by Kat Fotovat
Senior Official, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues
In looking back on my career, I can identify a few key ideas that grew organically from my personal and professional experiences, which solidified into a philosophy that has driven my own development as a leader, and moreover, my motivation to develop others.
First, I would say that leadership is all about empowerment. When challenges emerge, effective leaders find a way to transform problems into propportunities. In other words, they identify the potential for growth or innovation within a problem and they lean into it to create opportunities. Strong leadership also requires a focus on inclusion, creativity, collaboration, and a healthy work-life balance, which translates to empowering others to embrace their own sense of agency. Inclusive environments and a culture of empowerment enable everyone to have a seat at the table, and most importantly, a voice they feel free to exercise.
The second and third critical components of success are intentionality and vision, which are inextricably connected. To be a leader, one must have a clear vision that drives your development as an individual. And it’s equally important to be intentional about the steps you are taking in service of that vision, both in terms of your own career and your larger mission in life. Throughout my career, I have worked diligently to invest in the success of others; however, at times, I have neglected to do the same for myself. As a result, I have learned to be intentional about balancing self-advocacy and supporting others. More broadly, in my own work advocating for the rights and empowerment of women and girls around the world, I am intentional about identifying opportunities for women to gain greater access to justice or broader participation in civil society and I regularly refer to the vision of what constitutes empowerment in order to ensure that our efforts are powerful and productive.
My early career experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova was very formative in helping me become the leader I am today, and specifically, to lead through empowerment, intentionality, and vision. During my assignment, nine girls from my village went missing. Upon visiting the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau in search of guidance, I learned about the pervasive crime of human trafficking. That experience put me on a path to studying law and human rights so that I could work to combat this horrific practice. As a result of this experience, I was empowered to take the information I learned about this awful human rights violation and devote my life and career to combating it. It also helped me to refine my purpose in life to a set of challenges that I felt I could address. Since then, I have been intentional about taking the necessary steps, both personally and professionally, that have allowed me to broaden my impact over time.
To my female colleagues, I offer the following advice: develop a vision, but one that is not too rigid, as it is important to remain open to pursuing new opportunities. In other words, a vision is a guide, a direction, but not a destination. Continuously cultivate your vision and allow it to evolve naturally. I also recommend prioritizing and vocalizing your ideal work-life balance when starting a career and being realistic about the amount of work you take on. It is equally important to leverage your networks and nurture your workplace relationships. And if you have a seat at the table, have sharp enough elbows to make room for others. In other words, be sure to take care of yourself and others. Lastly, be diligent about identifying propportunities, while approaching every day, every task, every obstacle with intention. In sum, I look forward to seeing each of my colleagues reach their leadership potential and celebrating the incredible work they do.