This month’s issue is all about strong, smart women driving their companies forward, and ultimately, sustaining Cleveland’s renaissance. I feel fortunate to work in the field of philanthropy, where brilliant and dedicated women make up the majority of the workforce.
At the Cleveland Foundation, for example, nearly half our board is comprised of women, and 91 percent of our staff, including most of our senior leadership, is female. Increasing all kinds of diversity, including gender, improves the standing of our community.
During my three decades working across a variety of fields, and in my personal relationships, the best and most enduring advice I’ve gotten has come from women.
When I was young, my aunt Greta Reiner always used to tell me: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” I’ve seen many executives in the public, private and nonprofit sectors who lost their grounding as they rose up the ladder. They lost sight of the “team” and this pride often led to a fall for them and even for their organization. I’ve always tried to help my colleagues and bosses succeed. In the end, it’s helped me succeed as well.
Likewise, my great aunt Frieda Reicher imparted to me the values of perseverance and resilience. She favored an old Russian proverb: “Make peace with patience.” In most lines of work, including philanthropy, meaningful projects or initiatives take time.
The foundation, for example, has been leading efforts to reform Cleveland public schools and build a wind farm on Lake Erie for over a decade. This work continues and I am confident that we will succeed in these and other efforts. One of the key elements of success in business and in life is not to accept defeat. Be persistent and change will come.
When I was on the board of Spelman College, a historically black college for women, I used to marvel at President Johnnetta Cole’s ability to seamlessly rally people around a cause. I learned by observing her that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. On touchy subjects, she posed questions that made people listen to their better angels and do the right thing without leaving any bruises.
Don’t get distracted
I also learned a great deal from another mentor — Jackie Woods, Cleveland businesswoman, former president of AT&T Ohio and former chair of the foundation’s board of directors. Jackie taught me the power of networking and collaborating to reach a goal.
She would tell me: “Don’t let others make their problems your problems and their agenda your agenda.” By that she meant that I could not allow myself to get distracted by every item that crossed my desk. Where you focus your time and attention is vital to the success of your organization. Always keep your eye on the prize.
There are many factors behind our career success, but I’ve found that staying true to a few simple values — kindness, patience, persistence, focus and building a valuable network — is what sets the best leaders apart. ●
Ronn Richard is President and CEO at The Cleveland Foundation