Michelle Behrenwald, Jim Williams, and Sharon Smith packed a punch of inspiration at the Chamber’s Leadership Lesson Breakfast in March. Missed their words of wisdom? Here’s what they had to say:
Michelle Behrenwald; CPA, CGMA, is Co-Chair of AIS Construction Equipment Corp. and of the Michigan Agricultural Commodities, Michigan’s largest grain handler. A member of the Leadership Grand Rapids (LGR) Class of 1997, Michelle has been actively engaged in the community’s success for decades. Michelle’s advice for leaders is to know yourself and to be yourself. As a leader, she said, it’s important to know what makes you run hot or cold and to admit your mistakes and to fix them. Additionally, you’ve got to be yourself and own it. Only you are living in your own shoes – don’t try to walk in someone else’s shoes or, even worse, make your team fit into your shoes.
“As leaders, it’s so important to fly the plane,” said Michelle. Turbulence is inevitable as a leader, but you must keep flying and work to correct the plane. The real you comes out in adversity. Michelle closed by talking about the importance of humor in leadership and having wingmen, colleagues and friends that will always tell you the truth.
Jim Williams successfully led his company Williams Distributing for many years before retiring. Jim still plays an active role in the community and has led Grand Rapids through much community transformation. Throughout the years, Jim’s leadership was compelled by the mission of showing up and creating value. “There is always more to do,” said Jim, “as a leader you’ve got to be motivated by this and show up where you’re needed.” Jim also emphasized the importance of staying fit both mentally and physically so you can have the ability to say yes and execute when you’re needed. Saying “yes” has allowed Jim to live a lifetime of extraordinary activities and contributions to the community through philanthropy.
Sharon E. Smith, MSW, LCSW, ACSW, is the Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services, Aquinas College. Sharon was an LGR Class of 1993 grad with Jim Williams and credits the program for their lifetime of friendship following the program. Sharon’s role in community leadership stems back to her advocacy for others who do not have a voice. Speaking up for others who cannot speak up for themselves is one of the most important roles as a leader, said Sharon. Sharon challenged attendees to review their personal vision, values, and mission to keep them on track throughout their journey.
One of the strongest messages from the morning of inspiration is the importance of connections. Michelle, Jim, and Sharon have maintained a rich friendship that has played an important role in their lives and has in turn impacted the lives of many others through their leadership and collaboration. Read more about each of the speakers here.