posted by Jennifer Pickerel on June 29, 2023

Group of more than 40 diverse women standing in front of Harvard Business School - graduates of IWF Fellows Program
IWF’s Leadership Fellows Program class of 2022-23.

I love my job, I really do. But sometimes we all fall into a predictable rhythm—one that lulls us into complacency and causes us to stop challenging ourselves.

Last year, this happened to me and thankfully, someone noticed.

Case in point, following a conference in early 2022, I shared with Sheryl Barden that I left the event feeling uninspired. Upon hearing me out, she suggested that I look outside of the aviation industry for a way to continue my professional development and feel energized.

Specifically, she recommended the Leadership Fellows Program operated by the International Women’s Forum (of which Sheryl is a member). The 18-month Fellows program is exclusive and intensive—designed to prepare women like me to realize our full potential. All with the goal of coming back to strengthen our organizations, society and the world at large.

Upon review, I was very interested. After all, it’s truly a global experience. One that offers access to Harvard and INSEAD professors. And includes a cohort of up to 44 powerhouse women in their own industries.

So I was all in.

But it was an arduous application process and highly competitive, so I had to bring it!  That effort in itself “brought me back to life.” Because it forced me to reexamine and articulate my strengths, my goals, my areas improvement. Plus, I had to demonstrate what I could contribute to the greater cohort—all of which was a very worthwhile experience. 

IWF’s program was also a significant investment in both time and money. Therefore, I volunteered to contribute a significant portion of the training program as an investment in myself.

And now, a year and a half later, I’ve just completed what I can only describe as a transformative experience. Through the course, I found myself at an INSEAD business school in France. And, later, participating in a weeklong intensive leadership course at Harvard Business School. Along the way, I’ve found “my people” and have built professional relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime.

There is something unique to the bonds formed by professional women. A mutual understanding of competing priorities. An acknowledgement of the challenges we mutually endure and overcome. And a recognition that the very thing that makes us “different” may be that which contributes to our success.

The Power of Relationships

Of all the insights and experiences I’ve gained through this program, none were more valuable than the connections I made. Getting to know my group of women leaders who represent 11 countries and 15 industries was nothing short of astounding.

What I’ve gained—and learned—since that very fortunate meeting with Sheryl can’t be overstated. I’ve lately given some thought to the kind of relationship-building that began all those years ago, and what it taught me.

Critically, from a professional-development perspective, it really is about what you know (e.g., a specific topic) but also who you know.

  • Make those important contacts outside of your day-to-day work environment. Enroll in a leadership program that will help you stretch beyond the industry to widen your area of expertise and network.
  • Once you reach outside those boundaries, bring some new perspectives back to your own company and industry.
  • Consider increasing the size of your sounding board. For example, serve on a professional “board of directors” comprised of people outside of your industry so you can speak objectively. Ask for a fresh pair of eyes on any matter—and reciprocate by, in turn, serving as their advisor. 
Diverse group of six women in  IWF Fellows Program wearing business attire facing camera, including Jennifer Pickerel
At Harvard, this group of women became my professional “board of directors.” Every morning, we’d meet for two hours to discuss one of our “challenge statements” (an obstacle we’re encountering in our career). Together with my BOD and coach, Lisa, we helped one another find solutions. Who’s on your personal BOD?

Have You Lost Your Groove?

Have you been feeling less inspired lately? Maybe facing burnout? Are you looking for ways to learn more and to do better? Do you need to find “your people”? Could you benefit form broadening your access to amazing minds and all personality types?

Then please do me—and yourself—a big favor. Ask yourself if you’re feeling uninspired and if you’ve lost your groove.

If you have some doubts, then re-examine your priorities. Apply for a professional development program. Make an investment in your future.

When was the last time you truly competed for something? Doing so can renew a spirit of determination that may be lying dormant inside you! Give yourself the boost you need by learning from others. And be open to traversing a landscape that might even be broader than you ever imagined.

Sheryl Barden - Jennifer Pickerel - holding certificate from Harvard Business School
I’ll be forever grateful to Sheryl for recommending that I look into the IWF Leadership Fellows Program. This professional development experience has changed my life.

  • Jen – What a fantastic accomplishment! I am so happy for you. Honestly, this is NOT a surprise. You are an incredibly gifted professional. You are helping to lead the Business Aviation sector to a higher level of excellence.

    • Thank you so much, Jim! I appreciate our partnership, friendship and work over the years – you remain trusted, highly respected colleague – as always!

    • Thank you, Steve! I know you have a passion for life long learning too! It was a very moving experience.

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