What does it actually take to be a leader?
Is there a secret to it all? A foolproof plan? Is it merely hard work and perseverance? Is it being in the right place at the right time? It is about adaptability or popularity? Is it all of the above? None of the above?
As an organization devoted to working towards a better future through study abroad, we think about leadership and the next generation of global citizens every single day. We really do—and we have Mary M. Dwyer, Ph.D., our CEO and President of more than 23 years, to thank for that.
Dr. Dwyer knows a thing or two about getting things done, staying true to a mission, and making an impact. She was recently recognized as one of the top “Notable Women Executives Over 50” by Crain’s Chicago Business, one of the top business news outlets in the U.S., alongside 74 exceptional C-level female executives who are leading successful businesses across industries in Chicago.
It is no surprise that Dr. Dwyer has been honored by Crain’s for her impactful career. Dr. Dwyer is a change maker, a mission-driven CEO, and a problem solver, and is celebrated for her powerful combination of intellect, energy, and strategic decision-making.
We sat down with Dr. Dwyer to discuss how the path to being a successful leader is anything but linear, and how having a tolerance for ambiguity is a must. And we bet you’ll never guess her favorite international destination that changed her life, and her career, forever!
Also, be sure to check out Mary's interview with WGN Radio Chicago where she's featured as the "CEO Spotlight" on "The Morning Bell with Steve Grzanish" show.
IES Abroad: What does this award mean to you?
Dr. Dwyer: I am honored to be recognized alongside these distinguished, successful female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation.
Careers can be defined by individual wins, but in my more than 23 years at IES Abroad, the greatest successes have been collaborative. My colleagues and I are dedicated to the fight for a better future through study abroad, and the work it takes to make it a reality. We’ve greatly increased the number of students we send abroad each year, but there’s still work to be done to ensure as many students as possible have the opportunity to broaden their worldviews, become empathetic global citizens, and be the leaders in a globalized workforce to create meaningful change.
IES Abroad: What does it take to be a leader?
Dr Dwyer: Leadership matters. First, the person must have a passion for the mission of their organization. Otherwise, they cannot get up in the morning and feel motivated to give it their all. Secondly, and related, they must have huge physical and mental stamina. I cannot emphasize this enough. Regardless of what others may think of leaders and CEOs, in today’s world these jobs are physically grueling. They also require a great deal of mental focus, and they involve working many hours a week. It would be unusual for me, for example, in my position, to work less than 65-75 hours a week and that requires being healthy, which means you have to take care of yourself! Thirdly, they must have highly developed skills and experiences.
Tolerating ambiguity is a number one quality of every effective leader regardless of what field they are in. Because of today’s changing circumstances, it is particularly important not to be rigid, and to have a high tolerance for change and ambiguity. Leaders also have to be creative.
And most important, they have to be strategic and always on point, always keeping the organization focused. It’s very easy for organizations to attempt to be comfortable and lose sight of their mission, lose sight of who they’re here to serve, and ultimately lose track of being successful. The leader keeps the organization focused.