Former assistant to President Clinton shares career, leadership lessons

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Keynote speaker J. Veronica Biggins speaks at the ATHENA Leadership Symposium. Photo provided

By Megan Campbell, communications coordinator, Greenville Chamber

What: The Greenville Chamber’s Sixth Annual ATHENA Leadership Symposium
When/Where: Nov. 14 at TD Convention Center
Who: 400+ business leaders, multicultural and women professionals

Veronica Biggins has forged her own path, but she hasn’t done it alone.

Biggins recently imparted wisdom she’s learned along her journey to 400+ professionals at the sixth annual ATHENA Leadership Symposium, a unique women’s leadership program.

Biggins currently serves as the managing partner of the Atlanta office of Diversified Search. There, she leads the firm’s board practice. Prior to joining Diversified Search, Biggins served as assistant to the president of the United States and director of presidential personnel under Bill Clinton, a role that tasked her with selecting and hiring all political appointees within the federal government. Biggins describes working at the White House as a humbling experience. She was able to accomplish much in this role, but one of her greatest memories from the experience was meeting Nelson Mandela.

Biggins began her career in banking, where she was a true trailblazer. At one point, she was one of the highest-ranking women in the industry.

Biggins’ experience is largely reflective of the proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Biggins has indeed gone far in her professional career, and she insists she had others lift her up along the way. Here are some of the lessons she shared.

Mentors Are Fabulous; Sponsors Are Better

Biggins is a strong advocate for mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring.

According to Biggins, mentors give guidance and act as a sounding board. Coaches provide specific help with something. Sponsors take a vested interest in your success and have opportunities to open doors for you.

“None of us can have a great professional career without all three being present,” Biggins shared. While the three must be interwoven, she says, “Mentors are fabulous, but sponsors are better.”

In each of these three roles, critical assessment should be provided. “If your mentor makes you feel good every day, you need to move along.”

She offers this advice for building an effective relationship with mentors:

  • You need a mentor for every phase of your life.
  • Seek mentors with a different background.
  • Seek feedback from your mentor and act on it.
  • Mentors should be in a higher role than you to help lift you up.
  • The key is building a trusting relationship.
  • Understand and share your short and long-term goals.

Biggins had great mentors, coaches, and sponsors in her life. Because Biggins was such a trailblazer, these were primarily men. There simply weren’t any women to mentor her. Biggins says, “If someone helped you, you have a clear obligation to help others.” She adds, “I’m clear about how I got here, the boards I sit on, and my responsibility for opening the door for others.”

Global Perspective

When asked what trait she most admires about herself, Biggins says that it is her accepting and welcoming nature. “Acceptance is a gift we can all give,” Biggins says. She strives to “live a life that is welcoming to all.” It’s a trait she learned from her parents and grandparents. It’s also a lesson she learned from a young age when her parents uprooted her family to move to Indonesia so her father could start a school in Jakarta. From this experience, Biggins “learned that there’s a big world out there” and that “there’s a lot of people who look like me who are in charge.” She says the experience forced her to see the world in a bigger way, and taught her to respect and appreciate different cultures and viewpoints.

Today, the self-proclaimed lifelong learner continues to expand her horizons by reading and traveling. She constantly seeks to learn new skills.

In her role at Diversified Search, she knows firsthand that boards and executives are looking for “people that understand the world from a global perspective.” Here are some of the tips she shared for gaining a global perspective:

  • Take courses that expand your world.
  • Seek out resources to learn new skills. There are many free resources online.
  • Take time to listen to others.
  • Get a passport and use it.
  • Read often and let your readings guide you as you form your own opinions.

Full Circle

It’s fitting that in her current role, Biggins, who is so appreciative of the support she’s been shown throughout her career, has the power to change the trajectory of people’s lives. She has a keen eye for identifying untapped talent, a useful strength as she identifies and assesses leadership for boards and C-suite positions in her role at Diversified Search.

As we collectively strive to advance women’s leadership and board service, let’s be mindful of the power we have to share the gift of acceptance and the responsibility we have to lift others up.

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