Takeaways From The Women’s Foodservice Forum: How To Be A Leader

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In the first week of March, seven CIA students, including me, were given the opportunity of a lifetime when we were selected to attend this year’s annual Women’s Foodservice Forum in Dallas, Texas (also known across the industry as the WFF Leadership Development Conference). So, you may ask, what is WFF? WFF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to leading the way to gender equity. Their goal is to close the gender gap by 2025. They have partnered with McKinsey & Company, Lean In Circles, the National Restaurant Association, the International Foodservice Distributors Association, and many more to conduct critical research to see how we can do better to close this gender gap.

In case you happened to miss my Culinary Institute Snapchat takeover, I wanted to take some time and share just what we learned, and encourage you all to break through this year and become the best leader YOU can be.

The Conference was spread out over a six-day period. We met up with the James Madison Hart School of Hospitality at the airport once we landed in Dallas, and on to the hotel, we went. We arrived two days early to help the WFF team set up for the days to come. All students were given a shirt to feel just like one of the team members. Right away we were greeted and given a tour of the hotel. We were shown exactly where all of our breakout sessions would be held and how to give directions if anyone were to ask. Over the course of the week, I got to partake in special dinners with Sysco and attend receptions with all 3,000 women and men (That’s right! Men also are welcome at the conference!). I was also invited to go to a hair and makeup session before recording videos for the WFF with CEOs of McDonald’s, Starbucks, Yum Brands, Chili’s, and the list goes on. I even was given the chance of attending VIP sessions with some pretty special guests, like Michelle Obama.

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But let’s get down to the top three breakthrough takeaways I learned:

  1. This is going to be the easiest math equation you’ve ever learned…you ready? Managers + Leaders + Followers = A Successful Team. One of the most valuable pieces of information I’ve learned. Just like in math, once you take something out of the equation, it no longer works. Managers are always needed to make sure things are getting done and to create an environment where ideas are welcome. Leaders are there to show us how things get done and find new ways to execute ideas. And followers are actually the most important—they’re the ones who have the ability to start a movement and get things into motion.
  2. The second thing that really stuck with me is being fearless vs. being brave. In reality, these two seemed to get lumped together quite frequently, when actually they are very different. Being fearless is lacking the feeling of being afraid, while bravery is the presence of courage, despite any fear. Being brave is taking action even when times may be scary. I took this advice on a personal level as well as in leadership. Sometimes we’re faced with topics that are hard to address as leaders. But when staying true to your morals and knowing right from wrong, we can all be brave and advocate for positive change. Being brave also comes with admitting when you’re not sure of something or admitting when you’re wrong. So ask yourself, as conference speaker Anne Grady said, “Would you rather be right or get it right?”
  3. The third point I’d like to share is being able to truly define the words you like to use when describing yourself. In a breakout session, we were challenged to describe our leadership in a couple of words. Then we had to come up with how to describe the words to a five-year-old. The point I’m making here is not to educate a five-year-old but to find the simplest way you can define yourself as a leader. We as people tend to feel unfulfilled when we can’t exactly explain things to ourselves. Which is why it’s so important to be able to define the words we like to describe ourselves as. Speaker Drew Dudley said, “The biggest barrier to leadership is our own thoughts.” Be certain of your capabilities and be your number-one biggest fan!

I hope these three things have shed some new light on your take on leadership. If there is anything I wish for you all to take away, it is this: One of my philosophies in life, when it involves anything, is comprised of three simple steps:

  1. Networking
  2. Owning
  3. Advising

Going to the WFF Conference this year provided me with a great opportunity to network with some very influential women. All of the knowledge and words of wisdom I learned over the course of those six days is now information that will stay with me forever. I’m going to own the information and use it in every situation I encounter in life. And when it’s all said and done, now I get to help advocate and advise others with the information I learned. I hope what I have shared is something you can take into your next job or maybe even your relationships. A study done by McKinsey & Company and the WFF states that 37% of workers in the field today are Millennials. So there has never been a better time to make your own breakthrough!

By Olivia Weidner

Olivia Weidner