Inspiring words from some of the most successful leaders in business

Titi Cole, Michele Roberts, Jessica Gelman and Val Ackerman motivated the audience with their best advice on leading through tough times at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- A powerhouse panel of leaders joined Sage Steele at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit to discuss their experiences as women executives at the top of their respective games. The panelists included: Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association; Titi Cole, Wells Fargo executive vice president, head of operations; Val Ackerman, commissioner of the Big East Conference; and Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group.

The panelists were full of wisdom, but here is the best advice of the day.

Take some risks

Each one of the panelists underscored the importance of risk-taking in their successes. Gelman said she told the Krafts they should step out into the analytics business. "I said, 'I think we should build this ourselves,'" Gelman said. "Not a small thing to say to the Krafts."

But the key to successfully taking risks is believing in your own worth as a leader. "Be willing to bet on yourself," Cole said. "The things that make you successful are partly the environment, but 90 percent of it is you."

Just do it. "This is not a dress rehearsal," Roberts said. "Now's the time."

Lean into failure

No one is perfect, and that extends to this panel of esteemed leaders. "I feel like I fail every day," Gelman said.

Cole added to that sentiment, highlighting the importance of failure in revealing leadership. "It's really easy to be a leader when things are going well," Cole said. "But the true test of a leader is in tough times."

Empower your staff

The best lesson Gelman learned when it comes to delegation? "If someone else can do it, let them do it," Gelman said. "Prioritize the things that let you save more time."

But empowering your staff, also means supporting them in their decision-making. "I tell my staff that I know where the buck stops," Roberts said. "I say, 'Don't be afraid; I've got your back.'"

We're all still learning

Feel like you might not have it all figured out? Don't worry; you're in good company.

"The work is never done," Cole said. "It's so important that we stay human and remember that we're all trying to figure out this thing called life."

You deserve to be there

Getting into "the room where it happens" can be a challenge, and sometimes the reason behind the invitation (or promotion) doesn't sit well.

Ackerman, however, had the zinger of the day. "You may get the job because you're a woman," she said. "But you will not keep the job because you're a woman. It'll be about getting the job done."

Related Content