Real Leaders

7 Leadership Tips from Top Female Founders and CEOs

In the wake of research from Harvard Business Review, which discovered that women make better leaders in times of crisis, Real Leaders has highlighted some leadership lessons from female founders and CEOs who are at the top of their game.

1. Mary Barra / CEO, General Motors

Quote: “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.”

Why it works: Research by leadership development experts, Zenger Folkman, suggests that leaders who exhibit a preference for listening are rated as significantly more effective than those who spend most of their time talking.

Pro tip: According to “The 11 Laws of Likability” by Michelle Tillis Lederman, effective listening is the single most powerful tool for building and maintaining a climate of trust and collaboration.


  • Maintain eye contact and focus on the speaker
  • Limit your talking
  • Confirm understanding, paraphrase, 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 appear closed to new ideas
  • Jump to conclusions

2. Susan Wojcicki / CEO, YouTube

Quote: “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 recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”

Why it works: A successful leader should distinguish the difference between an opportunity that is worth seizing and could yield results, from an opportunity that isn’t aligned with the organization’s beliefs or will not benefit the business.

Pro tip: Smart Company recommends keeping up to date with industry trends and insights to stay ahead of the game by:

  • Subscribing to relevant publications
  • Setting Google Alerts for key industry terms
  • Joining groups and associations within your niche
  • Following other industry experts on social media

3. Ambika Singh / Founder & CEO, Armoire

Quote: “Recognizing how your employees work — and knowing that this takes individual attention — is important to being a successful leader.”

Why it works: 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.

Pro tip: Find out what kind of environment your employees thrive in by asking your

employees these three questions:

  • What is your favorite project you’ve ever worked on, and what made it your favorite?
  • What was the best team you were ever a part of and what made it the best?
  • Which of your former bosses brought out the best in you? What did

they do, or not do, that you appreciated?

4. Karen Young / Founder, Oui the People

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

Why it works: Learning how to manage your time effectively can help you feel more relaxed,

focused, and in control.

Pro tip: Too many emails? A study found that one in three office workers suffers from

email-related stress. Practice the “4 Ds” to avoid an anxiety-inducing email inbox:

  • Delete — old emails, emails with no value, spam, etc. can all be deleted.
  • Do — complete any action from an email that is urgent or where the task can be completed quickly.
  • Delegate — if the email can be better dealt with by someone else, delegate it.
  • Defer — set aside time later to respond to emails that may take longer to deal with.

5. Rowena Everson / Former CEO, Standard Chartered

Quote: “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.”

Why it works: Micromanagement kills creativity, breeds mistrust, causes undue stress, and can demoralize your team. Setting clear expectations and offering timely feedback can make the world of a difference.

Pro tip: Tell your team what you want them to strive for — not how you expect them to do

it — by clarifying the following:

  • What you’re hoping to achieve
  • A time frame for the task to be completed
  • How success will be measured
  • How often you will be checking in with them

6. Tyler Haney / Founder, Outdoor Voices

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

Why it works: 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.

Pro tip: Founder of Small Business Trends, Anita Campbell, shares three quick ways to spread enthusiasm and inject positive energy into your day-to-day leadership:

  • Appeal to passions. Try to find out what each person on your team is passionate about and what motivates them.
  • Celebrate accomplishments. Nothing breeds success like an environment of success, so celebrate team and individual successes no matter how small.
  • Do something unexpected. Surprise your team with something nice, from bonuses to an afternoon off or an early finish.

7. Whitney Wolfe Herd / Founder & CEO, Bumble

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

Why it works: Failing once, twice, or even hundreds of times doesn’t mean you’ve hit the end of the road — it means you’re one step closer to success. These experiences give us an opportunity to learn, find new solutions, and grow as individuals.

Pro tip: The author of Enlightened Entrepreneurship, Chris Myers, recommends these

three tips for accepting, processing, and learning from failure:

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

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