Eighth Annual Women’s Summit Emphasizes Importance of Leadership “Superpowers”

March 13, 2023

“Bloom your strength.”

That was the message Kelly Drummond, chief human resources officer for the City of Knoxville, emphasized during her keynote address at the Haslam College of Business’ eighth annual Women in Business, Entrepreneurship and Leadership Summit. The event, held on March 3 in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Student Union, drew more than 100 students, faculty and staff.

This year’s summit was organized around the theme “Knowing Your Leadership Superpower.” Nayasha Farrior, assistant director of academic support and partnerships for Haslam’s Office of Diversity and Community Relations (ODCR) and head of the summit’s planning committee, said the summit built on the previous year’s “Refresh, Renew, Reimagine” theme. “We started thinking about how we could put that into action this year.”

The half-day event began with welcoming remarks from Stephen L. Mangum, dean of Haslam and Stokely Foundation Leadership Chair, and Clarence Vaughn, director of ODCR, followed by a variety of interactive learning and professional development sessions.

Discovering and Developing Leadership Strengths

Jeannine Berge, director of undergraduate professional development and career management at Haslam, and Tara Mohrfeld, lecturer in the college’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, facilitated the summit’s opening session, “Leadership Capes: Recognizing and Utilizing Your Strengths to Propel You Forward.” Prior to the event, registrants had the opportunity to take the CliftonStrengths talent assessment and identify their top five strengths. Berge and Mohrfeld spoke about using the assessment results to develop leadership “superpowers” and divided the attendees into small groups where participants discussed their strengths and used large sheets of paper to create “leadership capes.”

Following the opening session, participants had the opportunity to attend breakout meetings with four guest speakers, each focusing on a particular leadership strength.

In her breakout session, Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, talked about being a “conductor,” a leadership style that requires both organizational skills and flexibility. Jamie Perry, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UT Medical Center, gave a presentation on strengthening leadership through vulnerability and openness. Speaker and author Shirley Raines centered her session around communication as a tool for professional success. Bank of America market executive Lina Kornmeyer Evans spoke about using humor to increase resilience.

Harnessing Self Awareness and Accountability

The summit concluded with a luncheon in the Student Union ballroom, during which Drummond delivered her keynote, “Know Yourself: How Self Awareness and Self Perception Impact Your Ability to Be Your Best Self.” She encouraged attendees to control their own narratives by identifying and harnessing their strengths and learning to “negate the negative.” As a personal example of the latter, she said, “My worst boss ever is the best boss I’ve ever had,” explaining that by experiencing that person’s ineffective leadership style, she learned what kind of leader she did not want to be.

“You have to be accountable for who you are,” she said. “I want to see every woman succeed and be better.”


Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, sestep3@utk.edu