The following post was contributed by Meridian President and Chief Operating Officer, Lee Satterfield, who sat down with Global Communications Fellow Abby Haley to discuss the women who have inspired her path to leadership and how she leads by example for other women today. This post is part of the HERspectives series honoring Meridian’s leading ladies in Women’s History Month.
Who are your female inspirations, mentors and heroes?
Well, I’m one of the lucky ones because I have so many wonderful women in my life. Throughout my career, I have been incredibly fortunate to have truly inspirational women influence every step of my journey. Alexis Herman, the first Black woman to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, tops the list. She elevated me to serve as her Chief of Staff at only 30 years old, she showed a confidence in me that I didn’t even see in myself. When offering advice to a younger generation about career goals, Secretary Herman always said, “Bloom where you are planted.” I have always been guided by her advice.
Throughout my career, I have been drawn to public service. In addition to serving in the Clinton Administration, I had the honor of serving in the Obama Administration at the State Department. At State, I served in a host of roles with some amazing women, including then Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Ambassador Marshall helped spark a passion and love of diplomacy and global affairs, leading me to a decade long career in public diplomacy. Assistant Secretary Stock, Meridian’s current Board Chair, instilled in me the importance of leading graciously and being a straight shooter, both critical leadership skills. Yet, it was Secretary Clinton, who embodied how women’s policy issues can – and should –be infused into American foreign policy as a forethought, not an afterthought.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the ever-inspirational First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden. She tackles critically important topics to create meaningful impact, from cancer research to community colleges to military families. Without a doubt, Dr. Biden is a shero!
What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?
Leadership is about active listening and consensus building. Getting a team to row in the same direction is not as easy as it sounds. My dad who was a successful football coach in South Carolina always quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “It’s the journey not the destination.” The act of preparing to be your best, my Dad would always say, is the most fulfilling part of the process. He also instilled in me another important lesson – failure is never fatal and success is never final. Keep working toward your goals, create clarity on what success looks like, recognize and own your mistakes, and move on.
How do you give back or build connections or roadmaps for future women leaders?
First and foremost, mentorship is important. Take the time, listen and follow up. I try to encourage and provide development opportunities for young people at Meridian and at every place I’ve worked. Connections are about meeting people where they are; and, I’ve learned firsthand that someone’s perspective and candid feedback are invaluable assets to guide one’s path. Life lessons –the ‘been there, done that’ counsel – can truly inform you in a way that allows you to pursue a future that has an easier glide path and fewer roadblocks. An important component to making those connections is to have an open dialogue that may come in the form of casual conversation but also build relationships and strengthen resolve among the team. Mentorship can be achieved in both formal and informal ways, from letters of recommendation to career post-graduate school advice to guidance and comfort during life’s challenging moments. I am indebted to the women who came before me and lit the path for me to follow. And, I will continue to pay it forward to other women.