As a child, my father encouraged me to find leadership roles. He often commented on my academic achievements, athletic performance, musical abilities, or other undertakings from the perspective of how I could lead my peers. If I only had a dollar for every time he told me, "Laura, leadership is lonely." I often marveled at this statement, wondering what he could mean. Anyone who knows me recognizes my extroversion and natural inclination to make a friend. And, after all, don’t leaders lead other people? How could that be lonely?
Years have passed since those early days, and my experiences in leadership have continued to evolve. As time marches forward, I have begun to appreciate and understand this statement. A true leader has the confidence and the fortitude to stand alone. It takes a lot of courage and grit to make decisions or take a position on an unpopular issue, even if it is right. These experiences were amplified by being a younger female leader working in the space of advancing technical education. I spent over a decade working in the Mechanical Engineering program as the senior development officer at Purdue University’s main campus. In this role, I was a young female rooted in a traditionally male-dominated field. Similar opportunities working in technical education advancement for Ivy Tech Community College and Trine University would follow.
Fast forward to today, being at the helm of a large private foundation focused on advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and technology. It can be isolating to look around and realize that many other leaders of nonprofit enterprises focused on technical education and entrepreneurship are led by more traditional choices by their respective boards. I feel honored and blessed to be counted among them, although I still recognize that gaps exist in getting more females into these fields. Additionally, I strive to achieve and model an ideal work/life balance in a high-profile position to encourage my team to do the same.
To that end, I greatly enjoy the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow. While I sometimes shy away from using the precise phrase my father often shared with me, I recognize the tenants still ring true. I encourage tomorrow’s leaders, particularly younger females, to look inside, dig deep, and understand their own core values if they wish to lead by example with others. There will be days in a leadership role when it is a difficult road to walk, but the outcomes of leading others toward their own growth and success in a way that upholds what is right and just are absolutely worth every step of the way.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
President & CEO
Aligning Opportunities Between Students, Community, and Industry
Don Wood Foundation
P.O. Box 25537
10315 Dupont Circle Drive West
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
*By Appointment Only*