Top Women in Grocery Event: Lead Like Eleanor, Speaker Advises Attendees

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Top Women in Grocery Event: Lead Like Eleanor, Speaker Advises Attendees

By Jenny McTaggart - 11/10/2016

Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and leadership style can inspire women leaders who continue to climb their grocery career ladders today, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Robin Gerber told attendees at Progressive Grocer’s 10th annual Top Women in Grocery keynote address in Orlando, Fla., this morning.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important for women to celebrate other female leaders and learn as much as they can about leadership, so that they can be great leaders,” she said.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 200 women, Gerber pointed to the former First Lady and American diplomat’s courage in the face of fear, her emphasis on communication, and her strength in dealing with criticism. She also lauded Roosevelt’s ability to forgive and move forward when times were tough.

Even though Eleanor Roosevelt was hesitant to become the First Lady when her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took office in 1933 -- primarily because she didn’t want to perform the traditional duties required of the role at the time -- she found ways to make the most of her new job and ultimately make a difference in women’s rights, children’s rights and, increasingly, civil rights, noted Gerber. She was afraid of the new challenges that faced her, but she believed, “Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the end, it’s easier.”

In one example of her leadership skills, Roosevelt became the first First Lady to hold a press conference. She found other new ways to communicate with common people, including writing newspaper and magazine columns in which she asked readers to write to her and share their ideas and solutions to problems. She received 300,000 letters in the first month – more letters than the Lincoln and Wilson administrations got in their respective first years in office.

“Women leaders today should ask themselves, ‘how am I communicating in new ways?’” noted Gerber. “Do you have chat software? Is everyone in your company on the cloud? Have you explored visual communication?”

Executives should also be sure that they really have an open-door policy and encourage communication from the ground up, Gerber added. “You could have a companywhite board to jot down ideas,” she suggested.

Dealing With Criticism

As long as you’re a great leader who is coming up with new ideas and fighting for a purpose, you will have to face criticism, as Roosevelt did, Gerber said. She cited several of Roosevelt’s quotes about dealing with criticism, including, “Develop a skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide” and “Women are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong they are until they get in hot water.”

Last but not least, Roosevelt learned the leadership strength of moving on from adversity, Gerber noted. In 1945, after her husband died, Eleanor discovered that he had continued an affair with her onetime social secretary, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. Yet she ultimately moved on from that dark period and ended up being selected as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952.

“Men are good at letting go of things, and we need to do the same,” Gerber said. “Roosevelt had learned that if she held on to her feelings of sorrow, anger and abandonment, she could not move forward with [the] greater purpose of her life.”

Gerber is the author of the best-selling book, “Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way,” as well as a book about the founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, which was optioned in 2015 for a major motion picture by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Type A Films.