McElveen-Hunter discusses leadership, adversity during Bryan Lecture
The Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series continued Wednesday, Feb. 20, as Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross and former U.S. Ambassador to Finland, discussed her experiences with students, faculty and special guests at Elon University School of Law.
McElveen-Hunter, founder and CEO of Pace Communications, was the fourth guest in the Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series, which brings notable figures in business, government and politics to Greensboro to discuss their perspectives on leadership with Elon law students. John Alexander, Elon's Isabella Cannon Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership for 2007-2008, served as moderator.
Hiring the right people is crucial to the success of any organization, McElveen-Hunter said, and there is one trait she always looks for when hiring someone.
“If somebody is passionate, if they really, deeply care, then they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. Do they really, deeply care? That’s what I’m looking for in people.”
McElveen-Hunter became the first woman to lead the Red Cross when she was appointed chairman by President Bush in 2004. She led the organization through difficult times after it was overwhelmed by four Florida hurricanes that year, the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. The experience tested her leadership skills as the Red Cross board consolidated, going from 50 members to less than half that number. Throughout that difficult process, she said it was important for her to listen, another key component of leadership.
“Crisis creates an opportunity for change,” McElveen-Hunter said. “I made sure I listened during that time and heard what people were telling me. An organization’s success, or lack thereof, has everything to do with leadership. Leadership filters down a lot faster than it filters up.”
McElveen-Hunter has championed the cause of women and children through her work as ambassador and also with the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. "When you visit refugee camps in Darfur, or homeless shelters in this country, who do you see? Mostly women and children. I'm passionate about helping women and children, because they are the ones who are most often impacted by poverty."
She advised law students to seek opportunities to develop leadership skills outside their normal circle of associates. “Getting involved in organizations that are not in the realm of where you work is important,” McElveen-Hunter said. “I would tell you to get in a leadership role, and associate yourself with people who take leadership roles.”
McElveen-Hunter told the audience of a friend who says the two most important days in a person’s life “are the day you’re born and the day you understand why. For me, the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity are why. I encourage all of you to find the why in your lives.”