5 Amazing Powerful Women and What We Can Learn from Them

learn from powerful women
Lorie Kleiner Eckert

By Lorie Kleiner Eckert | Mar 8th, 2021

Every year Forbes publishes a list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” This is a fifteen-year-old tradition with a new list expected each December. Members of the 2018 list represent women in six categories: business, technology, finance, media & entertainment, politics & policy, and philanthropy. These women collectively influence nearly two trillion dollars in revenues and oversee five million employees. I am ashamed to tell you that I only know fifteen names on the list but I aim to remedy that by reading more about these women, all of whom are glass-ceiling-breakers extraordinaire, women who deserve our attention. I will also try to glean life lessons from them. I’ll start the process today by sharing information about the top five honorees. 

angela merkel

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany 

Date of birth: July 17, 1954

A brief bio: Merkel attended Karl Marx University, Leipzig, where she studied quantum chemistry. She worked as a research scientist until 1989 when she entered politics. She became the first female Chancellor of Germany in 2005 and has served four terms. 

Marital status/Kids: Married/No children

Two great quotes:

  1. “For me, it is always important that I go through all the possible options for a decision.”
  2. “I always wanted to know what I’d face next, even though that was maybe a bit detrimental to spontaneity. Structuring my life and avoiding chaos were more important.”   

Here’s the lesson I take from Angela Merkel: I sometimes beat myself up for NOT following a direct career path. Am I a writer? A quiltmaker? A motivational speaker? Or what?! I find it wonderful that she started out in quantum chemistry and ended up in politics. It’s a permission slip for all of us to switch gears as our hearts demand.

Theresa May

Theresa May, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Date of birth: October 1, 1956

A brief bio: She attended St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. After graduating in 1977, she worked at the Bank of England. Always aspiring to a political career, she became a Member of Parliament in 1997. In 2016 she became Prime Minister of the UK (she is the second female PM) and served in that position until July 24, 2019.

Marital status/Kids: Married/No children

Two great quotes: 

  1. “My whole philosophy is about doing, not talking.”
  2. “I think it’s important to do a good job and not to feel that you’ve got to make grand gestures, but just to get on and deliver.”

Here’s the lesson I take from Theresa May: Friends report that she always wanted to be the first female Prime Minister. Though Margaret Thatcher beat her to that exact title, her dream did not wane. This encourages me to look back on my goals from younger days and to take inventory. Are there still things to accomplish? Or is it time to pat myself on the back for attaining my dreams?

Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Date of birth: January 1, 1956

A brief bio: The IMF is an organization that represents 189 countries working together to foster global monetary cooperation, financial stability, and international trade. It also works to reduce poverty around the world. Lagarde led this organization starting in 2011. She has recently resigned the position – effective 9/12/19 – so that she can become President of the European Central Bank. Lagarde has a law degree from University Paris X, and a Master’s degree from the Political Science Institute in Aix-en-Provence.  

Marital status/Kids: Single/Two children

Two great quotes:

  1. “It’s become my brand in a way, you know, speaking the truth even though it was not politically correct.”
  2. “You know, when I sit in meetings and things are very tense and people take things extremely seriously and they invest a lot of their ego, I sometimes think to myself, ‘Come on, you know, there’s life and there’s death and there is love.’ And all of that ego business is nonsense compared to that.”

Here’s the lesson I take from Christine Lagarde: I LOVE it that she sprinkles her comments with, “You know.” This is a verbal tic I have tried to banish from my life. That she is so very successful in spite of the fact that she speaks this way is liberating! I can now forgive myself whenever those silly words slip out of  my mouth, you know?

Mary Barra

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

Date of birth: December 24, 1961

A brief bio: Barra started working for GM at age 18 and has had a variety of engineering and administrative positions within the company. She is General Motors’ first female CEO and she is the first woman to lead a major automaker. She has a Master of Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business. 

An interesting tidbit: In 2018 GM was one of only two global businesses that have no gender pay gap. Barra earned $22 million in 2017. This is the highest compensation of any of the Detroit big three automakers.

Marital status/Kids: Married/Two children

Two great quotes:

  1. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I actually feel like I come to work stronger when I’ve had a little time on the weekend to step away from it and enjoy my family and other things. I come back energized. If people think they’re going to work 24/7, week in and week out, they’re not bringing their full strength to the table.”
  2. “If you do every job like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, that’s when you get noticed.”

Here’s the lesson I take from Mary Barra: She is the embodiment of the American dream. She was NOT born with a silver spoon in her mouth, indeed her father was a factory worker at GM for 39 years. She started as an intern there when she was 18, stayed with the company through her entire career, and worked her way up the ladder to the tippy-top! Wow! This is the woman I want to keep watching, the woman I want to tell my granddaughters about! 

Abigail Johnson

Abigail Johnson, President-CEO of Fidelity Investments 

Date of birth: December 19, 1961

A brief bio: Johnson worked summers at Fidelity through college and then joined the “family business” in 1988 after receiving a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. Her grandfather founded Fidelity in 1946 and her father preceded her as CEO. As of August 2019, her net worth is estimated at $14.2 billion based on her 24.5% stake in Fidelity.

Marital status/Kids: Married/Two children

Two great quotes:

  1. “I demand pretty aggressive goal setting and a commitment to measured progress towards those goals because I don’t like surprises. I don’t even like good surprises.”
  2. “Change is something that is expected and, therefore, not resisted.”

Here’s the lesson I take from Abigail Johnson: There is a part of me that wants to discount her success. I want to say she was born into her career. But that Master’s degree from Harvard tells me otherwise. Similarly, when I want to discount my own successes, I need to step back and take inventory of – and applaud – all the many things I did to get where I am now!

Beyond the lessons learned from each individual woman, the main take away from the Forbes list itself is the knowledge that these women exist. Wonder Woman is fictitious, but these powerful people are not. As we navigate life as female professionals their light leads the way. All we have to do is ask ourselves, 

And then we need to act accordingly, like the amazing professional women we are capable of being.

Lorie Kleiner Eckert

Lorie Kleiner Eckert

Lorie Kleiner Eckert thinks of herself as a cheerleader with the message: Life is difficult, but you can do it! Her new book, Love, Loss, and Moving On is available on Amazon.


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