Women and Leadership Q&A: Lara Tiedens

March 8, 2022

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Schwarzman Scholars Executive Director Lara Tiedens to discuss women in leadership:

  1. Why is it so important that we have more women in leadership roles?

It’s important that we have leaders with many different perspectives and backgrounds—it’s about diversity in leadership. We would do better as a society if there were leaders who represented society more broadly. Women have a lot to contribute to leadership and to the organizations in which they find themselves. They can be incredible leaders, and people who can be incredible leaders should be leaders.

  1. What are some qualities that you see in great leaders?

The most important quality is to be a great learner. In order to lead well you have to learn well. You have to be attuned to the situation—constantly exhibiting curiosity about it and asking questions. You need to learn about yourself, other people, and the effects that you and your organization are having. Empathy is another huge one—understanding and also caring what the outcome is for others.

  1. Are there any women in leadership who you admire particularly or model your own leadership after?

There are so many women and people who have risen to particular moments in time, who I just think are incredible. It’s not so much about position or status, but I think a lot of people I’ve worked with on my teams have risen to the occasion or moment, and have inspired me. Each moment can have a leader. We can all look at great leaders from afar, but it’s most impactful to witness somebody you know embodying leadership.

  1. How does Schwarzman Scholars empower young women and help them to become leaders?

The program is powerful because of the many elements it brings together. When I used to teach leadership, we would talk a lot about getting 10% outside of your comfort zone. In order to really learn intensively, you need to push yourself in this way. I think that’s particularly true about becoming a leader—you need to be confronted with different ways of thinking and being. Many of our students uproot themselves and travel to China for a year, so that’s one thing. And then, to situate them with incredible peers—all of whom are leaders and want to become even better leaders—is amazing. Seeing leadership play out right in front of you is such an incredible experience, and to have those experiences so frequently at Schwarzman College is inspiring. Our Lingdaoli program also gives our Scholars a chance to practice these qualities, and identify which areas they want to work on. It gives them some tools to improve concretely. And of course, there’s our coursework, which provides students with analytic skills and a deeper understanding of the world—history and culture and all these things that will help them lead. It can give them examples of how good and bad leadership have shaped the world we lived in. The whole program—every moment, every turn— contributes to our Scholars’ leadership development.

  1. How have you grown as a leader in your current role?

The networks and relationships, along with the values and culture, have helped me grow. Something that’s unique about this program is the way in which there are all these different structures which interweave. I’ve really had to develop a cross-organizational leadership approach.

  1. Do you have any recommended reading for women in leadership roles?

I have a few! Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues by David Bradford and Carole Robin is a great one, as is Acting with Power: Why We Are More Powerful Than We Believe by Deborah Gruenfeld.