Stand firm in chaos
Four Qualities for clarity and perspective
During Bluffton University’s Jan. 23 Presidential Leadership Forum, “See Your Way Clear: Leading Through Chaos,” Bethny Ricks ’06, a business executive, author and Bluffton trustee, shared five leadership qualities and two traps to avoid as an effective and empathetic person.
She began the presentation with a few encouraging words to the mostly student audience in Yoder Recital Hall.
“I see all of you as leaders because leadership doesn’t have anything to do with a title. It has to do with influence and the ability to move something from Point A to Point B and create momentum behind it,” Ricks explained. “All of you sitting there thinking you are not a leader; in some way you are—personally and in your future profession.”
Ricks then reflected on a question she was asked as a 29-year-old vice president during a panel discussion with executive women.
“How do you stand firm in chaos, and how do you maintain momentum under pressure?”
Her answer at the time was also the first lesson she shared with Bluffton students.
“I embrace failure. That can feel like a cliché response when you are talking about leadership and self-leadership, but for me at the time it was not,” said Ricks. “But I didn’t learn that in business. I learned that in my personal life. I was months away from getting a divorce. I just had my daughter, and I was in the throes of postpartum depression… a lot of times, we learn things not necessarily in the classroom. A lot of the lessons you will learn in life will happen in the personal space.”
The additional four traits Ricks emphasized are:
- Strong sense of purpose
Ricks explained these qualities will “provide you the clarity and perspective you will need when your mind is at war.”
She also emphasized two dilemmas to avoid:
- Don’t live life in the rearview mirror—"The worst thing as a leader is having to charge up a hill and look over your shoulder,” warned Ricks. “Every time I’ve had to do that, I’ve fallen flat on my face.”
- Once you start struggling to say “I’m sorry,” you’re already in the danger zone—“When that happens, you’re getting to a place where you don’t want to ask for help,” said Ricks. “You’re getting to a place where you’ll struggle to see things clearly.”
She also left students with a bonus tip: Don’t punt decisions.
“The inability to make a decision in your own life can be catastrophic. The worst person on my team, in terms of not an individual but a characteristic, is someone who is in the room but is unable to make the call.”
After having led multiple billion-dollar business transformations over 18 years as a business executive, Ricks transitioned her focus to writing, speaking and coaching others to succeed in their pursuits. During her corporate career, she received numerous awards and accolades including being named one of Savoy’s Most Influential African American Women in the U.S. and one of Ohio’s Most Influential and Powerful Women.
She’s maintained close connections with Bluffton University and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees, was named Outstanding Young Alumni in 2014 and served as Convocation speaker in 2022. During the Q&A portion of the event, Ricks shared about her journey as a student, her personal values and her faith.
Each year, the Bluffton University Presidential Leadership Forum brings a leader from business, industry, service or nonprofit organizations to campus. With speakers selected by President Jane Wood, the goal of the lecture series is to create a forum for considering leadership values and cooperative efforts for shaping our world by hearing first-hand stories of leadership.