A century after women won the right to vote, Caroline Feeney reflects on women’s leadership during a global pandemic and beyond.
Like many of us, the lessons Caroline Feeney learned from her parents stuck with her and profoundly shaped her life. A strong work ethic was one attribute that her mom stressed to Feeney early on, and as a teenager she recalls her mom telling her, “If you want it, you go to work for it.”
The lesson stuck.
Her parents also told her that she didn’t need to be best friends with everyone, but to always be nice and treat people with respect.
In one of Feeney’s early roles with Prudential, she was just the second woman on a 1,200-person team of national sales leaders. Male colleagues questioned her ability to have difficult conversations because “she was too nice.” Feeney, indeed, had many difficult conversations with people. She just handled them differently than her male counterparts at the time and delivered messages directly, the way she herself would like to be treated, with an added degree of empathy.
Fast forward 30 years and today Feeney is CEO of Individual Solutions at Prudential, and still very mindful of those lessons of perseverance and kindness. As the nation marks Women’s Equality Day and the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, she reflects on the lessons she learned that helped her succeed and qualities crucial for any leader in today’s uncertain environment.
Throughout her career, Feeney has taken the lessons her parents imparted to heart and places a great deal of emphasis on helping other people succeed. “That really matters to me,” she says. When things don’t go her way, she doesn’t look on them as failures. “Rather, it’s just that things didn’t go the way you wanted them to,” she explains. It’s that type of positive thinking Feeney says is critical, especially during unsettled times like these.
“Leading virtually has been a challenge, especially for someone like me, who puts a great deal of emphasis on relationships,” Feeney says. “I spend as much virtual face time with people as possible. The key is making sure I’m still in touch with, and talking to, as many people as possible throughout the day.”
She notes that people are responding to the current environment in myriad ways. Some are thriving on the challenge. Others are finding it hard to adapt. Good leaders need to recognize these differences and find ways to help everyone move forward and feel as comfortable as possible.
“Recognizing all of this is important and necessary for good leadership, especially now,” Feeney says. “As women, we can excel as leaders, perhaps now more than ever. We can sometimes bring a higher level of empathy to the equation and that, plus strong communication skills, can go a long way.”
“As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which was an important milestone in giving many women the right to vote, I think of how far we’ve come, but how far we still need to go,” Feeney says. “Great women led us through those uncertain times, and others will surely lead us forward through these.”