“You’re pretty, your smiley and you are never going to be able to do that job.”
Well that got the attention of theaudience of 350 women -- and about 50 men -- gathered in the Ballroom of PGA National Resort for the Women's Leadership Forum on Tuesday of Honda Classic week. Now imagine that the person who told that story was an undercover CIA operative who would go on to be a key counter terrorism asset for our country in a post 9/11 Middle East.
Michele Rigby Assad is one impressive person and since her retirement from the CIA, is one inspiring speaker. Returning to the town where she earned her undergraduate at Palm Beach Atlantic, she brought her story of what is worth fighting for. In Ms. Assad's case, her country, her faith that she belonged and her authenticity.
In her book Breaking Cover she recounts the turning point when she and her husband and case officer Joseph Assad were surged into Iraq after the murder of an American woman. Joseph invited her in to debrief a terrorist whose presumptions about women and authority put her behind at the start.
"I learned you cannot change what people think of you when you walk in the room, but you can change what they think of you by the time you leave," said Assad. By the time she had finished that debriefing she had turned one of the most violent terrorists of that period.
Equally impressive at the Forum was
Boz St John, the larger than life Chief Marketing Officer for Endeavor, the parent company of IMG which manages the Honda Classic. Talk about a big personality! Her Instagram handle is @badassboz :-)A native of Ghana, Ms. St. John was born in the US to a supportive family that helped her build a confident approach to life. After college she leveraged used that confidence to gain ever more senior management jobs with leading agencies and brands including Pepsi, Spike Lee, Twitter and Uber.
"Pop culture is the great unifier," said St John, adding. "Brands which use pop culture as part of their marketing can build high touch communities."
Like Ms. Assad, she commented about the perception that women cannot be beautiful and smart. She saw that debunked during her work on the Miss Universe Competition where she learned many contestants have graduate degrees.
Among the bits of career advice she shared included selecting a mentor. Don't assume that guiding hand (and head) needs to come from the C suite. Rather, it should be someone you can relate to. She also suggested a counter intuitive way to build strong relationships. Practicing vulnerability.
"Most people want to help other so when you ask for help on something that might not be your strong suit, you actually bring colleagues and friends closer to you, allowing you to build your network."
Wise words from two very wise people. Thank you American Honda for powering this message.