How do you wow people who are professional conference goers? How do you engage them, so they walk away feeling renewed, refreshed, uplifted and ready to try a new approach to their relationships? We might have found the secret sauce of a successful leadership event. Here we go…

Three words come to mind: “surprise and delight”. They are not mine. Doug Jensen, of The Estee Lauder Companies, said them to me during a preparation call for the event where he was one of the featured executives. And that might be the secret sauce of the Red Shoe Movement Annual Leadership Event.

I didn’t know that’s what we had been doing since the inception of our Red Shoe Movement Signature Event 12 years ago but when Doug uttered those words in relation to the red lipsticks his company gifted all attendees at the event, I realized they described our secret sauce to a T.

The 11th Annual Red Shoe Movement Signature Event at MetLife this year brought together a record number of participants. Our host and lead sponsor for the 9th year in a row, MetLife was joined by Colgate-Palmolive, Morgan Stanley, Granite Construction and DreamWalkers Shoes as our main sponsors.

The custom-made red pouches used by the Ambassadors by Argentine Designer Florencia Angeleri, were another element that added to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event.
The custom-made red pouches used by the Ambassadors by Argentine Designer Florencia Angeleri, were another element that added to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event.

The Secret Sauce of a Successful Leadership Event Unpacked

There are so many moving parts that go into creating an experiential event that offers:

  • Actionable insights
  • Opportunities to network with professionals from a broad spectrum of companies and industries
  • A psychologically safe space that enables everyone to express themselves openly
  • A joyfulness and a lightness that fosters participation

This year’s event raised the bar above last year’s which had already been an incredible event. We had some unbelievably powerful conversations about complex issues discussed in ways seldom addressed at our workplaces — a clear function of the set-up and the two-way-street approach we imbue throughout the event.

Ileana Musa and Mark Bryan were the morning Keynote Q&A where we modeled our Mutual Mentoring Methodology, a key to our secret sauce.
Ileana Musa and Mark Bryan were the morning Keynote Q&A where we modeled our Mutual Mentoring Methodology, a key to our secret sauce. They received Welcome gifts by exquisite NYC chocolatier MarieBelle.

From the early morning interactive Q&A with two leaders: Mark Bryan, robotics engineer turned fashion model, and Ileana Musa, Managing Director, Head of International Banking and Lending at Morgan Stanley, who helped us talk about “Being a courageous inclusion influencer in today’s complex world,” to the more intimate conversations facilitated by senior executives trained in our methodology, to the afternoon Executive Circle that tackled the topic of: “Embracing the Workplace Transformation.” At all different touchpoints the interaction took place in a leveled playing field where every one had a chance to teach and to learn something. What does that look like?

The human quality of the Executives who take part of the Executive Circle is a major key in its success.
The human quality of the Executives who take part of the Executive Circle is a major key in its success. Counter Clock From Top Left: Dr. Lily Benjamin, Head of Talent and Organization Optimization, Big Tech Company, Brian Dowd, SVP, Group Manager California Group, Granite Construction, Jesma Johnson, Sr. Director Global DEI, Colgate-Palmolive, Ines Renique, Journalist, Doug Jensen, SVP, Go-to-Market Analytics and Activation, Learning Center of Excellence, The Estée Lauder Companies, Patricia Porter, VP, Global Head, Talent Acquisition, MetLife, Martin Vergara II, Global Head of Talent Acquisition, Morgan Stanley.

We implement our Mutual Mentoring Methodology from the get go. We not only ask questions of the leaders on stage, but they ask questions of the audience. They ask questions of each other. And of course, the audience gets their turn to ask questions as well.  This easy back and forth creates approachability and relatedness. It gives everyone a chance to feel they have something to teach and something to learn from others regardless of where they are in their careers. That in itself is an unusual power dynamic that most participants seldom if ever experienced.

Paired with joy, which we design for, these leveled interactions make up the underlying water in which we swim during the entire day. A common medium where everyone feels welcomed and comfortable enough to share their thoughts, opinions, doubts, and difficulties. It’s what allows all of us to feel safe enough to drop our protective gear and ask for help, support and understanding.

As a matter of fact, I was the first to do this in my welcoming remarks. I shared that I had a very hard time the month leading to the event. I asked that given the current political and social climate we should strive to be kind to each other as nobody knew what the other person was going through. My voice broke as I said these words without being too specific, but in the back of my mind and very present with me at that moment, was the fact that my life-partner, an Israeli, had arrived in Israel the day of the Hamas massacre, and that his son, who is active in the reserves, had been immediately deployed to his army base in the north. As a result, my partner couldn’t be with me at the event and he had no return date because he wanted to stay in Israel to support his country and his son.

I’m sure that my being honest at the very beginning of the event helped set the tone. It gave everyone permission to be open and express their feelings. People were visibly moved in the smaller sessions and many commented on how comfortable they felt sharing their vulnerabilities.

Our Mutual Mentoring Circle sessions give people an opportunity to open up in a psychological safe environment.
Our Mutual Mentoring Circle sessions give people an opportunity to open up in a psychological safe environment.

In the end, it’s our humanity that brings us together not only at difficult times but in good times as well, so we can enjoy each other’s successes and we can cheer for each other.

Obviously, the passion of the incomparable group that puts our annual conference together comes through at every turn.

Our long-term team of Directors and Emcees at the RSM Leadership Event
Our long-term team of Directors and Emcees at the RSM Leadership Event
This year's coordinators brought ingenuity, expertise and creativity to the event, all key ingredients to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event.
This year’s coordinators brought ingenuity, expertise and creativity to the event, all key ingredients to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event.

It’s a group of committed people who dedicate months of their lives to create this experience. They bring ideas, expertise, and curiosity to the table. Every year we are joined by a number of new faces who start off as strangers and end up being part of a close-knit community that help us continue to innovate. And here I must also credit Gustavo Carvajal, the #IDEAcatalyst, and my partner in crime when it comes to ideating our event and initiatives.

Without a doubt, the Star Facilitators who year after year join us to moderate our Mutual Mentoring Circles are a critical ingredient to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event.
Without a doubt, the Star Facilitators who year after year join us to moderate our Mutual Mentoring Circles are a critical ingredient to the secret sauce of a successful leadership event. Clockwise from top left: Roxanna Flores, Chief People & Culture Officer, TheMessenger, Eugene Kelly, Retired SVP, Global DEI, Colgate-Palmolive, Cheyenne Van Cooten, Global AWS DEI Leader, Worldwide Commercial Sales, Global Startups, Amazon, Lauren Diaz, Director, Program Management Office, Goodwin, Neus Tosi, Sr. Human Resources Advisor, MANA Products, Annalisa Paliyenko, Global Learning Partner, Americas, Interrupting Unconscious Bias, Hitachi Energy, Cosette Gutierrez, Executive Director, LUCA, Jeff Williams, Legal Financial Administrator, Colgate-Palmolive.

More Ingredients to Make the Perfect Secret Sauce of a Successful Leadership Event

We are constantly looking for the right touches that make the experience palpably light. When you focus on such a complex issue as inclusion, we have found that lightness  makes it easier for everyone to feel invited to the table. Thus the red shoes and accessories; the chocolate shoes by Li-Lac Chocolates as gifts for our Executives, the official Shoe Partner at every event, the special afternoon treats (hot chocolate and Madeleines) by our partner Angelina Paris NY. Every well-thought-out item adds to this very important dimension: joyfulness and fun.

This year's Shoe Partner of the event was DreamWalkers Shoes. A new company led by two women. Their creations are inspired in powerful women and women's stories. They added a creative touch to our day.
This year’s Shoe Partner of the event was DreamWalkers Shoes. A new company led by two women. Their creations are inspired in powerful women and women’s stories. They added a uniquely creative touch to our day.

After all, what makes a conference memorable is not only the insights you gain but the emotions it elicits, and the quality of the connections you make with all participants. And I don’t mean the chance to connect with senior executives. I mean the quality of the bond you form with each individual which will nurture your spirit as much as your career beyond this particular event. That feeling that you will carry with you in future interactions and that will bring positive outcomes to your personal and professional life. Now that’s something worth aiming for.

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Elevating Women, Transforming Organizations. The Red Shoe Movement – Pioneers in championing gender equity and inclusive leadership development.