News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 12, 2013

Honoring Influence

WOI speaker extols virtues of leadership

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Is leadership an inborn skill, or can it be learned?

Melissa Proffitt Reese said it’s something of both.

Leadership is a broad topic, said Reese, keynote speaker for the 2013 Wabash Valley Women of Influence breakfast on Thursday at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Honored were 10 Women of Influence: Terri Hill, Sister Connie Kramer, Mary Kramer, Jackie Lower, Susan Smith Roads, Carolyn Roberts, Nancy Brattain Rogers, Jeri Stark, Claudia Tanoos and Roberta Weliever, who received their awards following comments by Reese.

Reese is an attorney and  partner with the Ice Miller law firm in Indianapolis, where she concentrates on employee benefits. She also counsels in the energy and agribusiness industries and is active in politics. As introduced by Lisa Johnson of the WOI committee, Reese is considered a successful leader in her own right.

Reese said that all 10 women honored as Women of Influence have exhibited exceptional leadership ability, and each woman has a potpourri of experiences that have contributed to her success.

Some people feel that leadership can be a matter of luck or intelligence, and is either taught or is an innate skill that some have and some don’t. Whatever the source, Reese said, there are some basic, common sense rules to leadership that she shared.

• Be true to yourself and live by a core sense of values.

• Do the right thing, acting with honesty and integrity.

• Actions speak louder than words, so honor commitments and follow through on what you say you will do.

• First things first -- establish goals and prioritize.

• Just do it. Take risks and redefine yourself.

• There is no “I” in team, so build a great team and value their input.

• Never underestimate the power of mentoring and networking.

• Embrace lifelong learning, maintaining a high level of intellectual curiosity and a passion for personal growth.

• Follow the Golden Rule, treating others fairly and with dignity and respect.

• Leave a legacy and follow your dreams to leave a unique imprint on the world.

As for leadership styles, Reese said that a lot of recent talk concerns transformational leaders, who are focused on their followers and who motivate them to do their best. Transformational leadership is popular because the leader has positive expectations for the followers, and encourages them to grow through the process.

And, Reese said, leadership can be influenced through either brain power intelligence, emotional intelligence or social intelligence. Smart leaders know that their owner leadership is only slightly or moderately related to their own intelligence, so they surround themselves with smart people who will bring new ideas.

Emotional intelligence is an ability to communicate at an emotional level to guide decision-making. Charismatic leaders have an extraordinary ability to communicate on an emotional level.

Social intelligence can be equated with street smarts, when a leader knows how to socially connect with followers to bring positive results.

“The good news is that the last two forms of intelligence — emotional and social — are pliable. They can be developed,” Reese said.

As for as luck versus skill, some say it is really a combination of listening, understanding more, creating a team, and knowing that you don’t know it all, Reese said.

And to answer the question of whether leaders are “born” or “made,” Reese said opinions vary, but that the consensus has emerged that “leadership can be taught via challenging situations, and frankly, through making mistakes.”

She used Apple computer founder Steve Jobs as an example of someone who credited his mistakes with keeping him fresh for new ideas.

“He understood and actually embraced his mistakes, and he learned more from his mistakes than his successes,” Reese said. “Sometimes the best successes do come through failure. And, in a society like ours, which is very risk-adverse, and judgmental, this can be a hard lesson to learn.”

Reese said that finding passion is also important for leaders, as is a good attitude.

“I do believe that about 80 percent of life is attitude,” she said. “Life is hard. We get handed a lot of difficult times and situations. But your approach to those situations and that attitude you wake up with every day can be defining.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.