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The Community Foundation Blog

Women leaders share strategies for fearless innovation
By The Community Foundation / March 28, 2019
Women leaders share strategies for fearless innovation

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting bold women leaders in our community throughout the month of March. 

What does it take to lead fearlessly?

Jean Case, CEO of The Case Foundation, examined five principles behind the kind of fearless leadership that can change the world in her new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose:

  • Make big bets and make history – Set audacious, not incremental, goals.
  • Be bold, take risks – Don’t be afraid to go first.
  • Make failure matter – Failure teaches. Learn from it.
  • Reach beyond your bubble – It’s comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections.
  • Let urgency conquer fear – Don’t overthink and overanalyze. Do.

We spoke with three of Greater Richmond's innovative women leaders and asked, “Which of these principles resonates with you the most, and why?” Here’s what they had to say.

Marlene Paul, Executive Director of ART 180

Photo by Jay Paul/
Richmond Magazine

Be bold, take risks – Don’t be afraid to go first.

I’m not afraid to take risks. Maybe that’s because I already took the biggest risk of all by starting an organization, so anything else pales by comparison! Whether it’s launching a year-long traveling public art project (which ended up on Monument), buying a building and opening a teen art center and gallery (Atlas), embracing a partnership designed to end the school-to-prison pipeline (Performing Statistics), or hiring a development director with no fundraising experience, I haven't shied away from risk. 

You’ve got to say yes to things in order to grow—then have faith and confidence that they will. 

Dr. Hollee Freeman, Executive Director of MathScience Innovation Center

Photo by Cloverdale Photography

Reach beyond your bubble – It’s comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections.  

It is said that fear is an irrational emotion, and it very well may be, but … that does not negate the fact that many of us (as people and as leaders) fall prey to this emotion. I know that I do. One way that I silence the fear is by reaching beyond my bubble. I constantly push myself out of my own comfort zone by taking a deep breath and doing it anyway. I do it afraid: willing myself to meet new people, dancing in front of an audience and asking for help.

I also push the boundaries of my organization’s comfort zone by purposefully negotiating relationships with likely and unlikely partners, working with staff to better understand different perspectives, and trying new ways of working. Innovation happens at these intersections of community — intersections that allow people to expand their perspectives and their world view. I am (we all are) better in community, and going it together is where the real work and the real magic can be found. 

Dr. Paula Pando, President of Reynolds Community College

Be bold, take risks – Don’t be afraid to go first.

Reinvention is critical to remaining relevant in a rapidly changing world. Strategic risk taking is a critical component to reinvention. There is a big difference between taking risks through an informed process, and impulsive risk taking. I have a process for taking strategic risks that involves setting a vision, collecting data, setting limits, implementing strategy and assessing the results. This also includes analysis of potential returns on investment, the opportunity cost of not moving forward, and limiting the downside in case we are not successful. If we want to build a culture that encourages acceptable risk taking, then the leader needs to model that behavior.

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