Authenticity, Power and Leadership in Meaning Making

Alicia Rodriguez, author and motivational coach, made meaning the central subject for marine-industry women during the AIM Women in the Industry Virtual Breakfast.
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Alicia Rodriguez

Alicia Rodriguez

It wasn’t your average how-to webinar on a Thursday morning in the boat business. On board, virtually, were more than 300 attendees, and more than 90 percent were women.

A typical industry webinar might take aim at a topic such as how to increase sales or how to market using social media. This one was simply billed as the AIM Women in the Industry Virtual Breakfast, and it took a different tack, focusing on “A Woman’s Quest for Meaning.”

The brainstorm of Soundings Trade Only publisher Michele Goldsmith, the 90-minute event featured author, consultant and leadership coach Alicia Rodriguez, and Goldsmith’s expectations were that 75 people might register. Instead, hundreds signed up, watch parties were organized, and sponsors joined in, including Sea Tow, Mercury, MarineMax and Volvo Penta. Clearly, the idea struck a positive chord.

Big ideas to create a shift

At the outset, Rodriguez stated her intention to share some “big ideas and concepts that might make you uncomfortable.” She addressed attendees as individuals, each on their own journey, looking to “make meaning” in their life and work as opposed to simply executing today’s tasks as
businesspeople.

Rodriguez demonstrated her storytelling abilities right away, describing the ocean as her best teacher and how once, confronted by a challenging set of work circumstances, she waded in deep at the beach and was surprised by a big wave. Diving under it, she grasped at the sand, remaining well below the surface as the wave swept harmlessly by; then she looked up toward the surface and realized the extraordinary stillness of the moment. After staying under as long as she could, she finally rose to the surface and left the beach empowered by the clarity of how going below, or going to the quiet within herself, was a way to find her purpose.

In her presentation of three big ideas, Rodriguez offered exercises and questions in place of tips, tricks or prescriptions.

Exercise: In a search for authenticity, she asked attendees to begin identifying the four pillars they stand on — and to put “resonance before reason,” listening for their body’s natural response, then discovering the reason.

Question: In relating to power, she asked how each attendee’s relationship to power was positive and negative, and defined
empowerment as the freedom to choose how to live up to one’s potential.

Question: In considering leadership, she asked how attendees would stop reacting to problems based on fear, and start creating based on vision and love.

Instead of walking away with a new checklist, attendees gained an experience of starting to engage in longer-term thinking designed to reshape their quest for meaning.

Several companies — including the group from MarineMax (shown) — hosted watch parties to hear author, consultant and leadership coach Alicia Rodriguez.

Several companies — including the group from MarineMax (shown) — hosted watch parties to hear author, consultant and leadership coach Alicia Rodriguez.

Beyond the details of the day

Because I didn’t fit the event’s intended demographic, I checked in afterward with Kirsten Corssen on what she experienced. Corssen is co-founder and managing director of Social Navigator, a four-year-old digital marketing company that provides social media services to more than a dozen marine clients, including Suzuki, Uflex USA and Barton Marine.

She was enthusiastic about the large turnout that included women from Australia, Africa and Europe, as well as boat company leaders such as Joan Maxwell of Regulator Marine and Kris Carroll of Grady-White. Corssen said she hoped to connect with many of the women via LinkedIn and at upcoming boat shows.

Her first takeaway related to her own focus as a leader, both in business and in her personal life. She said that too much of her time is spent putting out fires or worrying about tiny details at 3 a.m. That’s important, she added, but she realized that she shouldn’t let those tasks override being creative in pursuit of her mission and goals.

Next, Corssen said she would be refining her “four pillars,” but to start had picked “health, growth, respect/self-respect and balance.” She added she was glad to learn that these pillars normally change over time.

Third, Corssen highlighted the definition of empowerment as having the freedom to choose how to live to your potential, and how she realized that if she didn’t stay true to herself and her goals, her work was pointless.

Reacting to 10 practices that Rodriguez offered to “make meaning and live and lead with purpose,” Corssen said she took to heart the practice of not judging onesself based on what others might be thinking. As a 25-year-old woman, Corssen said, she often finds herself as the youngest person and only female in the room, naturally thinking about how she’s being perceived.

A larger view of leadership

When I spoke with Goldsmith the day after the webinar, she said, “I didn’t want to do the same old leadership training. I wanted this to be bigger — more about transitions and how you understand your life and how that can then empower you and make you a better leader.”

Goldsmith certainly got an event bigger than expected. She said one thing she learned is that the topic of making meaning in uncertain times, understanding your power and understanding how to lead, resonates for women no matter where you are in your career. According to an in-meeting survey, attendees were equally spread among those newer and longer-term in the industry.

I asked Goldsmith what she learned about her own power as a leader, and she said, “I learned if you take out the match and light the flame, people will take it and carry it forward. There’s a strong desire for women to connect, to share and to be inspired. I am immensely grateful I got to be the catalyst for it.”

Finding meaning and fulfillment

I spoke with Rodriguez and asked if the results of the event fit with her own quest for meaning. She said, “Yes. They matched my four pillars: freedom, creativity, authentic/high-integrity relationships and working with an open heart. That’s why I was on a cloud afterwards.”

One attendee, Rebecca Lancashire of the KVH Superyacht Group, shared her appreciation for the event on LinkedIn, saying: “Thank you for opening the door to learning how to shift to resonance before reason and create with love focusing on
vision instead of reacting with fear focused on problems.”

Rodriguez said she received many similar messages: “When people write to you and say, ‘You just gave me a gift,’ ‘You had me rethink my life,’ ‘You just provoked me and made me uncomfortable” in a good way, ‘My team needs to do this, too,’ I look at that and say, ‘I had impact.’”

I asked Rodriguez how a focus on meaning might change the industry, and she said: “Women look for affirmation and validation outside of themselves. I encourage them to self-affirm and self-validate so they can feel confident and empowered. The poll taken during the event showed that 27 percent of the women attending were in the industry for 20-plus years; 36 percent were in the industry from one to five years. I believe that women enter and stay in the marine industry because they find a sense of meaning in their work.

“The challenge for leadership is to develop the younger women for the future and to tap the wisdom of the more experienced women so that the industry keeps growing and innovating. Over 400 women registered for this event, which I believe demonstrates a thirst for community, learning and growth. Now it’s time the industry leaders acknowledged women’s potential, talents and skills by stepping up to provide this (type of event) for them.” 

This article was originally published in the July 2021 issue.

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