The Importance of Developing Women Leaders To Change the World

By Laura Newpoff

“Wherever women gather together failure is impossible.”

That quote by Susan B. Anthony is one of Harriet Lewis’ favorites. It’s not surprising she loves those words, because for 29 years, she has seen gatherings of women experience that failure is not possible when they participate in the leadership and team development program she and her husband, Alan Lewis, created to change people’s lives.

The quote also is part of a new book Harriet helped create: Daring Women Who Change the World — a quote-of-the-day compilation of words of wisdom from great leaders. All profits from the book are donated to the Grand Circle Foundation to support Ukrainian refugees.

The Lewis family owns Grand Circle Corp., Overseas Adventure Travel and Kensington Investment Company. They also oversee the Alnoba Lewis Family Foundation (ALFF), which includes Pinnacle Leadership and Team Development, Grand Circle Foundation and The Farm at Eastman’s Corner. Since 1981, the ALFF has donated more than $225 million in support of 500 projects in 50 countries throughout the world.

Pinnacle Leadership & Team Development is the program that has impacted so many women over the years. It sits on 600 acres in Kensington, New Hampshire, an area Alan’s maternal ancestors helped settle in the 1600s. There are 10 miles of trails, wildlife habitats, cabins, unique gathering spaces, state-of-the-art ropes and aerial courses and a world class outdoor art collection.

Pinnacle uses a proven off-site leadership training and team development model to help teams confront hot issues, plan forward and build trust. It focuses on the GRPI (goals, roles, process and interpersonal skills) model to assess team performance, jump start key initiatives and keep teams aligned. The objective is to focus on tough issues and the decisions that must be made to get results and improve performance.

Harriet recently talked with the Boston Business Journal about the importance of developing women leaders who are daring enough to want to change the world.

Women owning greatness in leadership

Harriet’s father died when she was 14, and she experienced first-hand how her mother, a young widow, kept on going, providing her daughters with a brave and resilient example. She realized she would need to be able to take care of herself in life and not rely on someone else to support her. So, after high school graduation in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement was spreading across the nation, she headed to Kent State University in Ohio.

After reconnecting with high-school-classmate Alan when they were in their 20s, they married, raised a family and launched successful businesses. The leadership and development program and their charitable ventures were part of their desire to give back and make communities stronger by developing leaders.

“Alnoba [Pinnacle Leadership & Team Development] encourages women to take one more step than they think they can take,” Harriet said. “The rope courses, for instance, might seem intimidating and a woman may think to herself, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do that.’ We help women become stronger leaders by showing them how to take on new challenges and put themselves in different situations, so they aren’t robbing themselves of powerful experiences.”

Bringing women together in an organized offsite setting has helped these leaders rely on others to make hard decisions and learn about new opportunities. Older women have mixed with middle-age and younger generations, with each group having access to the experiences of different demographics. “Often, when women of different age groups learn about the experiences of others, it inspires them to take that idea and do great things at work and in the community,” Harriet said.

Developing leadership skills and mentoring others

Countless women have developed and honed their leadership skills at Pinnacle Leadership & Team Development, including Hermese Velasquez, executive director of Summer Search, a mentorship program for at-risk youth in Boston. She regularly takes her team to Pinnacle to align around clear goals.

“What sets Pinnacle apart is the system around naming the goal, forward thinking about the barriers and assigning who, what, when to get past those barriers. That template, that process has been helpful to move past the barriers for us,” Velasquez said. “I think it is prudent to spend time outside of your day-to-day to really work on your organization and not in it.”

Under Velasquez’ leadership, students from Summer Search’s Boston office have achieved a 98% high school graduation rate, with 96% gaining acceptance to college. Additionally, 67% of Summer Search participants earn a bachelor’s degree, compared with 21% of their peers.

Velasquez’s advice is to “Be passionate about the cause and don’t shy away from difficult situations you may face in the process; be able to embrace the challenge.”

As more women participate in leadership and development training and gain confidence in their leadership skills, they, in turn, feel more confident about mentoring others, Harriet said.

“Throughout history, women have been excluded from many public and official leadership positions. I feel it is important that we help each other,” Harriet said. “If you’re not mentoring somebody as you develop in your career and build out your leadership skills, you’re losing a huge opportunity to affect the lives of others.”

Help for women and children impacted by the war in Ukraine

The Lewis family has a history of giving back and helping people in disadvantaged communities. The new book is no exception. Proceeds from the sale of Daring Women Who Change the World will be used to provide food, shelter and provisions for the women and children Ukrainian refugees living in the Apart Hostel in Wroclaw, Poland. Currently, 70 children, 15 infants and 65 women live in the hostel. The Grand Circle Foundation has donated more than $2 million this year to support women and children impacted by the war in Ukraine.

The women highlighted in the book include regional leaders and cross a wide spectrum. In a summary of the book on Alnoba’s website, “they are disrupters and divas; poets and public servants; artists and activists; trailblazers and teachers; suffragettes, and saints. They pioneered, innovated, provoked, and shattered glass ceilings. Some quotes may make readers stop and think, and some may just make them smile — for humor is such an essential balm for a weary world.”

“We hope the book inspires a reader to make some kind of positive change in their life and also helps them realize how fabulous women really are,” Harriet said. “It’s dedicated to the women we’ve worked with and supported over the years and to honor all the great — and daring — work they’ve done.”