2020 Officer Women Leadership Symposium

Networking has certainly evolved during these uncertain times and it is no longer as easy as calling someone up for a cup of coffee. Virtual networking has taken off and while it may seem impersonal, in some ways, it has also allowed people to connect over a greater distance. For many, it has opened doors that may not have previously been available. This year, the 2020 Officer Women Leadership Symposium (OWLS), hosted in partnership with the USC Marshall School of Business & Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) program went virtual.  More than 1,000 women leaders tuned in Nov. 5-6 for workshops focused on this year’s theme,  “Leadership for a Lifetime”.   The event provided networking opportunities, panel discussions, and workshops for current military leaders and veterans from around the world. The speakers ranged from leaders in the military to leaders in the public and private sectors who offered their support and advice for advancing their careers.

One such workshop was led by Shellee Smith, executive director of the USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking and Executive Education.  Her presentation, Third Space Thinking: Building Soft Skills Critical for Leading in Today’s World, covered the center’s five core attributes  of Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity and 360-Degree Thinking and how women can utilize these soft skills to become better leaders and colleagues. The ACE-IT toolkit as its called gives leaders a soft skills methodology for problem solving in the workplace. The session was very lively and the viewers were engaged throughout the entire presentation. They frequently asked questions and made insightful comments pertaining to the content being discussed. For the most part, the participants agreed that soft skills were crucial to being a great leader. Many of them also pointed out that while soft skills were crucial, they didn’t believe that people had enough training in them and were often lacking in the workplace. 

During a Q&A session, one of the participants asked how to have empathy for those who may consistently want to undermine your authority. Smith advised, “use active listening, try to meet them in the middle, figure out what they want and how they can help you get what you want.” Active listening is a key component of building empathy for others. In order to really connect with someone else, we must listen to understand, not simply to respond. It was through open dialogue like this that Smith was able to connect with the participants on real issues surrounding challenges in the workplace and give  tips on how to tackle them. 

“Empathy is an essential business tool that allows you to understand the needs, values and priorities of your customers,” said Smith. “And a key component of empathy is active listening.”

Despite having shifted format, many of the attendees were thankful for the virtual platform because they had not been able to attend the event previous years due to location issues. Having the symposium be virtual made it more accessible to many and increased the number of networking opportunities. Women in the military depicted their commitment to leadership and growth by participating in this event and through Shellee’s presentation gained some tools which they can use to expand their soft skills in order to become the most successful version of themselves. 

Here are some book recommendations from the event that we’d like to share with you. 

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg 

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin 

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace by David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance -What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

If you’d like to learn more about our soft skills training for leadership development, please contact shellee.smith@usc.edu.