For the November edition of In the Lead, we sat down with four members of the Leadership Foundation’s 2000-2001 Fellows Program:
–Marsha Sampson Johnson, Retired Senior Executive, Southern Company; IWF Board Director; and Member of IWF Georgia
–Helen Rule, Founder & CEO, Imatech Bulk Materials Handling; IWF Board Director; and Founding Member of IWF Australia
–Totsie Memela, Chief Strategy Officer, Academic Partnerships; Leadership Foundation Board Director; and Member of IWF South Africa
–Tracey Wills, CEO, OptionOne Infusion & Specialty Pharmacy, and Member of IWF Oklahoma
These women embody the mission of IWF and the Leadership Foundation. Their friendship has spanned careers, continents, and cultures and the Leadership Foundation’s Fellows Program was responsible for connecting them.
If you value the work the Leadership Foundation is doing to train, mentor and connect the next generation of women leaders, then please support our mission by making a contribution to our 2017 End of Year Campaign. Every dollar contributed today, on #GivingTuesday, will be matched up to $10,000. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to double your donation!
We also asked Marsha Sampson Johnson to answer a few additional questions on the legacy of the Fellows Program, the importance of sustaining programs like it, mentorship, and more. Read her thoughts below.
Mentorship is a core component of the Fellows Program. What role has mentorship played in your professional and personal successes?
Every achievement in my professional and personal life can be linked to being mentored. Starting with family members, then teachers, on to co-workers (peers and managers), and friends. As a retired woman, I am still mentored in various undertakings. A commitment to being mentored is a commitment to life-long learning that greatly increases probability of success.
In addition to connecting you with a mentor, the Fellows Program catalyzes peer-to-peer learning. How and what have you learned from your cohort over the years?
My Fellows Class serves as a Board of Directors, individually and collectively. We lift the most challenging personal and professional issue we face and open ourselves to critique and counsel. Our class has met formally every year since 2001. It is hard to imagine not connecting with members of my Fellows Class. Through the years, we’ve come to do more than respect each other. We love each other. We are a genuine sisterhood.
Members of the 2000-2001 Fellows Class at their 2017 reunion in Houston, TX
The diversity of the Fellows Program is one of its most valuable components. What’s your point of view on this? How has it benefited you?
One of the greatest joys of the Fellows Program was the opportunity to go deeply into other cultures. Whether visiting Totsie and her family in South Africa, Mary-Ann in Canada, or being included in the first bath of a new baby in Helen’s family, my world expanded exponentially as a result of the Fellows Program. There is still so much more to learn and know.
The final component of the Fellows Program is the Legacy Project. Could you speak about what the Legacy Project is and what you implemented?
Each Fellow commits to doing a Legacy Project, which creates a ripple effect around the globe in small and sometimes large undertakings that impact women and girls. Legacy Projects are tangible outcomes of the Fellows Program, beyond the successes of the individual Fellows.
My Legacy Project was a program called Momentum in Birmingham, Alabama. Momentum was started by the YWCA in Birmingham just as I was completing the Fellows Program. As a founding advisory member, I was able to shape many aspects of the program to mirror the curriculum of the Fellows Program. Momentum is still going strong as a premier mentoring program for senior-level women working in business, government, the arts, and the nonprofit arena in Birmingham.
Looking back at your career trajectory and growth since participating in the Fellows Program, can you share with us one of your biggest learnings or takeaways? Did the program help you to think, act, and lead differently?
The Fellows Program gave wings to my self-confidence and career aspirations. As a result, I was able to clearly and strategically verbalize what I wanted, and invest in building the personal and professional networks to make it happen. As my sister-Fellow Totsie likes to say, we learned to speak our desires into the Universe.
The Fellows Program is strengthened each year with an investment of our time and talents, by mentoring others, and giving financial support. Many, many years ago, I said the Fellows Program is the gift that keeps on giving. It still gives today!