June 11, 2015 \ Rachel Jellinek
Leadership Lessons from President Helen Drinan

Leadership Lessons3


Last week I attended the annual meeting of Women in Development of Greater Boston and had the chance to hear Helen Drinan, the President of Simmons College, share leadership lessons from her personal experience. Below are a few of her key points.


Business Acumen

  • In order to understand your organization, you need to have a command of basic financial literacy. She recommends taking an accounting course, so that you will never be intimidated in a financial discussion.
  • You can’t be a good leader in a vacuum. You need to know what’s going on in the world. She recommends the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal as good resources.


  • Formulate your ideas so that you can defend them and sustain them.
  • Speak with confidence and precision.
  • Practice meeting etiquette. She emphasized the need to strike a balance between listening and talking. You want your voice to be heard, but you don’t want to dominate.


  • Deliver on your promises.
  • Care for the organization’s resources as if they were your own.
  • Meet deadlines. She lamented that many higher ups think that their behavior is outside of the boundaries of honoring deadlines, which sets a bad example and affects the organization’s culture and employee morale.
  • Never use the phrase, “not my job.” Try to pitch in whenever you can.

Moral Courage and Ethical Behavior

  • Be committed. As the leader, you have to set the tone. You can’t expect employees to be more dedicated than you.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  • Cultivate teamwork.
  • Elevate office discussion. Gossip is destructive.
  • Take responsible initiative.
  • Eschew popularity. She emphasized that as a leader, you have to be able to live with being the least liked person at times. If you can’t handle that, then you might not be the right fit for the job.
  • Do what you know in your gut is right but recognize that your decisions come with consequences (which may include losing your job).

Drinan also shared some personal stories of challenging moments in her career. You can learn more about them in this article.


Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões