Leading the Field

Insight into becoming and being an effective leader

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Nearly every day we see women assuming leadership roles in business, government, sports, education, and other fields. Even so, many women still wonder how to gain entry into leadership and how taking a leadership position will impact their lives. 

To answer those questions, WILMA spoke with three area women to get their insights into becoming and being an effective leader.

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Photo by Terah Wilson

Donyell Roseboro

Interim Chief Diversity Officer, UNCW

Roseboro serves as the interim chief diversity officer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, helping coordinate the university’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies across campus.

“There are ten staff members and a host of graduate assistants and work-study students in my unit,” she says. “I’ve also served as the director of the education department’s professional development system, associate dean of teacher education and outreach, and department chair.” 

Tell us how you transitioned into leadership. 

Roseboro: “If there’s a need for a leader, and I think I have the skill set and vision for that position, I’ll do it. I know opportunities may only come once, so I have acted on opportunities without waiting until I think I’m more qualified or I gain some other skill. I’ve also honed my leadership skills. I observe good leaders to learn from them; I read books on leadership like The Coaching Habit – my favorite; and I’ve (done) leadership programs at UNCW and Western Carolina University.” 

What personal quality makes you a leader? 

Roseboro: “I take the initiative. If I see a problem, I address it and find collaborators to help me address it. I’m the first to say, ‘This is how I can help or contribute.’” 

What do you enjoy about being a leader? 

Roseboro: “I love to affect change. As a leader, I want to cultivate possibilities. I also like being in positions where there is a major challenge because I can bring people together to transcend that challenge and create possibilities.” 

What is your leadership style? 

Roseboro: “I am direct, compassionate, creative, and questioning. Because I find roles that are challenging, I ask a lot of questions to get at the heart of the problem. I also listen to and think creatively with people, drawing on their expertise and experiences inside and outside higher ed. Then, I determine a direction to take.” 

What has been most challenging about being a leader? 

Roseboro: “Not taking any response personally. I learned people are often dealing with some incredibly difficult situations. What may seem like a personal attack is never, ever that.” 

What do you want to accomplish as a leader? 

Roseboro: “I want everyone who works with me to believe they can be the change. If I fall off a cliff, I want my team to keep fighting for the goal we established.” 

How do you inspire people? 

Roseboro: “First, people need to be heard. Second, people need to trust you. If people trust you, they will do what needs to be done. They may ask a few questions along the way, but they’re not going to ask questions to disrupt the process. They will ask questions that are progressive.” 

What advice do you have for those who want to become leaders? 

Roseboro: “Be clear about what matters to you, what your team’s purpose is, and who your team is. You can’t do the work alone, so know who to call on inside and outside your organization to nurture you and move the work forward. Also, be willing to make decisions alone. After you have gotten input from others, you may have to make difficult decisions in solitude. Then you must stand by your decisions, knowing you made them for the greater good.” 

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Photo by Aris Harding

June Gunter

Co-founder and CEO, TeachingHorse

Gunter has worked in the leadership development field for thirty-five years. She now runs TeachingHorse from Brunswick County and has partner equestrian facilities across the country and Europe. 

“While working in the corporate world, I found that leaders had to choose between family and work, and I set off to find better ways of thinking about leadership,” she says. “To my surprise, my teacher was Yani, a horse. She deconstructed everything I thought I knew about leadership. I founded TeachingHorse to share what I had learned.” 

What are the leadership principles you teach at TeachingHorse? 

Gunter: “There are four: 

  1. Leaders have to have attention. They must know themselves, see each team member’s potential, and know what is going on around them. If a leader doesn’t meet any of these criteria, people lose confidence in her. 
  2. Leaders must choose a direction in the midst of uncertainty. To do so, they must listen to their team members, because they have knowledge and awareness the leader doesn’t have. Then, the leader uses her team’s collective knowledge to set a direction. 
  3. Leaders must focus their energy on the direction they set and respond to situations with the energy level that matches the need. 
  4. There must be congruence between what leaders think and say. This creates trust. Leaders should be honest about what they do and do not know and invite people to help them determine how to address a situation.” 

What other leadership lessons have you learned from horses? 

Gunter: “There are many leaders in a herd – or team – who share accountability. Also, rest isn’t an option or luxury or selfish. It’s vital to the health of any leader.” 

How do women respond to these principles? 

Gunter: “It’s very legitimizing for women to realize the lead mare sets the direction for the herd. Mother Nature never questions the value of her female leaders or ignores 50 percent of her resources. Most women understand the principles and capabilities of shared leadership because it feels natural to them.” 

What skills do women need to develop to become leaders? 

Gunter: “Leaders have to have passion. They must also realize that business or technical skills won’t differentiate them. What separates a leader is her ability to bring together a network of people to accomplish something. That means building and sustaining a network of people who enjoy working with her.” 

What has being a leader enabled you to do? 

Gunter: “It allowed me to live my purpose, to bring the world a new way to think about leadership. Leadership allows you to make a scalable difference. We’ve touched the lives of more than 5,000 people.” 

What advice do you have for future leaders? 

Gunter: “Walk your own path and trust your vision. If you don’t have a vision, find a vision that matters to you and be a part of it. You can lead from the middle or from behind as well as the front.”

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Photo by Terah Wilson

Katie Smith

SVP of Finance. & Operations, nCino

Smith leads the finance and operations teams at Wilmington-based fintech company nCino. 

“My team has twelve employees who have responsibility for financial planning and analytics, strategic finance, operations and facilities, and ad hoc – areas such as payouts for the Childcare Stipend program during COVID. Plus, we have consultants who assist with finance and operations,” says Smith, who also serves on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. 

How did your career path lead to a leadership position? 

Smith: “When I joined nCino, the company was small, so I wore a lot of different hats. During my interview, I expressed an interest in gaining exposure to other areas of the business. I got what I asked for! At any moment, I was finance, HR, facilities, operations, construction management, etc.” 

How would you describe your leadership style? 

Smith: “I seek input from my team before making business decisions, and I give team members the freedom to work on their responsibilities independently. I also understand my team members’ strengths and weaknesses, which helps me help them become better professionals. I like to give folks the opportunity to take on challenging tasks that further develop their skill sets as well as give them exposure to all levels of the organization.” 

What have you learned from being a leader? 

Smith: “You cannot be the expert in everything, so hire smart/motivated people and give them the opportunity to succeed. 

Your team’s success is your success. 

Lead by example. 

Be emotionally aware. Business is about relationships between people – be sensitive to different points of view and different backgrounds. Learn from the past. It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn from them and move on.” 

How has being a leader changed you? 

Smith: “I struggle with no longer being the owner of a process/function, but I enjoy supporting my team members who are the experts. My role as a leader is to support my team, listen to their needs/concerns, and eliminate roadblocks to achieving their goal. Being a leader has also allowed me to think in a more strategic manner.” 

What do you find most challenging about being a leader? 

Smith: “Going from being a doer to a manager/ leader took some adjustment. As we scaled the organization and brought in subject-matter experts to run various aspects of the business, I had to learn to let go and be comfortable with being less tactical and more strategic. My focus turned to collaboration and learning from the amazing people around me.” 

What advice would you give future leaders? 

Smith: “There is a difference between a leader and a boss. A leader shares the spotlight and is comfortable crediting others. 

  • Never stop improving. 
  • Lead by example and serve as a role model to others. 
  • Be passionate. 
  • Listen and communicate effectively.” 

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

To view more of photographer Aris Harding’s work, go to arisharding.com.

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Categories: Features, Women to Watch