Another Woman Leader Emerges!

Last week was a big week for Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. She testified in front of Congress regarding the ignition problem that spurred the eventual recall of millions of GM cars. Watching the media cover her widely anticipated visit to Capitol Hill, I began to realize that while this was a crisis moment for GM, it was also an unparalleled opportunity for Mary Barra to demonstrate her personal brand of leadership.

Leading up to the day of her testimony, I received numerous calls from the media asking how I thought she would and should handle herself and even if I thought she would be treated any differently because she was a woman. My reply is always the same: it’s not really a gender issue but rather it’s about taking personal responsibility and doing the right thing.

On April 1st, the day of the hearing, I was featured on CNBC aand asked specifically what I thought she needed to do to handle the inquisition. Essentially, I said that she should do what any good CEO would do in a time of crisis like this:

  1. Take responsibility for the issue/problem (rather than laying the blame on others).
  2. Empathize/sympathize with those who have been impacted and let them know that you care about them (but make no promises even if specific ideas are under consideration).
  3. Take action to resolve the issue/problem (and continue to take action when you have enough information).

I was also asked what personal advice I would give her in order for her to make the right “first” impression. That question reminded me that up until this point, Mary Barra’s brand had not been established. She was not as well known as other women in the spotlight, such as Carly Fiorina, Sheryl Sandburg, or Hillary Clinton. How she handled this televised session on behalf of GM was going to be a game changer for her and would certainly shape her leadership brand for a long time to come.

SHAMBAUGH coaches a number of executive women who are focused on building their personal brand which really gets down to a leader’s reputation and the conversations people have about them. They realize that they can intentionally create the conversation others have about them based on how they “show up” and connect with others. They also focus on establishing their Executive Presence which is experienced through their self-confidence, “grace under fire”, and decisiveness. The women executives learn that their personal brand and Executive Presence must be developed with rigor and intention and two essential elements for both are trust and credibility which are a source of a leader’s power and influence.

From what I observed during the hearing, Mary Barra did a good job of showing up with Executive Presence and she also established herself as a potentially strong leader. Her leadership will continue to be scrutinized in the next few months so her consistency and her ability to stay on message will be critical. I wish Mary Barra success – not only in this crisis but in seizing this leadership moment within GM and creating a culture that won’t allow this kind of situation to happen again on her watch.

Learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Executive Coaching, Leadership Programs, Keynote Offerings, Sponsorship Consulting and our signature Women In Leadership and Learning Program (WILL) by visiting

Becky’s talk at TEDx: It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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