Forbes Most Powerful List Provides ‘Real World’ Lessons for All Leaders

Shelley SmithBlog, Leadership Development

There is much we can learn as leaders from Forbes 2018 World’s Most Powerful Women list.

Change marked this year’s list, not only because of who ranked high and who fell, but also because there are 20 new, powerful changemakers that were included on the list. There is always room at the top for the shakers and movers, and they will edge out the others who let their foot off the gas pedal.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was ranked the most powerful woman in the world for the eighth year in a row, even though she has announced she will not seek another term as chancellor in 2021. Forbes says she “remains the de facto leader of Europe, leading the region’s largest economy after steering through financial crisis and back to growth.”

Hillary Clinton, number 67 in 2017, is off the list completely because she is no longer active in politics. However, women are increasing in numbers in politics, representing nearly 20 percent of presidential, government and parliamentary seats worldwide. Women swept the midterm elections, winning a historical 117 Congressional seats, flipping the House from Republican to Democrat and reseating Nancy Pelosi to the third most powerful position in government, Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, women still represent only 5 percent of CEOs on the list. There is still much work to be done, but there are bright spots. There are four women CEOs in the top 10 most powerful women named by Forbes: #4, Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors (U.S.); #5, Abigail Johnson, CEO, Fidelity Investments (U.S.); #7, Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube (U.S.); and #9, Marillyn Hewson, CEO, Lockheed Martin (U.S.).

Forbes named women of every age from 29 (Taylor Swift) to 92 (Queen Elizabeth) and from six categories (business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, philanthropists and CEOs. The ranking was based on four metrics: money (net worth, company revenue, assets or GDP), spheres of influence, media presence and impact. A note: this year, social media power was considered in the media presence and influence score.

How can this list help your career?

Why am I focusing on the Forbes list?

Because there are lessons to be learned that can help us as leaders, regardless of gender. Let’s unpack the metrics Forbes used and see what we can discover:


  • If you are a CEO, what does your company’s financial statement say about your leadership? Are profits increasing or decreasing? Can you point to programs you have initiated that reduce overhead without hurting employee morale? Are customers satisfied? Are sales increasing?


  • If you are an HR manager or director, have you worked with administration to improve company culture to create an environment that reduces costly turnover? Do you have low absenteeism and sick-day utilization? Do employees meet deadlines? Are employees highly engaged and satisfied with their jobs? Are new employees easy to recruit? Do current employees recommend their friends and family members for employment? Have you never had an EEOC complaint?

Spheres of influence:

Who is within your sphere of influence? If you are a CEO, you have an internal audience (your employees) and an external audience (customers, vendors, board members, the public). If you are an HR director, you also have a sphere of influence. Your sphere includes your department colleagues, company employees and professional colleagues outside the company. How can you positively influence these people? Here are some thoughts for all leaders:


  • Lead with intentions: State your vision and be willing to admit when you are wrong and need to change directions. Be clear about why you need to make the change.


  • Show rather than tell: Don’t just preach to people, but teach by example. You lose all credibility when you don’t live by your own words.


  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable: You won’t always have the answers or know how to face every challenge. Don’t fake it. Ask for help when you need it.


  • Take calculated, intentional risks: This is where the big wins are! Be willing to own your losses and share your successes with those who helped make them happen.


  • Inspire personal and professional growth, but hold others accountable: Make accountability an action that is embraced and welcomed, not resented.


  • Be agile and create agile teams: Don’t allow yourself or your team members to become pigeonholed. Cross-train them to be able to increase performance and to grow professionally.


  • Remain relevant by staying current in your profession and encouraging those in your sphere to do the same.


Media presence:

Do you get (generally) positive media attention? If you have no media presence, that means you have NO image in the community, which is negative. If you are a very small business, you may not be able to generate mass media attention, although you could be missing opportunities – consider hiring a professional freelance PR practitioner to help you explore possibilities. However, if you are an organization of moderate size, you should have in-house marketing/PR counsel to direct your efforts.

Your media presence should include:

  • Owned media:This includes the media you can generate yourself, such as your website, blog, social media, advertising, newsletters and collateral materials. Don’t discount the value of online media. With top-notch SEO, you can rise to the top of the search engine results for keywords in your industry, paving the way for your sales team. How effectively are you using your blog and social media? Are you talking about “me” or “our company” rather than solving the customer’s problem? If so, you aren’t winning eyeballs.


  • Earned media:This is what people typically mean when they say “PR.” While people are reading fewer newspapers and magazines and watching less network TV, getting a news or feature story about you or your business can greatly enhance visibility, credibility and brand value. It’s important to understand what makes a story newsworthy before approaching the news media. Celebrating your 10thyear in business probably won’t make the cut. Work with a professional to find an angle that works.


  • Internal communications:Media isn’t just external communication. It is just as important – perhaps more important – to communicate effectively internally. Your employees are your No. 1 ambassadors. If you don’t keep them in the loop through one-on-one and small group meetings, feedback sessions, memos, email, newsletters, etc., they will not represent you well in the community.


The impact you make in your company, profession and community is the result of how well you have performed in the other three metrics – money, sphere of influence and media. When you are properly managing your money and people problems and making sure that you are telling your story well internally and externally (media), you WILL have a positive impact.

Don’t assume you are doing everything right. Hold yourself accountable. Some measurement tools include employee opinion and satisfaction surveys, customer surveys, performance reviews, turnover and retention data, culture surveys and employee engagement surveys.

If it is important, measure it!


Want to become even more powerful?

Knowledge is power.

Become a Certified Professional Culture Curator and solidify your future. Does your company offer an internal leadership academy to multiply the leaders in your organization? If not, we can provide that. We customize our program to your needs, you departments’ needs and your organization’s needs. This is how you build an empire of leadership in every level of your organization, no matter how big or small.


I am  a best-selling author, consultant and founder and CEO of Premier Rapport consulting firm. My experience over the past 35+ years has earned me the reputation as the creator of the culture inquiry in businesses all along the East Coast and beyond. My success stems from the strength of my personal approach, asking tough questions to hone in on pain points and areas of growth opportunity.


For more information about the ACC  system, IMPACT model, EEM, AoWC processes, Predictive Index, becoming a CPCC  and Culture Inquiry click here. You can also download for free Shelley’s popular e-book, How to Avoid Culture Big Fat Failures (BFF).