Midland University hosted its inaugural “Follow Her Lead” event at its Omaha location on Monday where a panel of local female leaders shared personal stories and insights into their experiences as women in leadership positions.

The university’s first annual Women’s Leadership Forum was split into two days, with the first being held on May 16 and the second on May 20, where seven panelists spoke about their experiences during the course of the two events.

On Monday, the panel featured Midland University President Jody Horner; Westside Community Schools Director of Communications and Engagement Brandi Paul; American National Bank Senior Vice President Stephanie Gould; and Brianne Mathew, mergers, acquisitions and market conversion at First National Bank.

The total group of panelists over the two-day event also included Don Peterson & Associates President Jennifer Bixby, Immanuel Vice President of Mission and Spiritual Care Rev. Peggy Hall and YWCA of Lincoln Executive Director Karen Bell-Dancy.

“Each of these women, I think represent leadership well, but also women in leadership well,” Midland Vice President for Institutional Advancement and forum moderator Jessica Janssen said. “They each have their own personal stories, they have families, they have really interesting paths that have brought them to their current positions.”

The event was timed around the 2019 ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference, an annual event in Omaha at the CHI Health Center, which was held on May 15. The Midland talk built off of this year’s ICAN theme of staying “relevant,” Janssen said.

“It really came out of visiting with a number of our female alumni, our community, a number of our MBA and graduate students who are really craving an opportunity to gather together in community and talk about what it means to be a woman in leadership,” she said.

With the forum focused on “relevant leadership,” Horner shared her thoughts on the subject through the prism of a quote by American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Horner challenged the audience to be “learners and not knowers.”

“If you are a knower in the world today when things are changing all the time, the world is going to pass you by. The notion of being a lifelong learner and adapter – staying relevant in our professional career or personal lives — is really important to me,” she said. “That word relevance — to me —means you are a continuous learner.”

Throughout the forum questions focused on how to define leadership, what makes a good leader, as well as each panelist’s leadership journey.

Mathew spoke of her own journey to her current position at First National Bank, which included a six-year stint at Union Pacific where she says she learned that being a leader doesn’t always include being a manager of people.

“That became real to me when I was working at U.P. and part of it was just questioning the way we were doing work to a point where it allowed me to create a job for myself,” she said. “Because I was able to raise questions and push back on things, it put me in a leadership role. That was the first time I really realized I could influence people.”

Each panelist also provided insights on how they try to maintain a work-life balance as women in leadership roles.

Gould provided two examples of strategies she has implemented as she has navigated her career and family life raising two children.

“I have learned to set more physical boundaries to make myself more compliant to giving the right thing my attention at the moment. Wherever I am I want to be fully present and fully invested,” she said. “The other thing is trying to be really intentional about the ways in which I want my kids to remember the time we spend as a family, so we have sacred Sunday nights where we just spend the night as a family.”

Other questions during the forum focused on mentorship and developing the next generation of female leaders, which Paul said is dependent on cultivating an atmosphere of kindness, inclusion and leading by example.

“You inspire more positivity and you inspire a mentoring culture when you exhibit that in your own life,” she said. “I can’t express enough how far kindness goes, it’s viral.”

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