Rebecca Shambaugh sees a lot of obstacles in front of women trying to become
leaders in the business world. The good news, she says, is that women have the
power to remove most of those obstructions themselves.
Shambaugh, a 1978 Purdue alumna in organizational communication, is
president of SHAMBAUGH, a company that specializes in leadership development,
executive coaching, women’s leadership, and organizational effectiveness. She
is author of three books, including It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and
Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and has worked with clients that include
Marriott International, IBM, and Microsoft.
She says women should speak up and focus more on creating business
relationships as a means of moving up the corporate ladder into positions
“We all come with the same intellectual capacity,” says Shambaugh, whose
company has offices in McLean, Virginia; Boston; Dallas; San Francisco; and Europe.
“We need to be willing to build relationships as part of our jobs instead of believing
that just doing a good job is enough.”
Shambaugh says women’s life experiences allow them to offer different
perspectives, and that having their input on boards and in leadership positions
makes for well-rounded decisions. “We really need all voices on deck. We need
a balance of men and women around the table to better business results,”
Marifran Mattson, head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication, says
Shambaugh’s work has been crucially important in the study of women as leaders.
“Including women in leadership increases the diversity of perspectives, approaches,
and decisions stemming from leadership roles,” Mattson says. “Women leaders
Rebecca Shambaugh launched her book Make Room for Her at the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts. Photo by Len Spoden.
Adam Walt, a senior in acoustical engineering, has been
a project leader for five semesters with EPICS, though it’s
not a position he initially sought. “I never really saw myself
as a leader, but I was put in the role early on. Since then, I’ve
seen myself grow and get stronger as a leader,” Walt says.
A big part of that growth, he says, has been the time he’s
taken to evaluate his leadership approaches. “I’ve worked
with bad leaders in the past. I know what I didn’t like in
leaders, so I do my best to be the kind of leader I want to
work with,” Walt says. “I look for ward to it now.”
Follow the team
Sometimes, a good leader isn’t the most knowledgeable
person in the room, but instead good at organizing talented
people and willing to let others shine. “Be humble. Admit
what you don’t know and find good people who do know,”
Buzzanell says. “That doesn’t diminish someone as a leader.
Understand what people need and how to get it together.”
That willingness to share or move out of the spotlight
shows a team that it’s not the leader who is important—it
is the entire team and the end result. A good leader simply
leads by example. “The people we lead are looking to us as
leaders. Very often when we are on a team, we’re looking at
people to see if we want to be like them,” Buzzanell says.
Through EPICS and other organizations and classes,
students have countless opportunities to try, succeed, and
fail as leaders. Buzzanell says the important thing is that
they are willing to do all three.
Because being a leader, she says, is often about
foundering and learning how to right the ship. “When
you’re a student, you need to have that safe space where you
can make mistakes,” Buzzanell says. “You don’t have to be
the most charismatic person to be a leader. Sometimes, it’s
just having an idea and being willing to try.”
By Brian Wallheimer.