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In the United States, women represent just 17% of the boardroom. 

For a woman seeking to get a leg up on the competition, an executive MBA program can provide the momentum needed to move from capable manager to C-level leader. Not only does an EMBA refine existing skill sets and grow new abilities, it leads to greater confidence and a higher aptitude for leading teams. 

We asked female executives in our Executive MBA Program to share their career and leadership advice.

What are your tips for utilizing mentors to improve one’s career?

A few years ago I realized that even though I am very driven and ambitious, I was not moving forward fast enough. I lacked a clear vision of how to achieve my professional and personal goals.

Working as a journalist at that time, I hosted a TV program “Leaders’ Talks,” a series of uncensored interviews with Americans of Polish descent from different walks of life who achieved outstanding professional success in the US. In intimate and sincere conversations, I learned from my guests about the journeys they took to become successful in the world of art, music, film, sports, theater or business. I was fascinated by their stories. Each of them was a determined hero who overcame setbacks, disappointments and often failures before emerging victorious.

I also learned that each of them had a mentor in life willing to guide them on their path for self-improvement and toward their career goals. I, too, began to look for people who were successful and eager to share their life wisdom with me. I finally found a mentor who decided to help me reach my full potential. It required a lot of trust on my part. Change — as I found — is never easy. I learned many important lessons about my weaknesses and strengths. Many times I also felt pushed to the edge. But it paid off. I have had a few mentors since then. Each of them is a pillar on which I built my successes. I am grateful to all of them. But the source of strength is and always has been in me. It took me some time to realize it. I love the person I’ve become because I fought hard to become her. I want to encourage other women to find that strength and go for what they want in life.

Elzbieta Golebiewska ’16
Director of Public and Media Relations, Polish American Chamber of Commerce

How have you embraced your own distinctive leadership style, and what are the most important leadership skills you’ve developed?

I have accepted that it is nearly impossible to eliminate or “fix” my weaknesses.  Rather than focus on rounding out areas in which I don’t excel, I have chosen to spend time accentuating and honing the areas in which I do excel.  I have found that embracing my strengths ­— and being self-aware enough to build a team around me that can help balance my “areas for improvement”­ — is the most productive and natural way for me to embrace my own style.

I came out of undergrad believing the world was black and white. The skill I am most proud of developing, which has been most integral to my success, is the acknowledgment that the world is not black and white. I don’t mean this in the ethical sense — I very much believe in right and wrong — I mean it in the business sense. Not everything is as simple as it seems or as we originally learn it to be. One of the most refreshing aspects of Kellogg’s EMBA program is that it acknowledges this.  I believe the best leaders are experts at acknowledging and operating in “the gray.” My ability to do this is still a work-in-progress, but I am light years ahead of where I was when I entered the workforce.

Maggie O’Brien.  EMBA 100 class photos.  Photos by Nathan Mandell.

Maggie O’Brien ’16
Managing Director, Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group

What advice do you have for women considering getting their MBA?

Make it happen! The acceptance for diversity of thought and experience is shaping our global business landscape. More than ever, there is a stage for women to assume key roles in shaping global business. An MBA is a catalyst for reflection, an instigator of ideas and a foundation for you to enhance your own philosophy as a leader.

Shontra Powell

Shontra Powell ’16
VP Commercial Operations, GWS, Johnson Controls, Inc.