is we do! She said she now makes a habit of staying on for some extra time to soak things up and truly see a city or new country.
Annette agreed, pointing toward the greater sense of FOMO she says many of us have when we’re younger. She said she realizes now (with that hindsight that comes in so useful in decision-making!) that she can stretch her timeline and not be afraid to make choices that better suit where she’s at in life.
Annette gave an example of moving from an operations role to a sales one when she decided to start a family as one example of such a choice — and elaborated that it’s no one’s business but your own what you decide to do.
She said she’s felt much more comfortable with career choices over time, and now makes it a priority to create space for herself and her family.
While we could’ve listened to these two chat for hours, we appreciate and want to thank both Annette and Carina for making time as part of busy show schedules to share their insights with a rapt IMEX audience!