Women’s Leadership Summit Watchwords: Authenticity, Connection, Compassion and Vulnerability

Some people call them soft skills, but here they are rules of engagement

Leading with empathy, compassion, authenticity and kindness. These were watchwords of the gathering of 200+ women leaders at the mid-March Ellevate Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Summit in Las Vegas.

“Current and aspiring female leaders both within and outside the insurance industry find this a valuable program that fosters personal growth, leadership and self-awareness. This is indeed a very special sisterhood, and the objective is that everyone returns home with a deeper sense of self, and tools to unleash their own unique magic. It’s a unique conference that attracts a diverse group of women who work with insurance carriers, general agencies, administrators, technologists, and various products geared for female success.”

From https://www.ellevatefoundation.org/ 

“WLS supports relationship building, being vulnerable, letting your guard down,” opened Lisa Hutcherson, Master of Ceremonies. “So, be prepared to take your mask off. We’ve come here to share wisdom and build relationships with other women leaders. Ask yourself: Why are you here? Have courage, be authentic, believe in your worth. Look for encounters. Make real connections. Let down your guard and know that it’s okay to ask for help.” On day two, she emphasized, “You may be the blessing for someone else, the dip for someone’s chip. So be present, ready to give AND receive. Identify your Sugar, Honey, Ice Tea and let it go. We have to be brave. Every moment is priceless, so be a blessing.”

Lisa is now writing a soon to be published book, “Living Beyond the Walls.

Contact: Lisa HutchersonCEO & Founder of Darlis, LLC, leader at Brown & Brown, author and public speaker. lisamhutcherson@gmail.com

“Drop your mask, show us your true authentic self. It’s okay to be really scared.” Jennifer Berman, CEO MZQ Consulting, LLC, Benefits Compliance  

“I couldn’t do what I do without help. I run a company, have a family and I have a connective tissue disease that can come upon me at any time causing my muscles to not hold me up. My wheelchair is a tool that allows me to be this person — it allows me the freedom to be who I am. This wheelchair is a direct metaphor. There’s something that each of you needs help with. Without help, you can be held back. “What help do you need? What’s holding you back? What is that for you? Confidence, self esteem? Figure it out, and address it with an open heart.”

Contact: https://www.mzqconsulting.com/

“Your style should reflect your true YOU.”                              

Erica Brown, Owner, Dylan Star Clothing Boutique

“Every woman particularly in leadership needs to take time to put together outfits that reflect who you are, and how you want to be seen. Being taken seriously doesn’t mean you have to dress seriously. Make sure you have good “foundation” pieces = basic, affordable well fitting slacks, jeans or shirts, and comfortable tee shirts in neutral colors. Then add your style — statement pieces that are an investment. A dramatic jacket, hat, funky jewelry, a colorful scarf or shawl, a great belt, comfortable stylish shoes — have fun with accessories and show your personality. That’s your superpower.”

Contact: https://www.dylanstar.com/

“Leverage your story, and adopt a sense of humor, it’s essential.” 

Karyn Buxman, CEO, Founder, HighPerformanceHumor.com, Author, speaker, neuro-humorist 

“What if going to work could be more fun? Humor gives you more energy. The brain gets hijacked when stressed — your prefrontal cortex gets overridden by the amygdala. We lose intelligence when we are scared or nervous. When my 34-year-old daughter died unexpectedly, my brain went into threat, my body and mind were on overload. This is what happens. In response to Covid pandemic, our brains are on fire all the time.

“What can you do about it? The brain craves certainty so — how can you create certainty? Humor can help with that. Practice having a sense of humor. Research shows that smiling and laughing frequently makes you look younger and more attractive. Laughter gives you a healthy DOSE of Dopamine Oxytocin Serotonin Endorphins.
“We are social beings and humans are addicted to stories. Men tend to tell jokes — women tell stories. Humor can help you influence, persuade, inspire people — your clients in particular. Don’t be ashamed that you have something to sell — use humor to warm up your conversation. Use authentic, gentle humor if you don’t know the person. Build rapport on commonalities. Where is the humor I am missing? Get the right lens. Be intentional. Be consistent. HACK: “At a gathering, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know and ask about their super power — it’s a great, humorous conversation starter.”
Contact: www.HighPerformanceHumor.com







“Ask the hard questions, even if you don’t want to hear the answers.” 
Susan L. Combs, CEO, Combs and Company  

“A big part of love is just showing up. When my father, a major general and a judge became ill, I changed my life to be there for him and my family. He was such an inspiration, I wrote a book recently about him, “Pancakes for Roger” with proceeds going to the veteran’s support organization he founded. Through this effort, I’ve reached a lot of people and learned a lot of lessons that I call the ‘syrup’ of life. Here are just a few: Show up for yourself. Self love is the MOST important. Share good stories to give others hope. Covet your chosen family. Lift others up. Be humble. Be authentic. Look back, but don’t stare. Understand your patterns, so you can make healthy choices. In a world that can feel shaky and uncertain at times, one fact holds true:
nobody gets anywhere alone.”
Contact: scombs@combsandco.com | Web:  www.combsandco.comhttps://www.pancakesforroger.com/








Embrace your “too much!” 

Sandra Gebhardt, Online Marketing Strategist, Sandra Gebhardt Marketing

As proof of online marketing success, Sandra runs a six figure marketing strategy company from Roundup, a small town in Montana. 

            “We have to treat social media like we do any other interaction. Maxims: Use a unique voice. Use humor. Try to lift each other up.” 

She gave out a bright pink A BIT TOO MUCH sticker saying, “A bit too much is okay for me! Embrace what you love about your “too much.” and share it. Personal branding is powerful. My power outfit is tennis shoes, jeans, black hoodies and red lipstick. Some women say to me ‘I wish I could pull off red lipstick.’ Well, go find one that works for you, and WORK it!  “Some women believe things like, ‘I’m too heavy to be taken seriously.’ Don’t turn your volume down for anyone — let your brilliance shine. Post YOU online. Be authentic. It doesn’t matter WHAT you sell. Real life happens on social media. Literally EVERYBODY (except engineers!) is online.” 

Sandra’s recommendation: Take selfies when you are at an event, then share info, and post on social media. Better than exchanging business cards, it’s a great way to get on each other’s radar, support the event, and promote each other!

 Sandra specializes in coaching agents how to maximize marketing without spending a ton of money using social media. She provided an entire marketing plan at a special discount for attendees. 

Contact: Total Marketing Domination: https://sandra-gebhardt-marketing.passion.io/ 

“Gratitude is key in all that we do. It’s okay to be vulnerable.” 

Kelly Gorman, Regional Vice President of Sales, Homestead Smart Health Plans

“In living through and telling my mom’s story of dementia, “The Long Goodbye,” gratitude is what got me through. Figuring how to care for your confused, elderly mother? That one may never crosses your mind. I thought I could handle this news with ease. With someone every 3 seconds being diagnosed with dementia, it is highly likely that you know at least one person — if not more — affected by this disease. And of those people who have dementia only 25-50% of those have a formal diagnosis. 

“My go-to after her diagnosis was ‘be the hero of the family.’ I thought I would find a solution for some kind of new drug or process to help slow things down for my mom and dad and be the hero. And my parents would say ‘My daughter who’s been in health insurance for almost 20 years finds the solution to the dementia diagnosis.” I  know I was delusional.

“The reality is, this disease takes all your knowledge of everything in the world around you. It also takes away the life of the people who are caring for the diagnosed in a form of isolation. 

“I found out that no matter where you are in the journey with this disease there are resources for both the family and the caregiver. I hope that sharing my journey so far with my mom has helped just one of you. I believe that the support from people sharing their experiences is priceless.”

Contact: kgorman@homesteadplans.com


“Write your story and ask for help.” 

Becky Patel, CEO, Amwins Connect

For over three decades, Becky’s leadership has been key to making her organization what it is today and shaping the general agency market in California. Becky joined the company in 1985 as a receptionist, and within three months, was licensed and selling insurance. After becoming vice president in 1994, Becky was promoted to president in September of 2004 and then Chief Executive Officer in 2010. 

“I discovered when you’re sitting at the table, we are all the same height. Your power is in YOUR RESPONSE to the rooms you find yourself in, and the inevitable obstacles you face. You are writing your own story. So you have to do ‘the work.’ That means to ask yourself: “Who am I? What do I want from life? What do I value? What makes me happy? What am I doing here?” Choose You first, and make sure you are enjoying the story. 

“I made written promises to myself to make sure I was choosing ME in the right way, balancing my commitment to my health, exercise, family, personal and spiritual development, and career.” 

Sample rules of engagement: 

  •       Work on creating my best self from the inside out. 
  •       Ask for help along the way. 
  •       Mentor others. 
  •       Find a tribe and flow with life.
  •       Trust I have all I need to build my abundance. 
  •       Be grateful.

Contact: www.amwinsconnect.com/

“Follow your heart and preserve your energy.” 

Cora Tellez is CEO, Sterling Administration, a company she founded in 2004. She was president of the health plans division of Health Net, Inc., served as president of Prudential‘s western healthcare operations, CEO of Blue Shield of California, Bay Region, and regional manager for Kaiser Permanente of Hawaii. 

“Here’s what I’ve learned: Follow your heart. Practice gratitude. Be curious. Know yourself. 

Express your passion. Believe in yourself. Take risks. Stay in touch with your core values, stay connected with family, friends and colleagues.

“I’m a control freak but I learned that your attitude is what you can control: 10% of life is what happens, 90% is how you respond to it.
            “I was naive — I built a startup, but didn’t know why I couldn’t get support. It did not fit the model of a startup. I pivoted to my ‘village’ and got what I needed. 19 years later, I became part of Sterling Administration. It’s now self-sustaining and employee owned. We have an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that gives workers ownership interest in the company in the form of shares of stock. ESOPs encourage employees to give their all as the company’s success translates into financial rewards.

Contact: www.SterlingAdministration.com

“Gratitude, resilience and how we frame our experience matter.”

Heather Siems, Employee Benefits Specialist, Morrison Insurance Services

 “Flexibility is power. Feel good emotions are good for your health. Have an attitude of gratitude. Foster gratitude, be intentional about it and pay it forward. Power of prayer and positive energy work.”

Contact: linkedin.com/in/heathersiems

“Raise your good vibrations.”

Breanne Swenson, Owner, Soul Element Retreats

Breanne is a Wellness Retreat Leader and Intuitive Energy Guide certified in Reiki, Sound Healing, Yin Yoga and outdoor wilderness survival. We dove into the magic and science behind energy and sound frequencies and how it relates to our overall well being in a sample sound bath experience. 

Contact: www.soulelementretreats.com/

Wellevate Session Leaders

“Practice trusting yourself.” Cori Moyes, Owner, StarHawk Consulting, Select Health Sales Executive

This session included mind/body grounding and embodiment practice and a powerful discussion on how to integrate more feminine energy in business and in life for more presence, more impact, more connection.

“Show up and do You. You can feel when your energy contracts. Here’s an easy way to know if you are overriding your feminine energy — you find yourself out of your body — disassociating. Think of one area where you disconnect, and study why. Listen, trust. Pause, flow, visualize, think and use your intuitive body wisdom. Take time to nurture yourself. Ask for what you actually need. Where are you taking on more than you can handle? Define what’s yours. Get clear about your boundaries. If being in control is your comfort zone, let others take responsibility, don’t become the ‘mom.’ In terms of relationships, know you have a choice to walk by yourself rather than walking small.”

Contact: linkedin.com/in/cori-moyes-27b193152

“Planting a Dream” Ceremony
Naama Pozniak, Founder/CEO, A+ Insurance Services

“We can’t change people, but we can plant seeds that may one day bloom in them.”

~ Mary Davis

“One of the most important principles in life is the concept of sowing seeds. The law of giving and receiving is a vital principle of the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. This concept teaches us that the universe always gives us something in return if we offer something unconditionally. If we plant something together in the proper conditions, bless it, water it, feed and grow it, we can reap something bigger and more significant. Self care and meditation are essential.”

Contact: https://www.rightplan.com/

“Just BREATHE. Really consciously breathe”

Irma Romero, Director, Quick Learning School

“In addition to directing Quick Learning School where we provide educational services in insurance, securities and real estate, I teach mindfulness through the practice of meditation, breathing exercises, body movement, and honoring the natural rhythm and cycles of mother nature.”

Contact: https://quicklearningschool.com

Editor’s note: I had the privilege of attending WLS for the first time, as a guest of Ellevate and California Broker Magazine. I was so warmly welcomed by the leadership and all the women in attendance, I felt immediately accepted and appreciated. I have been to many events in my 37 years in the insurance industry – but this was the most unusual.

The focus on building relationships, being original, authentic and vulnerable was quite an unexpected and moving experience— rather than the technical, informational training approach of most conferences. I arrived as a ‘reporter’ to observe, but was swept in by the friendly hugs, emotional sharing and kindred spirits. I found myself deeply resonating with people and opening up in new ways. The ideas explored by the great presenters were really thought-provoking, connecting me personally to their experiences in this industry. It helped me realize that I too play an important part of embodying the intention to lead with heart and empathy.

After earning a Masters in Fine Arts in Missoula, Montana, I always thought I would be an artist and healer. Little did I know the form that would take! I entered the healthcare industry in 1986 at Blue Cross of California in Oakland, as part of the art department. I quickly became a writer for many of the design projects, and was recognized for my skill. I graduated to internal communication manager for CEO Leonard Schaeffer and moved to LA to help create the WellPoint identity, where I stayed 19 years. Health Net came next for 9 years, working for CEO Jay Gellert. Then I joined CEO Denny Weinberg (of WellPoint) at the HIXME startup where he was asked to write for California Broker Magazine. Fortuitously, I met the fantastic previous editor, Victoria Alexander. She invited me to join as assistant editor, writing from the agent/broker perspective. In May 2022, I embraced the opportunity to become the editor. 

 The Women’s Summit clarified for me what a truly caring, compassionate community we are. Giving voice to agents, brokers and other experts is my passion. I’m delighted to be a part of ensuring California Broker offers the best information and resources for California health professionals.

Linda Hubbard Lalande

Editor, California Broker Magazine

“Believe in yourself. Know that without bad days, there wouldn’t be good days.”

Fireside chat with Jessica Word, CEO Word & Brown General Agency and Korey Ashton, Director, SunFire Services.

Questions for Jessica were gathered from participants.

Korey Ashton (KA): “What is your life philosophy?

Jessica Word (JW): “It doesn’t matter what others think – believe in yourself. 

When you speak, or speak out on social media, know that 10% will love you, 10% will hate you, 80% will accept you. 

KA: “What would you tell your 20 year-old-self? 

JW: “Stop living your life for others. Beware of giving too much of your life energy away. Let go of those who do not serve your way of being.” 

KA: “Many women are givers – we are socialized to be so. It can be hard to receive. Any tips?” 

JW: “That’s true. We need to build boundaries. Determine who is taking from you, and who is reciprocating. Don’t waste energy on things that aren’t of real value. Recognize when someone calls that just needs to ‘dump’ or take your energy. When you see this pattern, ask them to call you back in 15 minutes. If they are dumping, they will find another person to transfer that energy to. You can still be friends, but set that boundary. Let them take space and come back if they really want to connect with you. Ekhart Tolle talks about sharing a pain body as being an unhealthy pattern.”

KA: “How do you balance being a mom and a CEO?”

JW: “It is definitely hard to find balance — it’s ongoing. I prioritize and actually book time for self care: hair, nails, lashes are what make me feel confident in my position. Find ways to take care of yourself, and schedule help. I have a nanny to help with my children and home. My husband is part of the mix, but of course, he works too. My kids are a top priority so I set aside consistent family time. I also schedule time for a personal trainer and a life coach who I take a 3 day retreat with quarterly. I lean into my ‘tribe’ of friends for both social and business support. It’s also important to me to give back so I mentor students. My message: Believe in yourself. Know that without bad days, there wouldn’t be good days.”