CEO Spotlight: Riveron’s Julie Howard on Leadership
At the 2021 Kayo Midwest Private Markets Forum, Riveron CEO Julie Howard was interviewed by Riveron Managing Director Michelle Kuhr about essential leadership qualities and how effective leaders can elevate their organizations in times of great change.
Julie Howard and Michelle Kuhr discuss leadership during a fireside chat.
What qualities do leaders need?
There are several baseline qualities that are required to be a strong leader in any organization.
First, leaders must be strategic and visionary. They need to be able to think broadly and around corners to anticipate what is coming for the organization or team.
Second, an important indicator for successful leadership is the ability to be decisive. Leaders create forward momentum for their teams, and being able to make decisions is a core component of driving that momentum.
Part of being an effective decision-maker is knowing the difference between an easy decision and a decision that could cause the business to veer off course. Good leaders execute quickly on less consequential decisions and know when to enlist insights and feedback when making decisions of greater magnitude.
Third, it takes a team to successfully lead an organization; no one has all the skills and qualifications required to do it alone. Leaders need to be real with themselves about their shortcomings and then hire for those qualities in the teams they build.
Beyond these baseline attributes, there are other qualities that have become increasingly important. Employees want to see the human side of their leaders and expect them to be authentic and relatable. Contemporary leaders must also have a more broad-based perspective and understand the global, social, economic, and demographic trends that should be considered in making decisions about the organization and strategy.
Employees also expect leaders to prioritize socially conscious initiatives and help foster an organization that is diverse, inclusive, and offers a sense of belonging. It is imperative that these efforts are driven from the top-down through activities and programs.
What perspective is provided by sitting on corporate boards of directors?
When someone is on a management team, they have multiple stakeholders to consider in their day-to-day decisions, including clients, employees, and investors/ shareholders.
A board member’s main role is to represent the investors or shareholders and provide governance. Their job is to play devil’s advocate with the decisions that management is making to avoid unintended consequences. Boards also focus on ensuring management is using company resources smartly and effectively to drive enhanced shareholder value to optimal effect.
For management, serving clients, their people, and shareholders can sometimes be at odds with one another. The decisions that leaders make on any given day may benefit one and not the other, which is why the role of the board is essential.
What helps a leader excel in stressful situations?
It is common for leaders to set a strategy so that the organization has a defined path and guardrails for decision-making. It is analogous to mapping directions to a new location. While you know your intended destination, it will never be easy or a straight line to get there. The key is being able to veer around and remain nimble despite the roadblocks that will invariably occur. A great leader stays agile through these significant transitions to see that those blocks may actually serve as opportunities.
How does a leader remain a close confidant yet stick to the agenda at hand?
Relationships are important in the professional services industry. People–whether clients or employees–are what drive outcomes. To ensure healthy relationships within an organization, leaders should seek strong connections and awareness with their teams and be relatable on a personal level, but also still adhere to the boundaries of a professional relationship.
Sitting in a CEO role, it is important to remain independent and objective as you make decisions on behalf of the organization and all its external resources. Finding outside support to help guide you is important. Look for mentors, advocates, consultants—anyone who can offer different perspectives. I gravitate toward a mentor who helps take me through the paces of asking hard questions to evaluate a proposed solution or come up with an alternative.
What advice do you have for excelling in your career while maintaining a family life?
There is no set plan that you can execute at the onset of raising a family and excelling in your profession. It is an evolution and a mindset.
In my career, I have been full-time, part-time, and no-time based on what best suited my family and integrated with work when I could do it. Give yourself permission to adapt and know that your career doesn’t have to be a straight path. That doesn’t only apply to family life, but other issues and opportunities that arise during our careers and require integration into our lives. Always remember: careers are long, and the race is only with yourself.
What advice do you have for young leaders advancing in their careers?
Well-rounded leaders who can be utility players outside of their technical functions are invaluable. For example, a chief legal officer I worked with also acted as a very effective business strategist and ongoing soundboard for ideas. Leaders think about how they might extend beyond their technical prowess, take on assignments that are outside their comfort zone, and challenge themselves to think more broadly.
How does being a female CEO distinguish you, and how has that changed over time?
So much has changed since I started my career, but I am encouraged by the progress that has been made. We still have a relatively low percentage of companies with a female CEO, but each year we see higher and higher percentages of senior leadership teams representing diversity of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. I am gratified I have reached a level of success in my career where I have the power to effect change and can be an inspiration for others. It is imperative that I continually drive myself and the organization to take actions to ensure we are building the most robust pipeline of diversity and creating an environment where all people feel accepted, included, and supported in their career aspirations.