Women in Business Q&A: Maya Winkelstein, Executive Director, Open Road Alliance
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? Growing up, I was fortunate to do a lot of international travel with my family to places like Egypt, China, Russia, and later on my own to Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Having that world-perspective early on made me comfortable with ‘getting out of my box,’ and seeking out situations that were new or different. It also gave me an early appreciation for diversity and the simple fact that not everyone lives and works like me. I learned a lot about leadership and diplomacy through those experiences, and how to navigate different cultures, communication and work styles to find common ground and achieve goals.
Travel also taught me to pay attention to everyone. I can think of several instances where I learned much more by talking to the street vendors than the tour guides. I try to bring that same 360 approach to my own organization. Everyone has something to offer regardless of their job title or age or role. Soliciting thoughts and listening is an important part of my leadership style.
I have also been heavily influenced by more recent experiences in my adult life. My husband served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an US Army Infantry officer. Earlier in my career I worked with an organization that supported women who were victims of violent rapes and abuses during conflict in the DRC. I am passionate about my work and the work of Open Road, but having these other life experiences puts that work in perspective, which is critical to building empathy, humility, and purpose as a leader.