This military vet has the secret formula to become a great leader

When senior military veteran and business leader Phyllis Newhouse walks into a room, no one has to guess who is in charge.

After spending 22 years working in cybersecurity and intelligence for the US Army – where she served at the Pentagon and established the Cyber ​​Espionage Task Force – the trailblazer made a name for herself when she founded her own cybersecurity company in 2002, Xtreme Solutions.

As CEO of the 6,500-person firm, her clients include the departments of Defense and State, Microsoft, Dell and other major companies. But that was just the beginning for the serial entrepreneur.

In 2019, Newhouse and actress Viola Davis partnered to launch ShoulderUp, a women-led influencer fund focused on helping female entrepreneurs gain access to capital through a portfolio of media, technology and sports entertainment companies.

The following year, she co-founded and became the CEO of a venture called Athena, a special purpose acquisitions company (SPAC) that went public on the New York Stock Exchange, making her the only Black female CEO of an NYSE-listed SPAC. On the heels of that success, she co-founded and now leads a second SPAC, ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition.

In 2021, Newhouse made history as the first Black female CEO of an NYSE-listed SPAC, Athena Technology Acquisition Corp.
In 2021, Newhouse made history as the first Black female CEO of an NYSE-listed SPAC, Athena Technology Acquisition Corp.Nicole Pereira / NYSE

It’s clear that Newhouse is an unstoppable force with a singular mission: to help women – especially women of color – harness their potential and become leaders. To that end, she’s launched an online course, “Taking the Lead: The 11 Principles of Leadership,” all about sharing the lessons she’s learned throughout her military and business career.

The investing powerhouse recently spoke with Know Your Value contributor and “Morning Joe” reporter Daniela Pierre-Bravo about why it’s so crucial for women to recognize the value they bring to the and how that translates into leadership opportunities.

Play your value card

“The one thing that the military teaches leaders first is that, in order to lead anything or any organization, you have to know who are you as a leader,” Newhouse explained to Pierre-Bravo. “That starts with knowing your value card.”

In her experience, that means identifying weakness before others do, taking actions to improve them, and focusing on the passions and strengths that help you stand out. “I’ve been in the room and I asked women, you tell me what your value card is … the thing that you’re most passionate about, the thing that you love doing,” Newhouse said. “The moment that you figure it out … that value card will carry you through the room.”

And when it comes to women in leadership roles who feel a sense of isolation or alienation at the top, Newhouse considers this an advantage, a value card itself. “You talk about being the only – the only woman, the only vet, the only Black, the only Asian,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “It is what you do in the moment that you become the only, the only has power and privilege … to change the perspective of that room, so that you can change the dynamics of that room.”

Avoid the valley of the three D’s

The journey from becoming a good leader to a great one boils down to intentionality and regular reflection, according to Newhouse. “I think sometimes women settle for just wanting to be good,” she said. “Great [leadership] is hard because great requires constant identity checks; you’ve got to get up in the morning and say ‘Who am I today, who do I want to be?’”

That includes recognizing and fighting the setbacks that often prevented women back from advancing as leaders, which Newhouse admitted she knew all too well. “Don’t get stuck there because you might miss the greatest opportunity in life,” she said.

Newhouse suggested building a team of collaborators, mentors and professionals who can help problem-solve these challenges through their unique perspectives and skill sets. Conversely, she encouraged women to be willing to coach and advise their partners in return for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Share your ROCs

Over the last few years – and especially since the onset of the pandemic – Newhouse has focused her influence as a great leader by empowering other women as entrepreneurs through mentoring and investment.

“We’re way past having a seat at the table,” Newhouse said. “We talked about let’s move the needle, well the clock’s been broken for a long time, so the needle will never move—when you have a level of success, there’s a deep responsibility to support others through their journey.”

At this point, Newhouse has it down to a formula, and she suggested it’s all women need to achieve success. It’s called the ROC: Resource. Opportunity. Connection.

“Just think, if Phyllis (for example) needed that one connection that could change her entire entire life, are you willing to just give her a connection,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “We’re telling women use their ROCs, give your ROCs away, and look at what comes back in your hand the very next day.”

As an investment strategy, this where she says women in leadership can elevate others to positions of power. “We open up investment opportunities to all women because you can have all the money in the world, but may not have access to the opportunity,” she noted. “Or you have a great opportunity but don’t have the capital to fund it – what if we brought those worlds together – that’s when we create opportunities and that’s where we’re more valuable to others.”

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