One of the things that unites women is the fear of making a mistake and being judged, so they hide themselves and their opinions, and they end up missing opportunities and experiences, the keynote speaker at the She Geauxs Women's Leadership Conference said Wednesday.

"We need to change that. As of today we need to stop hiding," business consultant Dima Ghawi told the roughly 200 people attending. "We need to stop worrying about making mistakes, and we need to commit to becoming visible …."

Ghawi divided her talk, "My Passport To Leadership," into three parts: inward, outward and onward, as she spoke during an event tied to Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week.

Her inward journey began in 1996, with a job in Merrill Lynch's San Diego office. One of her first corporate experiences was a Halloween team-building exercise. Ghawi, a Jordan native, dressed up as a genie but quickly realized the theme for the team was the "Wild, Wild West." So she went home, embarrassed and beating herself up. She didn't take part in the team picture. She made herself invisible. She missed out on having a photo of herself in a genie costume surrounded by cowboys.

Ghawi's outward journey involved a job in Japan, and another team-building exercise that involved climbing Mount Fuji. Only four of the 40 team members willing to make the climb actually showed up: Ghawi, who is afraid of heights, two Japanese co-workers and their boss. When they arrived at the mountain, their boss said getting to the top would be a contest. He quickly left the others behind. Ghawi and her co-workers helped each other, clambering over and around boulders, and finally reached the top of the mountain.

The experience taught her about leadership. The person who gets to the top first and leaves the team behind is not a leader, Ghawi said. The leader is the person who walks step by step with the team, sometimes on the side, sometimes pushing them to go faster. It's the person who's connected to the team from the bottom of the mountain to the top and back again.

"It's the person who cares, who believes in the human element. These are the leaders we need," she said.

Ghawi's onward journey involved her grandmother's legacy, the dream that Ghawi would receive the formal education her grandmother was denied. When Ghawi was 5, her grandmother made her play a new game, college graduation ceremony, and awarded Ghawi a diploma made with a rolled up magazine tied with a red ribbon.

"My grandmother was born into a story that did not serve her. But it was important for her to change that story. And I look around the room, and I wonder what stories are you living?" she said.

Some of the stories may be great, filled with encouragement and limitless possibilities. Other stories may be preventing people from becoming who they really want to be. 

"Those are the stories we need to change," Ghawi said, "and we have the power to change them."

She asked the audience members to write down what they want their new story to be and commit to it.

"The world needs amazing powerful women in leadership, and as long as we limit ourselves, that's not going to serve us," Ghawi said.


Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.