Hundreds of business leaders honored 12 individuals in four categories at Influential Women in Business awards luncheon held Thursday at the Daniel Island Club. (Photo/Kim McManus)
By Andy Owens
Published July 12, 2012
Women and men must redefine the meaning of power in the business world to find equilibrium between problem-solving and change, said the chief executive of a professional development firm during the Influential Women in Business awards luncheon today.
Hundreds of business leaders honored 12 individuals in four categories at the event held at the Daniel Island Club.
2012 Influential Women in Business
The nominees for this year’s event were scored by three independent judges and included the following winners and finalists:
“Every family has an Aunt Polly,” she was told. “You’re a soft, round woman.” The executive talking to her went on to label another female colleague who was instrumental in the merger deal as a “butterfly.”
“I confess that I didn’t hear anything else after butterfly,” Perdue said today, describing her reaction as a nuclear bomb going off in her head.
Perdue said she had envisioned herself in the role of an executive vice-president moving up the corporate ladder behind managing a $25 million budget and had hoped she would be thought of in terms that reflected her work on hundred million-dollar deals.
“Instead, he chose to describe us using our attributes and physicality,” she said. “Little did I know, that discussion would change my life and my career.”
Perdue said she couldn’t get the man’s words out of her head and struggled with why they affected her so much. Soon after she embarked on a yearlong leadership conference that challenged her to come up with where they wanted to be, the executive vice-president’s role was no longer part of her plans.
She said she came up with three tenants — think big, get power and be the water — that helped guide her future and her leadership approach and, in many ways, helped her understand the words that stuck to her like “Velcro.”
Finalist Dr. Rose Delores Gibbs, right, of Berkeley Medical Center, talks with attendees at the Influential Women in Business luncheon. (Photo/Kim McManus)
Attendees socialize at the 2012 Influential Women in Business luncheon held at the Daniel Island Club. (Photo/Kim McManus)
Perdue said answers often bring clarity in a chaotic world, especially in a business setting where taking charge was seen as a sign of strength. She said that was how she thought of herself and her work in the merger deal, but her supervisor didn’t.
“Those kinds of results are expected,” he told her. “They’re no big deal. But what I wanted to talk about was your ability to inspire.”
Perdue said she began to understand that he was talking about her ability to collaborate and to inspire by caring about what she was doing. Perdue said that there is a time and place for either/or thinking, but effective leadership generally involves both.
“As a leader, we can do both,” she said. “We can take care and take charge.”
She said the word “power” has a negative connotation for both genders in the business work and in the media, which often equate the meaning with control and corruption.
“Like love, power is rarely one of those words spoken in the workplace,” she said. “Power existed in the shadows for me.”
Perdue implored business leaders to have enough courage and competence to move beyond the stereotypes and labels of the word “power” and instead embrace it as an agent of change and action.
When she conducted a study of women in business, 51% of them, many highly paid executives, said a lack of confidence was a critical problem for them. This surprised Perdue and made sense because it’s easy to think you don’t measure up, which is what happened to her with her boss.
She said confidence often comes by understanding where a person’s influence can impact to change an organization and to inspire others to reach their own potential.
Power “can move mountains and make differences no matter what chair you’re in,” she said. “Water is fluid, soft and yielding, but water can wear away rocks.”