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Leadership Lessons from
7 Inspirational Influencers

Attendees gathered to hear influential executives and community leaders share leadership lessons that have shaped how they manage, motivate themselves and others, and build success in their lives and careers. Special thanks to Stan Linhorst, weekly leadership columnist, Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard, who moderated the program.
Read excerpts from their remarks below. To watch the full event, sign into Click.

Habiba Boru, owner, Habiba’s Ethiopian Kitchen

A former refugee, Boru learned to cook while watching her role model – her mother – cook in a Kenyan refugee camp while raising her family. Boru’s mother refused to follow the stereotypical African woman’s role. Instead, she modeled strong leadership qualities by cooking at Habiba’s Hotel when others were afraid to step outside their comfort zone. Boru’s mother demonstrated that leadership is “being each other’s role models; that motivating each other provides strength; that listening to each other instills value; and that uplifting each other can make dreams come true.” Boru demonstrates these leadership traits and more as she cooks with passion at her restaurant and provides for her children.

Somak Chattopadhyay, managing partner, Armory Square Ventures

An early-stage investor for more than 20 years, the traits Chattopadhyay values in a leader include equanimity – never let the highs get too high and the lows get too low; be persistent; follow your intuition; be creative; inspire people; focus on what you have control over to help manage uncertainty; take asymmetric bets; think independently; and take care of one’s health. “I think it’s extraordinarily important to take care of one’s health. I think that for our entrepreneurs as well as our leaders. I think about how valuable they are to our community and to our companies. We spend millions of dollars taking care of our athletes, but we don’t spend enough time doing that with our leaders.”

Nancy Kern Eaton, president, United Way of Central New York

Eaton tries to implement daily what she has observed and been inspired by in great leaders. It all started years ago with her father who said, “No matter what job you do, be the best at it that you can possibly be.” Eaton believes great leaders learn from mistakes, have passion, love to hear others’ dreams and think about how they can work together to make important things happen. “Great leaders value people above all else,” says Eaton. “They look for people with diverse life experiences, diverse backgrounds, different points of view and create a space where people feel welcome and able to share their ideas.” Eaton shared that great leaders recognize words matter and have tremendous power. When they are authentic, it invites others to be authentic. Great leaders also express genuine gratitude and are specific in their praise. They bring smart people to their team and help them grow. They are always willing to learn and take chances.

John Liddy, interim VP of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, CenterState CEO

Liddy’s leading leadership lesson is, know yourself – make sure you are authentic and share that with other people. One of his favorite questions is, “What are you optimizing for?” Whether it’s organizationally or as individuals. Make sure to incent employees the way they want to be incented. For manufacturers and retailers, put yourself in the customers’ shoes. If there are cultural differences, recognize them and learn to understand them. Internally, he recommends starting staff meetings with, “Who has an issue to bring up?” It helps employees feel valued and heard – it gives them a voice. Liddy doesn’t believe in “shoulding” on people, “You should do this; you should do that. Instead, provide staff with advice and coaching on how to make the decision. Don’t make it for them, empower them.”

Nikita Jankowski, president, Belesai Communications

An alum of Tuskegee University, a historically Black college university, Jankowski was influenced by its founder Dr. Booker T. Washington and her parents who are successful engineers and excellent role models. One of the most valuable lessons she learned was from her mother is how to pivot. “Knowing when to pivot can take you to higher heights.” As Jankowski’s new company grows, she has taken her mother’s advice and is pivoting to capitalize on different directions and new opportunities. She recommends investing in people, daydreaming, and asking for what you want personally. Also ask your team what they want, because you want to invest in them and make sure they have the tools they need to succeed. Jankowski says questions such as, “Where do you see yourself? Where are you going? What do you want to do and how can I help you get there?” are instrumental in providing good leadership. Jankowski’s closing advice, smile! “Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Frown and you frown alone.”

H. Jason Terreri, IAP, A.A.E, executive director, Syracuse Regional Airport Authority

Terreri’s most important leadership lesson is to ask yourself, “Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?” Being right is dictating exactly what to do and not being open to other people’s suggestions. Being right will get you the result you wanted, but your team will resent you and you will never know what opportunities you missed. Being happy is setting the expectation and getting out of the way. Being happy is watching your team take ownership of a project and buying into your vision. By empowering your team, you create a space where innovation and creativity can thrive. Most times, your team will come up with a better solution or deliverable than you expected. Being happy is reinforced when you hear your team say, “Look at what we accomplished versus the project you gave me is done.” The hardest part for a leader is the willingness to give up control knowing that you are ultimately responsible for the outcome.

Rich Uhlig, founder & CEO, Quadrant Biosciences

Uhlig’s key leadership lesson revolves around being “long-term greedy — resisting the opportunity to make an outsized profit.” He learned this lesson early in his career and continues to apply it to his work at Quadrant. Additional lessons from Uhlig include being gracious, courteous and respectful, and empowering people to bring their ideas forward to be successful while providing them with the resources they need to do so. Uhlig supports a culture where failures are encouraged. “Failure is a steppingstone to ultimate success and people need to be comfortable in failing. We need to be able to win together and fail together as well.”

Moderator Stan Linhorst introduces the panelists during CenterState CEO’s “Leadership Lessons from 7 Inspirational Influencers” at the Collegian Hotel & Suites in Syracuse.