When military veteran and business leader Phyllis Newhouse walks into a room, no one has to guess who’s responsible.
After spending 22 years working in cybersecurity and intelligence for the US military – where she served in the Pentagon and created 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 company, his clients include the Defense and State Departments, Microsoft, Dell and other large corporations. But that was just the beginning for the serial entrepreneur.
In 2019, Newhouse and actress Viola Davis teamed up to launch ShoulderUp, a women-led influencer fund that aims to help women entrepreneurs access capital through a portfolio of media, technology and sports entertainment.
The following year, she co-founded and became CEO of a company 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 a SPAC listed on the NYSE. In the wake of this success, she co-founded and now leads a second SPAC, ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition.
It’s clear that Newhouse is an unstoppable force with a singular mission: to help women — especially women of color — tap into their potential and become leaders. To that end, she launched an online course, “Taking the Lead: The 11 Principles of Leadership,” which aims to share the lessons she learned throughout her military and business career.
The investment 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 world. work and how that translates into leadership opportunities.
Play your value card
“The one thing the military teaches leaders first is that in order to lead anything or any organization, you have to know who you are as a leader,” Newhouse told Pierre-Bravo. “It starts with knowing your value card.”
In his experience, that means identifying weaknesses before others, taking action to improve them, and focusing on the passions and strengths that help you stand out. “I was in the room and I asked the women, tell me what’s your value card…the thing you’re most passionate about, the thing you love doing,” Newhouse said. “By the time you figure it out…this value card will carry you across the room.”
And when it comes to women in leadership positions who feel a sense of isolation or alienation at the top, Newhouse sees that as a benefit, a value in itself. “You talk about being the only one – the only woman, the only vet, the only black one, the only Asian one,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “It’s what you do the moment you become the only one, the only one has the power and the privilege…to change the perspective of this room, so that you can change the dynamic of this room.”
Avoid the Valley of the Three Ds
According to Newhouse, the path from becoming a good leader to being a great one comes down to intentionality and regular reflection. “I think sometimes women just want to be good,” she said. “Great [leadership] is difficult because tall requires constant identity checks; you have to get up in the morning and say “Who am I today, who do I want to be?”
This includes acknowledging and dealing with the setbacks that often prevent women from advancing as leaders, which Newhouse admitted she knows all too well. “Don’t get stuck there because you might miss life’s greatest opportunity,” she said.
Newhouse suggested building a team of collaborators, mentors and professionals who can help solve these problems with their unique perspectives and skills. Conversely, she encouraged women to agree to coach and counsel their partners in exchange for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Share your ROCs
Over the past few years — and especially since the start of the pandemic — Newhouse has focused her influence as a great leader on empowering other women as entrepreneurs through mentorship and investment.
“We’re a long way from having a seat at the table,” Newhouse said. “We talked about moving the needle, well the clock has been broken for a long time so the needle will never move – when you have a level of success there is a deep responsibility to support others throughout their trip.”
At this point, Newhouse has a formula, and she suggested that’s all women need to be successful. This is called the ROC: Resource. Opportunity. Link.
“Just think, if Phyllis (for example) needed that connection that could change her whole life, are you willing to give her a connection,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “We tell women to use their ROCs, give your ROCs, and watch what comes back in your hand the next day.”
As an investment strategy, she says women in leadership positions 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 you might not have access to that opportunity,” she noted. “Or you have a great opportunity but don’t have the capital to fund it – and if we brought those worlds together – that’s where we create opportunity and that’s where we’re most valuable to others.”