Susan Spears, President and CEO of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice on how to empower and uplift other women through leadership, and how to break down barriers to success. Susan is an amazing leader and role model for women, she shares her journey in navigating power structures and the importance of women in leadership roles. We hope you can take something away from this advice and use it to help empower women in your own life. Happy Women’s History Month!

Q: What advice do you have for women looking to grow?

A: It is important to identify specific goals and become very clear about what growth means to you. What will it take to get there? What resources will I need, and how do I go about obtaining them? How long should it take me? Obstacles and opportunities will become clear as your growth goals are honed and defined. Then the fun begins: being highly intentional about going after the goal, one day at a time, chipping away at it, and always, always believing in yourself!

Q: How can women navigate power structures? 

A: Well to start with, women can lead the power structures! In the past, women were sometimes considered difficult or bossy if they displayed some of the same characteristics often associated with their male colleagues. The good news is, these stereotypes, and those times, are mostly behind us. Today’s women professionals can lead boldly with the courage of their convictions. I encourage a sprinkling of common sense in the mix as well. Know your audience and adapt accordingly. A strong work ethic coupled with consistent competency will lead to the top every time!

Q: Does a woman have to know everything in order to lead?

A: Absolutely not! The enemy of success can be that inner voice that eats away at our self-confidence, telling us we don’t know enough so therefore we should stay in our lane. Imagine if every male leader throughout history had stopped moving forward when they didn’t have all the information. I am a strong believer in transparency when I don’t know how to accomplish a task. I will ask questions and conduct my own research to determine what is required for success. Who do I know that has experience with my dilemma? I seek them out and ask how they made it work. Then I roll up my sleeves and find a way to get it done. Even if it take me twice as long as it needed – that’s OK – because I am learning through the process. 

Q: How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader?

A: Having mentors is a critical element to success. Note I said mentors – plural – vs. mentor – single. Throughout my journey I have been blessed with diverse mentors at every turn. At one point in my career, I was the acting president while a search for a new president was ongoing. It was a temporary role and I was determined to do a good job. I invited several mentors to meet with me as a group. Each mentor brought different talents and experiences that I could draw from while forging my path ahead. I encouraged my mentors to be honest with me – tell me what I can do better, let me know when I fall short. A mentor told me, “I’ve invested in you and your success. I will always be here to support your journey.” That always stuck with me, and today I seek ways to invest my time in supporting other women in their leadership journeys.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote to inspire women?

A: I keep this quote from an inspiring female leader displayed on my desk. Maya Angelou said, “I believe you can only be great at something you love.” If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it diminishes your ability to find inner peace and daily happiness. Give this some thought, ladies, and if you’re not in alignment, it’s time to create some new goals and go for it!