Melissa Majors tells SITE’s emerging professionals how to be inclusive leaders


Co-chaired brilliantly by Michael Wallace (VP of Sales, Firefly Team Events) & Natalia Roblero, CIS (Business Development Manager, Memorable Incentives DMC), SITE’s Young Leader (YL) Conference attracted almost 100 developing professionals to Las Vegas in advance of IMEX America 2023, the business event industry’s largest annual global gathering.

This year’s YL Conference attracted the largest number of attendees since the foundation of SITE’s Young Leaders program back in 2008, a program whose alumni now shine brightly amongst SITE’s stellar leadership constellation. In fact a new mentorship initiative to ensure the program’s ongoing success was launched at this year’s event — you can sign up for it here.

Prior to the first keynote, Michael Wallace asked us to undertake an exercise at our tables called “Story of a Name.” One by one, we were invited to share the story of our own name. We learned Max was so called by his mother to avoid any possibility of abbreviation; Heidi was given a name to match her German origins; Annette was Netty to family and very close friends, and Michael Simon has perfect name reversal. 

Also at our table, explaining why she became known by her moniker was the smiling, charming Melissa Majors — who nobody knew was actually our keynote speaker!

The child of a multi-racial couple, Melissa shared the fascinating story of her parents’ courtship and marriage and the massive familial and societal struggles they faced in their early years together. These, and later experiences, form the basis of her recently published book, The 7 Simple Habits of Inclusive Leaders (a clever echo of Stephen Covey’s uber-famous The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I loved Melissa’s insistence from the get-go on a “guilt free zone,” i.e., no one should feel any blame or shame for anything that might be shared during the course of her presentation.

Her style was easy, laid-back, not in your face. There were no pointed fingers or pokes in the eye. She oozed simpatico and empathy while, at the same time, setting out clear messaging around the kind of behaviours that ultimately will lead to inclusive encounters, whether personal or professional.

Melissa contended that inclusivity is a smart business decision, quoting a McKinsey report that demonstrates how inclusive companies are 40%+ more successful, make better decisions, and stimulate better performance, as everyone is included and heard. Jeff Campbell, CEO at Burger King, called inclusivity “full team engagement.”

Melissa reminded us that, as humans, we’re wired for survival and reproduction and crave the comfort of familiarity. When faced with a new encounter, be it a person or an experience, we ask “where have I seen this before?” and quickly decide whether we like it or not, whether the person is friend or foe. Our brain takes short cuts and often misinforms our judgement.

To be an inclusive leader, we need to push beyond these limitations, she explained, and learn “tactical empathy.” This involves understanding the needs, interests and perspective of others — without necessarily agreeing.

Some great examples of this are laid out in Chris Voss’ bestseller, Never Split the Difference. Melissa also called out AppleTV’s pandemic hero, Ted Lasso, as an individual possessing another characteristic of inclusive leadership: intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility means not trying to be the smartest person in the room but being genuinely curious, asking great questions, identifying the non-dominant type and ensuring their voices are channelled, too.

Melissa’s keynote was a tonic for the troops and massively instructional if, like the majority of the room, you’re about to embark on your career voyage and need some guidance to deal with the headwinds and storms along the way. However, for the few older sailors in the room, the sun-bleached and the grey-haired, it was a wonderful reminder of the all best advice we received along the way.

Melissa Major was keynote at SITE Young Leaders Conference thanks to the generosity of  IHG Hotels & Resorts, represented at the event by Ryan Morris, Director of Regional Sales, EMEA.


Written by

Pádraic Gilligan

Pádraic Gilligan


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