Most Powerful Women

Leadership lessons from a top entrepreneur

November 7, 2013: 12:42 PM ET

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Starbucks (SBUX) board member shares the leadership lessons she learned at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.

By Clara Shih, founder and CEO of Hearsay Social

10313918485_71a2fd6bfc

This October, I attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., and spoke on a panel with three other women under age 40: Warren Buffett's financial assistant Tracy Britt Cool, Cinnabon President Kat Cole, and SunRun founder and CEO (and my Stanford classmate) Lynn Jurich. Fortune's Leigh Gallagher moderated the conversation, which covered all kinds of inspiring and helpful leadership lessons.

Here are a few highlights I gleaned from my co-panelists:

Inexperience isn't always bad. Jurich's lack of experience in the solar and energy industries freed her to ask "dumb questions." (Jurich's company installs solar power systems in residential and commercial properties). This turned out to be quite smart. She was able to create her company's energy-focused mission with a fresh perspective because she wasn't weighed down by expertise -- and the assumptions that often come with it.

Details and depth matter. Cool met her future boss, Buffett, when she was an undergrad at Harvard and organized a group visit to Berkshire Hathaway's (BRKA) Omaha headquarters. Most students are in and out within the day, but Cool and her group stayed for several days to get to know Buffett's businesses.

It's okay to fail. Cole talked about the importance of risk-taking -- and how different industries tolerate failure to various degrees. She reminds her Cinnabon employees that they "make buns, not bombs." No lives are at stake when a batch doesn't turn out. It's okay to fail. That's how we get better.

Respond to discrimination with grace. Gallagher asked if any of us had felt discriminated against in our careers or school years due to age, race or gender. I shared my philosophy that you can't control what other people assume about you, but you can control how you react. It's usually most constructive to give people the benefit of the doubt and respond with grace.

Following our panel, I caught up with two Silicon Valley friends who are under-40 influentials. Wildfire (GOOG) CEO Victoria Ransom (left) and Instagram (FB) director of operations Emily White (right) joined me, fittingly, for an Instagram.

clarablogpost

Posted in:
Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Video
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Colleen Leahey
Colleen Leahey
Fortune

Colleen Leahey joined Fortune in May 2011 to cover leadership, technology, and small business. She also focuses on building the Fortune Most Powerful Women franchise in the digital and live media space and manages programming for the MPW Summit. Previously, Colleen worked at The New Yorker and Bicycling magazine. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and lives in Manhattan.

Email Colleen Leahey | @cmleahey
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.