On Oct. 28, alumna Ellen Cohen ’82 hosted a conversation with the Brandeis Women’s Network about the difficulties women may face in the workplace and other professional settings, and how to overcome these challenges. Cohen is an executive leadership and mindset coach and a former entertainment attorney. She works with corporate executive attorneys across many industries to elevate their influence and effectiveness. 

The discussion explored the "Five Pillars of Influence" using case studies to identify real strengths and weaknesses of the pillars. The five pillars can be explained through the acronym C.L.I.M.B –– credibility, leadership presence, professional identity, leadership mindset and building relationships.

Credibility is the “most foundational and shows up in all the pillars,” said Cohen. She continued to explain that credibility is “how others view us and value our expertise.” She shared in her presentation that credible people are competent, innovative and strategic leaders who are experts in a subject matter. In addition to identifying important traits for success, Cohen also helped people take note of their weaknesses and how they can address them. For example, if one is struggling with credibility, they can increase their business and operational knowledge, be thorough and predictable and build trust in others, she explained. 

The second of the five pillars is leadership which highlights confidence through communication. In this pillar, Cohen explains that it is important to “focus on what people may hear, read or perceive” and “how much emotion is embedded in your communication.” Cohen also emphasized that sometimes it is key to “listen more, speak less.”

“Professional identity … is the most critical to the concept of getting a seat at the table,” Cohen said. With professional identity, one needs to know what sets them apart from other executives. “You want to develop a mission statement about your identity, role and responsibilities,” Cohen added. Additionally, collaborating, making an effort to build relationships and create value and understanding are important parts for a professional identity. It is also crucial that one knows how to serve their clients, she said. 

The leadership mindset pillar is the “internally focused pillar,” Cohen said. This pillar contains the skills of a balancing, persevering, empathetic and compassionate person. This person also exhibits leadership, calm, confidence and focus and is able to respond to change and volatility, all according to her slideshow. It is important that business leaders can “[manage] through change … learning to be adaptable and accept change as a gifted opportunity,” she said. Having a leadership mindset is all “about developing critical thinking with your team” and “being that role model and not taking credit for others’ work,” as well as “owning your errors,” Cohen emphasized. 

The final pillar is building relationships. This entails creating connections to all levels and roles within the organization as well as taking responsibility for any problematic relationships. 

This pillar emphasizes an individual's need to serve as a trusted mentor. Another crucial aspect of this pillar is “building trust and listening with that curiosity and empathy,” Cohen said. 

The webinar concluded with an opportunity for participants to ask questions. One participant asked for advice for young female executives. Cohen stressed the importance of confidence and influence, explaining that “if you have that credibility, you can show up with that leadership presence.”