In front of a large crowd in Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday morning, Betsy Myers, chief operating officer of President Barack Obama’s 2009 campaign, spoke of her 8-year-old daughter’s love for dance. The anecdote, she said, was a metaphor for authenticity in the workplace.
“Profiles in Leadership” — a day-long discussion with high-profile panelists — featured Myers, who was interviewed by Ora Pescovitz, the University’s Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and University Provost Teresa Sullivan. The conversations centered on the qualities that make a good leader, particularly focusing on women and leadership in the current economy.
“When you think about being authentic, are you freaking out with joy with what you’re doing in your life?” Myers asked.
Though her daughter was given as an example of authenticity, when asked to name other leaders who exemplified the trait, Myers chose President Obama, stating that she felt he did not change who he was for campaign purposes.
Myers also listed Sarah Palin, who was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, as another leader she felt remained true to her own values and positions — a trait Myers said is essential to finding success in any career field.
As former President Bill Clinton’s former White House senior advisor on women, Myers said she felt Clinton was successful because he valued his staff members. She added that a leader who can appreciate the efforts of all workers can encourage productivity in any workplace.
“When we feel valued in our life, when we feel appreciated and acknowledged and thanked, that is when we are motivated to bring our best self,” Myers said.
While Myers said she has enjoyed working for the two presidents, as well as her time as executive director of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership, she said there have been times when she was not fulfilled by her work.
The problem of being disengaged is common, Myers said, with 70 percent of people in the workforce who say they are disinterested in their job. She said they are the target audience for her upcoming book.
For those people, Myers said the solution is to take risks and explore other job possibilities. Myers said she took this risk herself, when she left the mainly office work of Obama’s campaign to advocate for him on the road.
Despite the fear many people have of taking chances in the current economic situation, Myers said this move is actually ideal given the changing job market.
During the panel discussion entitled, “Leading in Lean Times,” Stephanie Boyse, president and CEO of Boyse, Inc., also said she felt that being a vulnerable leader in business is one of the greatest and most profitable risks to take. Boyse said, when forced to close the company’s plant in Adrian, Michigan her open display of sympathy and emotion was appreciated by the displaced employees.
In the second half of the event, as she was interviewed by Provost Sullivan, Myers spoke about the advancement of women, as they compete for the same jobs as men.
“What we’re seeing with the glass ceiling is that it’s being shattered by women who are pushing through that glass ceiling,” she said. “But we still have quite a bit of work to do.”
Citing the example of the many female university presidents, Myers said she has seen an increase in women in power across the nation.
In an interview with the Michigan Daily after the event, Becky Eggleston, a nurse manager in the University’s Health System, said she enjoyed the discussion and will take away the fact that she needs to be willing take more of a risk in the workplace.
Barb Walters, a business analyst in the Medical Center Information Technology department, also said she learned a lot from the discussion. She added that though many of the conversation topics were directed at women, she felt men could also learn from the discussions.
“She spoke earlier about a diverse workforce and I think one of the keys to successful leaders, both female and male, is being able to recognize each others’ strengths and understand each other,” Walters said.