What does it take to be a great leader? A great toolkit

Candace Matthews, Americas Region president for Amway, poses with social media beauty influencers in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris for an event highlighting Artistry Studio products.

Have you ever heard of a toolkit that includes chocolate, a binder clip and a yo-yo? What if you threw in a rock, a sponge and some salt?

Those are some of the dozen items that are in the “leadership toolkit” created by Candace Matthews, Americas Region President for Amway. She credits the meaning and symbolism attached to those items as key to her success as a leader business and life.

Candace shared her leadership message at an Empowerment Lunch with a group of social media influencers in Paris on International Women’s Day. The group were guests of the Artistry™ line of skincare and cosmetics and were there to experience the brand’s latest collection: Artistry Studio™ Parisian Style Edition.

“So, what exactly is women’s empowerment? I believe it is the ability for women and girls to make choices, and transform those choices into desired and successful actions and outcomes,” Candace said. “Seizing those opportunities has made me the leader that I am today. My hope is that what I have learned can help you in becoming leaders in the beauty influencer business.

“While the tools in this kit were cultivated over more than 35 years in the business world—and from my perspective as an African American woman—they are tools that can be used by anyone and everyone.”

Candace then began unpacking her toolkit.

Candace Matthews, Americas Region president for Amway, shakes the hand of someone she met at an event in Paris to celebrate Artistry Studio products.

Salt: Integrity and values

Salt represents integrity and values, like the salt of the earth, Candace said.

She told of growing up in Pennsylvania, one of 18 children and the daughter of a minister and homemaker. Her father died when she was 10, leaving her mother to raise the children, 6 of whom were still in school.

“Although neither were college educated, both parents stressed education and faith in the home,” she said. “Their goal was to educate their children and instill in them the values and faith needed to succeed in life.”

She said 16 of the 18 children earned college degrees, including two doctorates.

“Whatever values you espouse, hold fast to them,” Candace said, “because uncompromising values are critical for a great leader to be worth her salt.”

Rock: Perseverance

Great leaders never give up, she said. They believe where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“In other words, anything you put your mind to and efforts behind, you can achieve,” she said. “You must believe in yourself and your God-given abilities so strongly, that nothing or no one can deter you.

“That doesn’t mean you won’t face challenges and obstacles in life, because you will. … And true leaders persevere through them and emerge even stronger than before. They are the rock of their organization.”

Sponge: Always open to learning

Great leaders continually evolve, observing others whether it’s a boss, a peer or a subordinate, Candace said. They are always looking for ways to improve themselves.

“Being a leader doesn’t mean you are perfect, but you are continually honing your leadership style and skills – continually striving for excellence,” she said. “So watch others whom you consider leaders in your field; observe what they do well and what they don’t do well. … Be a sponge and soak it up.”

Camera: Image and exposure

Anyone can be good at their job, Candace said, but if they don’t project a good image and expose their talents to the right people, they won’t get far toward their goals.

“Your image—whatever you choose it to be—coupled with the right exposure ultimately fuels the decisions on which opportunities will come your way,” she said. “One caveat – exposure does not mean sucking up to those who are influential.

“It does means continuously learning new things, finding new passions, sharing new ideas and exploring new cultures.”

Yo-yo: Giving and receiving

Candace has worked for big name brands throughout her career, but she said some of the most valuable experience she gained came through mentoring.

One of her most influential mentors recruited her to her first job out of business school. “She told me she would teach me everything I needed to know to be successful in life, not just business,” Candace said. “All she asked of me was that I, in turn, do the same for others—pay it forward.

“Leaders must give of themselves to others; the reward is far greater than you could ever imagine.”

The contents of Candace Matthews' Leadership Toolkit are laid out next to it: Camera, dollar bill, rock, salt, yo-yo, rubber band, binder clip, sponge, wiffle balls, a Balance Bar and chocolate.

Wiffle balls: Backbone

Candace described surviving an acquisition where a corporate giant with a deep-rooted culture took over a smaller, family owned company. The result was a major culture clash, but she successfully maneuvered the turbulent waters.

“Learning how to stand up for myself was an extremely valuable and much needed lesson for me,” she said. “Growing a backbone was a turning point for me in becoming a strong leader.”

Rubber band: Flexibility

At another company, where she worked for someone whose leadership style she did not agree with, she learned how to be flexible. She continued to hone that skill when that company said she had to move to keep her job. She decided to stay put and look for something else.

“This is when the real understanding of flexibility hit me,” she said. “When one door closes, as painful as it may be at the time, it actually gives you a chance to get some much needed rest.

“And guess what, you are marketable, you have skills and as soon as you are ready, God will open another door. You’ll be surprised at how much you can stretch.”

Balance Bar: A balanced life

The importance of a balanced life came when Candace had a dream job where she happily traveled to 17 countries on four continents.

“The upside was immense personal growth, the experience of seeing the world and gaining a greater global business perspective,” she said. “The downside of this job was that I did not have much of a personal life. I was in my mid-30s and that biological clock was ticking away.”

By her 40th birthday, she was extremely successful in a job with much less travel, enjoying life and “resigned to being single for life.”

A week later she met someone. Four months later they were married. “I was beginning to balance life a little better,” she said.

Candace Matthews, Americas Region president for Amway, poses in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. She was there for an event promoting Artistry Studio products.

Hershey’s Kiss: Strong support system

Great leaders have a strong personal support system, Candace said. “For me that is my husband, Bruce, who sacrificed so much of himself for me to fulfill my dream.”

She and her husband adopted 3-year-old twin girls, which is challenging enough for new parents. But Candace said her daughters faced extra struggles: They were underweight, didn’t talk, weren’t potty-trained and were diagnosed as failure to thrive.

A few months after they became parents, Candace received a job offer she dreamed of since business school: president of a division of a major cosmetics company.

“At age 42, I was being offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Yet, I knew that my daughters needed love and stability more than anything,” she said. “That’s when my husband did what not many men would do – he sold his business to become a stay-at-home dad so I could fulfill my dream.

“Balance and a strong, loving support system are essential to a great, well-rounded leader.”

Binder clip: A tightly connected team

Leaders surround themselves with the best and the brightest individuals who possess complementary skills, Candace said.

“A leader creates a high performance team where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” she said. “Leaders align the team to the common goal, and aren’t intimidated or threatened by others who know more than them.

“As a matter of fact, true leaders are continually grooming others to take their place. … Bind yourself to your squad, people that bring out the best and drive each other to greatness.”

Q-tip: Quit Taking It Personally

Holding up a Q-tip® cotton swab to represent the acronym for, “Quit taking it personally,” Candace said that great leaders give and receive direct, constructive and honest feedback, and that’s not always easy.

“They must have both thick and Teflon skin, because there will be times when both are needed.”

Dollar bill: Reward for yourself and others

The final item in Candace’s toolbox is a dollar bill, representing the fact that great leaders are rewarded well, reward others well and give back to their community, she said.

“I believe I have been blessed with this job – not for what it has done for me, but for what it enables me to do for others,” she said, describing the several boards and organizations where she dedicates her time.

“As my mother often said, ‘unto whom much is given, much is required,’” she said. “I encourage you to give of your time, talent and treasure—and don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels real good.

“I hope you can use some of these tools to grow into the strong and empowered women you’re meant to be.”

So, what’s in your toolbox? Let us know in the comments what tools you use to lead and thrive.


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