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Listening to leaders of today and tomorrow

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I was lucky to hear some great advice and insight last night from three New Jersey business leaders: Linda Bowden, New Jersey regional president, PNC Bank; Alison Cornell, CFO, Covance; and Nancy Connell, vice-chair for research in the Department of Medicine at UMDNJ.

The three women were on a panel at an event hosted by the Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business and the New Jersey chapter of Financial Women Association. I was the moderator of the panel, and whenever I have a pen in my hand and hear good stuff, I write it down.

Some highlights:

On employee engagement and leadership, Bowden said ideas should flow up and values flow down. "The leader sets the culture." Cornell said she aims to model the behavior she wants to see in the staff below her. Connell said she creates an open work environment: "There is nothing secret in my lab."

On creating culture, Connell said people can strive to make "micro cultures" in an area of their companies, and then try to expand that culture. "You can make your own pocket," as Connell put it.

On mentoring and coaching, Bowden said the best adviser may be in a different field, and selection of a mentor isn't necessarily about a matching skill set but whether there is a level of trust between the two people. Cornell said a coach can help someone define a career path and open up possibilities, sometimes after some soul-searching. "You should be doing what you love," said Cornell. (Amen to that!)

I asked the women about the dreaded F word: failure. Cornell had a great line about looking at any potential failure as an opportunity to learn. "There is always a solution," she said.

I also met a few students who are members of the Seton Hall business school's Leadership Development Honors Program: freshman Pilar Martinez and sophomores Sheena Shah and Erin Krakaur. I remember their names because they had business cards, poise and a level of maturity I certainly didn't have as a freshman or sophomore in college.

I wouldn't be surprised if I'm getting great advice and insight from Krakaur, Shah and Martinez as they sit on a panel 10 or 20 years from now.

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