Erica Pinsky



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Lessons Learned in Dallas

These days we’re hearing a lot about values based leadership.  That was not the case in 1960 when Issy Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, opened his first hotel.  If you’ve read Road to Respect you may recall that Issy’s decision to build his workplace culture on the “Golden Rule,” (treat others as you would like to be treated) was met with scepticism from many on his senior team.  But Issy was undaunted.  He firmly believed that if his staff felt appreciated and esteemed, they would deliver exceptional service and make hotel guests feel valued and respected.  He chose to remain committed to his idea of a values based culture, characterized by values based leadership.


The rest, as they say, is history.  Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is one of the most successful hotel chains in the world, consistently recognized as an Employer of Choice by Fortune magazine among others. All because Issy Sharp understood the power of the values based leadership.


From my perspective leaders like Issy Sharp are today’s modern day heroes.  I am always on the lookout for leaders like him; individuals whose behaviour is aligned with ethical values, who choose to use their power for good. I have written about a number of those leaders in this enews – Tony Hsieh of Zappos,  John De Hart of BC based Nurse Next Door,  Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream,  Nicole Garton- Jones of Vancouver’s Heritage Law.


This article is about Sandra Yancey, founder and CEO of eWomenNetwork.  eWomenNetwork’s mandate is to support women entrepreneurs to succeed, achieve and proper.  Unlike the leaders cited above, I didn’t read about Sandra or hear about her through others. It was my recent experience as a finalist in North America’s Next Greatest Speaker contest, which was held in conjunction with the eWomenNetwork annual convention in Dallas that allowed me to appreciate the kind of leader that Sandra Yancey is, as well as how truly powerful values based leadership can be.


My main reason for going to Dallas was to participate in the speaking contest.  Yes I knew that I was going to be attending the rest of the conference and yes, I had heard a number of former conference goers rave about the experience but I had barely even looked at the speaker line up. I was completely focused on getting ready for the competition, which was, as I have said, my reason for being there.


I was eliminated along with 6 other semi-finalists on Thursday July 12. I was not the contest winner.  But I have to tell you, by the time I left Dallas on Sunday July 15, I felt like a winner.  I felt proud, happy, energized, and inspired. Something had shifted for me during the conference.  It was  like I had drunk the eWomenNetwork Kool aide.


 It was not until I came back to Vancouver, and had some time to process the experience, that I was able to really understand and articulate what it was that was so unique about that conference: the entire experience reflected Sandra Yancey’s values based leadership, her vision of supporting and empowering the success of others, her “lift as we climb” philosophy.


Sandra Yancey is a very successful, very wealthy woman.  She knows a lot of successful wealthy people.  Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t often hang out with the super successful and the super-rich.  However, my experience at some conferences is that the important people tend to hang out with the other important people.  The keynoters have their own club, and conference attendees are not often invited to join.


On Thursday evening after the competition was over Michelle Ray, fellow Nangs finalist and I walked out of the hall and were stopped by a group of women, a couple of whom we knew from Vancouver.  I ended up talking to one of the women in the group who shared a lot of very valuable and supportive feedback about my presentation with me.  As we walked away Michelle said to me, “you know that was Marcia Wieder.”


Actually I didn’t know.  I had in fact never heard of her.  I didn’t know that she had been on Oprah, The Today Show, was a personal coach to Jack Canfield and has had her own PBS special.  She was so nice and friendly, so unpretentious, so interested in speaking with me.  I just assumed she was one of the conference attendees, not one of the presenters.


At lunch on Saturday a guy came and sat down at our table.  He joined in on the conversation, shared ideas, listened as much as he talked.  Turned out he was Mark Ostrofsky, mega star serial entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author of Get Rich Click, who was keynoting the next day.  Like many authors, after his keynote he made himself available to sign books and take photographs.  Michelle was incredulous as she shared with me that Mark had remained in the lobby, talking and signing books, for  more than  an hour.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.” she said.


There was a great dance party on Saturday evening.  Ms. Yancey and many of the other presenters took off their shoes and danced along with us.  Of course I stayed dancing until the band stopped at 1 pm.  As I was walking back to the elevators from the ballroom I noticed a crowd of people talking with Dr. John Grey, author of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, who had been one of the afternoon keynoters.  He was answering questions, actively engaging with everyone.  Much as I wanted to stay and hear what he had to say, as his afternoon keynote had been filled with incredibly interesting information about what he refers to as “gender intelligence”, something very relevant to my work, I was exhausted and had to go up to bed.


The next day we learned that Dr. Gray had remained in the lobby talking until 4 am.


Everyone I met, including the other speaking contestants, conference attendees, eWomenNetwork staff and presenters was kind, supportive, authentic, generous, and friendly.  The calibre of the presenters, the value of the information shared was truly incredible.  Although conference attendees were there to gain information on how to become more successful as an entrepreneur, there was no evidence anywhere of that competitive “more for me means less for you” framework. It seemed as if everyone truly embraced Ms. Yancey’s “lift as we climb” philosophy.


Like Issy Sharp, Sandra Yancey is a leader who chooses to walk her talk.  I had the privilege of meeting her when she spoke at the Women’s Success Summit in Vancouver.  As you can imagine, she had many women interested in meeting her, women who wanted to talk to her, yet when I spoke with her, I felt that her attention was completely focused on me.  I felt a genuine interest on her part in who I was, what my story was, how she could support me.  She spent an entire break talking to Michelle and I about the upgraded speakers bureau that eWomenNetwork was going to be launching.


Contrast this to a story I heard from a friend who attended a networking event. A woman she recognized who was in a senior position came over to speak to her. When this woman learned who she was, she started eyeing the room to see who else she could talk to and quickly moved on.


At the Success Summit I heard Ms. Yancey talk about how one key to success in business is to remain true to your personal values while being interested and open to growth, “constantly be looking for where the next transformation is.”  The other critical component to success she talked about is the value of relationship.  She credited her “lift as we climb,” philosophy to her Mother, who raised her as a single parent after her father died when she was five. “My mother said, you can step on me, not over me, so that you can do better.”  In addition to building an organization that continues to grow and offer great value and services to support the success of it’s entrepreneurial members, Ms. Yancey started the eWomen Foundation, which has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind services, through grants and awards, in support of women and children.


As I was leaving on Sunday afternoon I ran into Mark Ostrofsky again.  Apparently he had been drinking the Kool Aide as well.  He was talking about how different he had found the atmosphere at the conference.  He wanted to, in the words of Seth Godin, be part of the tribe. He said he had been talking with Sandra and her husband and business partner Kym Yancey about how to make the conference bigger and better next year.


I often say to my audiences that the power of values lies in their ability to unite us.  Like Issy Sharp and the other values based leaders I have interviewed and written about, Sandra Yancey has accessed the power of values based leadership to build an incredibly successful business, one that has supported her own success while she works to inspire and support the success of others.


 Now that’s what I call a true win/win.  What about you?



"In her book, Erica provides a wake-up call for employers by detailing why respect, as a core value, is so imperative. She then provides a persuasive argument why organizations should embark on the road map to respect. Particularly compelling are her personal workplace anecdotes as well as the case studies featuring some of the largest companies in Canada, who are getting respect right."

Melanie Sklarz
Diversity and Respect Coordinator
Edge Learning of Ohio RespectfulWorkplace.com