Obstacles and challenges have defined my life. From breaking through the glass ceiling as the first woman to lead an international quick-service restaurant chain, to surviving breast cancer and a double mastectomy, I’ve taken on and overcome challenges and incorporated what I’ve learned into my life and leadership style. My most recent challenge was accepting the position in September 2006 of president and CEO of the global leader in the breast cancer movement: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, formerly known as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
A model for advocacy groups globally, Komen for the Cure presented an especially daunting challenge because I had never before worked in the nonprofit sector. Nancy Brinker, the organization’s inspirational founder, challenged me to be an agent of change.
The first order of business for any new CEO is to talk to as many people as possible and truly listen to what they have to say. For my first 90 days at Komen, I did just that. I spoke with staff, with our national and international affiliates, our board of directors, our activists in the field and numerous breast cancer survivors. I listened, and I attended major conferences to discuss breast cancer with researchers and physicians.
I learned that the people working for Komen and all those who support the cause are extremely passionate about breast cancer awareness and education. They are dedicated to finding the cures and ending this devastating disease once and for all. When people believe in what their organization strives for, they are willing to work that much harder to achieve every goal.
I never stop listening, but there comes a time when a leader has to make decisions for the betterment of the organization. Based on what I had heard throughout the organization, I was able to make critical decisions early on that resulted in positive responses from all of Komen’s key constituents. Everyone felt energized and a part of a greater whole. They knew that I had listened and that they had provided input into the decision-making process. It showed them that change is a good thing.
Overcoming obstacles and challenges in your personal life and professional career is all about believing in yourself. If you believe in yourself—and listen to those along the way—you’ll be surprised at what you can overcome.