At the center of every successful company, respected brand and strong family, you will find a remarkable leader—there is no doubt about that. As a leader of my household, I am first and foremost a mother. My job is to teach and guide my children. As a CEO of a multidimensional company, motivating and inspiring my team with integrity and honesty is incredibly important to me. I think that’s the number one priority for any good leader—that they’re leading people in a positive way that makes them want to grow, learn and thrive. Leadership is not an easy task and is a constant learning process. The formula for success in leadership is to learn from your team, always make sure your eyes and ears are open, keep your composure, forgo your ego and always remember your passion.
My father has always been my career mentor. He is an unbelievable entrepreneur who balanced his life as a father with being the president of two very successful companies. My dad was always genuinely kind to people and chose honesty and kindness above all else. From him I learned one of the most valuable lessons in business: There is a way to be successful and respected without stepping on people to get ahead. Other mentors in my life have been the late Liz Tilberis, former Editor-in-Chief of Bazaar, who was my career idol when I was coming up in the business; Oprah of course; and one of my dearest friends and mentors, Diane von Furstenberg. Diane is my idol for creating an incredible global brand while also being a remarkable mother and grandmother. She has always set the bar high and proved it is possible to do it all.
These mentors have all created incredible careers and have done so through their outstanding ability to lead. They all have a professional calmness about them that I respect. They have displayed a specific kind of perseverance—even during the most stressful and uncertain periods in their career. Instead of being discouraged, they have remained solution oriented, keeping their composure without ever losing sight of their vision. If something went wrong or a mistake was made, they never dwelled and instead moved forward with grace and confidence. Whether or not they felt confident on the inside, they projected strength on the outside, which was ultimately felt by their teams. As a leader, one of my biggest challenges is being strong in every situation, good or bad. My business partner and husband, Rodger, and I wear very different hats, and it is seen through the way we lead. Rodger is matter-of-fact, and I am more emotional. No matter what the situation is, it’s important for us to always remain calm and stay strong for our team, even if there are doubts about a decision that is made. I’ve learned that people panic when their leader panics. Actually, it’s very similar to being a parent, which is something I realized when I had Skyler. The bottom line is you cannot be reactive. You must be confident and keep your composure—your team will sense that positive energy and feed off your courage.
As a leader and CEO of a company that is constantly growing, it is also important for me to have an open-door policy with my employees and always be honest with them. I do believe having transparency with my team shows that I trust them—I always want the lines of communication to be open. In today’s corporate culture a lot of leaders choose to sit with their team, and I like that. Some CEOs don’t even have offices and prefer to work amongst their team. The offices of my company headquarters have glass doors for a reason, to advocate transparency and openness. My office, for one, is always open. I think information and communication is key and as a leader. Giving my team the freedom to talk openly and honestly with me is something that is very important to me. I learn the most when I listen, which helps me guide my team to execute their goals. This way, I am able to lead using my gut and by feeling out my surroundings.
I don’t think that there is an exact science to business—to be a good leader is to accept that failure is okay and that it happens sometimes. It takes courage to accept and acknowledge mistakes, and a good leader is one who can embrace and learn from them. As a leader, your team will respect that you can admit to your mistakes. If the right decision wasn’t made at some point in your tenure, it’s okay to share that and what you learned from it.
Now that you’ve heard everything I have learned, my advice for you is this: If you are stepping into a position of power for the first time, do not abuse it. Really think about the reason you are taking on this newfound responsibility. Take a step back and leave your ego out of the situation. The kind of leaders that tend to think with ego—instead of in a pragmatic and fair way—lose the open lines of communication with their team, and a disconnect occurs. Being a leader is a big responsibility; when you step in that position of power, the first thing to do is take your pride out of the picture. Your job is to listen and guide, always keep your composure and be a positive mentor to others.
If I could pick my legacy, I would hope people felt that I was a kind, fair and an honest leader. I hope that my team learned just as much as I did from them and that they were grateful for their experience, taking away valuable lessons from my guidance. There are many things I’ve learned over the course of my career and in raising my own family that have shaped my perspective of leadership—namely what it really means to step up to the plate. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by incredible mentors along the way who have led me to where I am today. They have taught me that above all else, being a leader takes courage, kindness and honesty.
To read more of Rachel’s articles on career and leadership, follow her on LinkedIn where she publishes a new column every month.