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Lisa Ling Talks about Women and Leadership

November 2, 2011

Lisa Ling

In anticipation of her keynote address at the 2012 Leading Diversity and Inclusion Institute, we want to share our 2010 interview with Lisa Ling, the internationally-known journalist, special correspondent to the Oprah Winfrey Show, and first female host of National Geographic Explorer. During this conversation topics ranged from her opportunity to interview Hilary Clinton to the role of women in leadership today.

Lisa was one of our 2010 Women in Leadership Summit keynotes because she embodied the spirit of the summit.  In her own words, she tells us about her personal success story.

Lisa Ling: I feel so fortunate that I’m able to do work that I’m deeply passionate about.  I actually don’t consider my job to be work because I just feel so privileged to be able to do it.  And I think that that really is a key component of success.  If you feel passionately about what you do, it becomes less about work and more about wanting to get the story out or do things that are fulfilling.

To me it’s less about success in a monetary sense.  I always tell aspiring journalists that if you’re in this for the fame or the money, you’re in the wrong line of work because it’s a field that’s changing rapidly.  But if you’re in this because you are a passionate storyteller and you have an intrinsic curiosity, then there’s no better line of work.  I think that that applies to all fields and all areas of interest.  If something really strikes you then it’s probably the right field to pursue.  In my case, I got a job as a young correspondent for a show called Channel One News.

I grew up without a lot of money and resources so my job [at Channel One] gave me an opportunity to travel.  That opportunity opened my eyes in ways that I could have never imagined.  It expanded my horizon, ultimately made me a smarter person and a more human person.  So many of the things that I saw as a young person in the world transformed me completely and propelled me to pursue journalism and travel beyond my comfort zone.  I truly believe that it’s a game changer in one’s life, in one’s career, in one’s perspective.

She had the opportunity to interview Hillary Clinton  and discuss women’s issues in a global context.  Here she tells us about that.

Lisa Ling: I really admire Hillary Clinton.  She is such a visible Secretary of State and she takes her role as a woman very seriously.  I mean that factors so strongly into her job and she has recognized that women’s rights are an issue of national security.  If you empower women in the world and give them opportunities, women will often stand up to fight for those opportunities.

Women are game changers in their own communities and by empowering women you can actually see change being fostered and disseminated.  She and I had a private discussion about how in certain countries and on certain continents, men have been in charge for a very long time and driven their country into conflict or war.  I believe that once women have more of a voice – and I’m not saying women need to take control by any means – but once women have an equal voice in politics and economics and in a lot of these social issues, only then will things really, really start to change.

I really admire Hillary Clinton.  She is such a visible Secretary of State and she takes her role as a woman very seriously.

Women generally have community and family at heart and it’s less about ego and more about what is going to make their family safer.  ‘How is my family going to be able to live better?’  It really comes from core instincts that I think women exhibit.  Certainly men have those as well, but I think in women it really just comes from a core that is different than that of men.

As she looks ahead to the next ten years, she address what the biggest issues facing women are going to be.

Lisa Ling: In the United States, while women have made a tremendous amount of progress, professional women and women who take time for family are having a hard time not feeling guilty about their choices.  There’s constant debate and a lot of judgment upon each other for the choices that women make and I think that has to stop.

When I was on The View, we talked about choosing to manage a professional life with a family, versus women who make the decision to leave the professional world and focus on family.  That generated more email and debate than any other topic because there’s so much guilt associated with those decisions and I think that collectively as women we need to stop judging other women for the choices they make.

There’s constant debate and a lot of judgment upon each other for the choices that women make and I think that has to stop.

As a world traveler and journalist she has been witness to many different cultures in her career. Here she identifies what leadership traits are common and what makes a good leader no matter where they are in the world.

Lisa Ling: The best leaders that I’ve encountered are leaders that really express a fundamental sense of compassion in their work.  Ones who are not just solely driven by generating revenue, but really have an entire company’s interests at heart, have people’s lives at heart.  I’ve experienced a lot of women in the world who exhibit those extraordinary characteristics.  To me that’s what defines a great leader.  Someone who not only has a powerful vision and is a powerful figure, but someone who also takes into account the people’s lives who are being affected.

Lastly, Lisa offers some advice to women who are just getting into those leadership positions?

Lisa Ling: I would say don’t forget to maintain a level of compassion in your work.  Really focus on the things that matter rather than I think the financial and monetary objectives, because that will come if you are passionate and you are good to your people.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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