I was recently given the opportunity to attend the 2017 Annual TeamWomenMN (TWMN) Leadership Conference to fulfill one of my 2017 performance objectives at IWCO Direct, which was to expand my professional skills and business knowledge. TWMN 2017 had plenty to say on professional development, along with personal development, health, and a variety of other topics.

This conference was an all-day event filled with sessions hosted by entrepreneurs, high-profile professionals, lifestyle experts, and more across a range of careers in merchandising, corporate America, sports, government, and reality TV. TWMN had an impressive showing of more than 400 attendees (a majority of whom weren’t members of the organization) for its 6th annual conference themed “Fearless Women, Fascinating Minds.”

TWMN is an organization of about 300 members whose purpose is to inspire, encourage, and support women in reaching their full potential. I’ve participated in several TWMN events in the past, including a mentorship program in which I was matched with an established professional who met with me monthly and provided advice on how to further my career and build business connections. This conference was promised to be a “can’t miss” event by my mentor as well as a few TWMN members I’ve come to know over the years.

TeamWomenMN Encourages Women to Speak Up and Take the LeadTo kick off the conference, Katy Burke, Executive Director of TWMN, described the event as “a place to ask for what you need.” Giving attendees “permission to put yourself out there, because this is the place where you’re going to get what you need.”

While there were plenty of impressive speakers throughout the day, the keynote speaker caught my attention: India Hicks, founder of the eponymous lifestyle brand. For those unfamiliar with India, she is an author, model, entrepreneur, TV personality, daughter of a famous designer, and descendant of British royalty. This is in addition to being a wife and mother of five.

While India has certainly had the means to be successful by name alone, her inspirational story came from the work she put in that she knew others might dismiss. She confessed to the assembly that one of her fears starting out was whether or not people would take her seriously. India said that her goal when forming her brand was “to work bloody hard and build a business on my own.”

This is not to say she does it alone; she added that one of the keys to her success was finding people who were better at doing things than she was—and then getting them on her team. She concluded her session by saying that no matter who you are or how glamorous your connections, achieving success is “really bloody hard; it’s grueling, but that’s what it takes. You get up, you keep going.”

Encouraging Leadership Through Team Development

Another great session was professional trainer Linda Schwefel’s “Communicate In Full Color.” This was an interactive course on communication styles (I’m a cool blue and earthy green, in case you were wondering). While it was positioned as a broad overview of a more complex system, it was very insightful all the same. It taught attendees how to identify the “energy” of those around you, how best to utilize your skills as a leader, and how to present information to your team in order to get the most out of their performance.

One session I was dying to catch was co-presented by Deborah Pierce, retired FBI Special Agent Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Division, and Patti Weber, retired CIA Officer and Chief of Policy for the National Clandestine Service. They talked about their careers in law enforcement, climbing the ladder in a male-dominated field, and balancing a stressful career with family. Their stories were fascinating, and their banter was a great juxtaposition to the serious nature of their former positions.

The closing speaker, Holly Hoffman, was the one that surprised me the most. As a finalist on CBS’s Survivor Nicaragua, I had very few hopes about her talk resonating with me at all: I’ve never even seen Survivor, and I don’t like camping. Apparently, neither does Holly. Her whole presentation was about pushing yourself to do things that are outside your comfort zone and seizing opportunities, no matter how bleak the outcome. For Holly, that meant applying to be on a reality TV show as a midwestern mother of two when more than 14,000 other people around the United States with more interesting backstories were also applying.

If I had to sum up the day, I would say it was a progression of encouraging mantras that continued to build on each other. These included “find your passion,” “take risks,” “surround yourself with the people who will help you grow,” and “never give up.” I congratulate TWMN on a successful conference and look forward to next year’s event.