Olin event: 60 leadership ideas from six top executives

  • February 1, 2019
  • By Kurt Greenbaum
  • 5 minute read

Six top leaders spanning industries including finance, pharmaceuticals, pet care, education and technology shared a lightning-round of leadership tips—60 tips in 60 minutes. The ideas ranged from knowing your strengths (and your weaknesses!) to daring to be “fierce” to remembering to be the leader you needed when you were younger.

The panelists drew their tips from experts they’d interviewed, books they’d read, mentors they had worked with and their own experiences. They were:

  • Adrian E. Bracy, CEO of YWCA Metro St. Louis
  • Steve Degnan, chief HR officer at Nestlé Purina
  • Dana Lorberg, executive vice president at Mastercard
  • Lisa Nichols, CEO of Technology Partners
  • Carla D. Bailey, senior manager, learning and organizational development at WashU
  • Rebecca L. Saunders, founder and chief marketing officer at Amplifey

Adrian E. Bracy


  • “Just think about going to Disneyland without a plan. You’ll be in long lines, it’ll be awful.”

  • “I like to multitask, but what happens is I get unfocused. If you’re not disciplined, you’ll lose focus. And focus is key to growth.”
  • “Give back because that’s how the world grows – and it comes back to you.”


1. The Law of intentionality: Growth doesn’t just happen.

2. The law of awareness: You must know yourself to grow.

3. The law of consistency: Motivation gets you going; discipline keeps you growing.

4. The law of design: To maximize growth, develop strategies.

5. The law of pain: Good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.

6. The law of curiosity: Growth is stimulated by asking “why?”

7. The law of modeling: It’s hard to improve when you have no one else to follow but yourself.

8. The law of contribution: Growing yourself enables you to grow others.

9. The law of confidence: Confidence comes not from always being right, but from not fearing to be wrong (a quote from Peter T. McIntyre).

10. The law of brevity: Don’t build the clock; just give me the time.

Steve Degnan


  • “If you’re on your way up, take that uncomfortable adjacent move if you’re up for it. You only get wisdom from making mistakes.”
  • “You make incremental gains and incremental positive change, but you’ll never get away from dynamics that are coming from every side.”
  • “You can be the biggest bonehead and never know it. It’s actually a gift to know that everyone else thinks you’re kind of a jerk. Spend some time asking people how you’re doing.”


11. What got you here won’t get you there.

12. Results, relationships, reputation.

13. Get cuts and scars early.

14. Learn to embrace and manage paradox.

15. Practice essentialism.

16. Let others be heard.

17. Seek meaning and purpose in your life and work.

18. Practice generosity and gratitude together.

19. Read, listen and learn: most important future skill.

20. Be one of the few that is truly self aware.

Dana Lorberg


  • “If you ask these (why) questions, you will be better at your craft. I was a better programmer because I knew what we intended to do.”
  • “You have to be fierce in whatever you’re doing. Not in a bad way. Be tough. Man up, as I tell the girls.”
  • “You don’t have to say brilliant things, but contribute. Put ideas on the table. Don’t be concerned that you might say something stupid. Believe me, stupid is all around. You’ll be in good company.”


21. Stay curious.

22. Embrace the unknown.

23. Find your fire.

24. Be fierce.

25. Dig in.

26. Be heard.

27. Servant leadership.

28. Be authentic.

29. Keep your power.

30. #STEM.

Lisa Nichols


  • “You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. Lean in to other experts and what you need help knowing.”
  • “You need to be able to talk about your strengths, but also talk about your weaknesses. You are never going to connect with your team if you’re not vulnerable and authentic.”
  • “A leader needs to be able to inspire hope in others. You need to be that person that your team can look to and say to them, ‘We’ve been through this before and we’ll get through it again.'”


31. Humility: Genuine willingness to engage the knowledge and experience of others.

32. Vulnerability: Live an authentic life, revealing strengths and weaknesses.

33. Relationship-building skills: Foster relationships at all levels and in all settings.

34. Top priorities: Truly value people and exude a positive influence.

35. 20/20 vision: Great leaders should look at life through a lens of gratitude and hope.

36. Be courageous: Have the courage to say “no” and take the ethical high road.

37. Endurance: Leadership means being able to go the distance.

38. Focus: Keep your eye on the goal, not your limitations.

39. Trustworthiness: Live it out personally and make it the standard for your organization.

40. Foster your GQ: Own your growth quotient by learning your deficits and passionately pursuing personal growth for the sake of yourself and everyone around you.

Carla D. Bailey


  • “Trust that you are enough. Be comfortable in your own skin and how your strengths impact those around you. Being someone else is to sell yourself short.”
  • “If you wait till you’re not going to be scared, you’ll be waiting forever.”
  • “You have to love people more than you love processes and more than you love procedures. Sit where people are. Be a listening ear.”


41. Lead with your authentic self.

42. Commit to remaining curious.

43. Dare to live outside your comfort zone.

44. Develop and follow a lifelong growth plan.

45. Make people feel like they always matter.

46. Cultivate strong connections.

47. Help others win and be successful.

48. Value vulnerability in yourself and others.

49. Make mistakes powerful learning opportunities.

50. Purposefully leave a powerful leadership legacy.

Rebecca L. Saunders


  • “When you stack slices of Swiss cheese on top of each other, what happens to the holes? Have you thought you’re not supposed to do it all? That would be terrible for the rest of us if someone could just do it all.”
  • “Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and you’ll really enhance the culture around you.”
  • “Understand when you’re working with your team members and colleagues that they’re probably new in a role. Remember what that felt like. Stop the train and take time to coach.”


51. Establish your personal board of directors.

52. Lead with your strengths; allow your team to do the same.

53. Be present with (and embrace) discomfort.

54. Say only good things behind people’s backs.

55. Foster environments where diversity excels.

56. Block time to “just think” (no…the shower doesn’t count).

57. Do not allow an emergency response culture.

58. Be the leader you needed when you were younger.

59. Honor your future self now.

60. Never underestimate the impact one person can have on your life (or the impact you have on theirs).

About the Author

Kurt Greenbaum

Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.

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