Julia Boorstin on “When Women Lead” and Changing the Conversation Around Leadership

“When Women Lead” shares research and insights, along with engaging interviews with more than 60 female CEOs and leaders.
October 12, 2022
Photo by Zack Whitford

Growth is all about asking questions: as an individual, as a company, as a Jew.

Through asking questions – her super-power – Julia Boorstin, author of “When Women Lead: What They Achieve, Why They Succeed, and How We Can Learn from Them,” has unleashed a powerful book and roadmap unto the world.

“My most core personality trait, the thing that is most essential to who I am, is the fact that all I do is ask questions, both in personal and professional settings,” Boorstin, who is CNBC’s Senior Media & Tech Correspondent, told the Journal. She has been an on-air reporter for the network since 2006.

“When Women Lead” shares research and insights, along with engaging interviews with more than  60 female CEOs and leaders. Boorstin found those who thrived shared commonalities that made them uniquely equipped to lead, grow businesses and navigate crises.

“The feedback, especially from women, has been amazing,” Boorstin said. “Women [have been] saying to me, ‘You put words to things that I’ve always felt. And now you’ve given me a language to think about the challenges that I face and a roadmap to overcoming them.’”

It’s not about solving problems yourself, it’s going to a group pulling in diverse perspectives … and asking questions.

“Asking questions is the best way to figure out problems and then solutions,” she said.

Boorstin who grew up in Los Angeles (“we were members of Leo Baeck Temple”), now lives here with her husband and two sons, as part of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

She was raised in a family, and in a Jewish culture, which prioritized question-asking.

“I just remember this idea that you can as a Jew, you are inspired to ask questions about the most fundamental things about the religion,” she said. “Why is it that we do these traditions? What is the importance that we’re going to take out of this? What is the meaning of this for me?”

At first, Boorstin just wanted to tell the amazing stories of women she met, who were unlike the stereotype of female leaders.

“I was so inspired, and I would find myself asking them questions about like how they managed to be so courageous when the odds seemed so against them, or how they managed to be so persistent when everyone was telling them ‘No,’

Boorstin decided more people needed to hear these stories. “I can’t be one of the few who gets access to these women,” she said.

As she interviewed more people, Boorstin saw commonalities emerge. She needed to understand the strategy – and why it was working, so then research came into play. She accessed about 300 academic studies, and just dug in.

“I found amazing studies about the benefits of leading with gratitude or the benefits of leading with empathy,” she said. “And I thought, Not only am I going to tell these stories, I want to explain why what these women are doing is working so well.”

In the book there is a story from a woman whose father was a holocaust survivor; another woman’s grandfather was a holocaust survivor.

“There are 60 women in the book, so it’s not like this is a big piece of the book, but I thought it was really interesting that both of them referenced that to me,” Boorstin said

Caryn Seidman-Becker, who founded CLEAR, talked about how she was really good at preparing for any situation, which she got from her grandfather, who survived the holocaust. “He was always about being prepared for any scenario,” she said. “And, by the way, [Caryn] did an amazing pivot during the pandemic.”

Gail Becker founded CAULIPOWER, which is cauliflower crust, pizza and other cauliflower ingredients for people, including her kids, who are Celiac and cannot eat gluten.

“[Gail] was inspired to launch her company by her father, who was a holocaust survivor,” Boorstin said. “When he died, he left her the money that his house was worth, and she remembered him telling her to do something that she really believed in and that she thought would help people.”

Another study talks about how one way to find resilience is to reflect on your ancestors, who’ve been through ups and downs.

“This idea is that kids are more likely to be resilient if they know that their family has gone through tough times and good times,” she said. And they’re lucky that they have the strength of their ancestors behind them.”

When asked what she thinks her book accomplishes, Boorstin said it goes back to this idea of changing the conversation about business and leadership. In her experience of interviewing hundreds of CEOs, she discovered that not only are there all sorts of different kinds of leaders, there are also different ways to be successful as a leader.

“We are in a time of uncertainty, whether it’s the stock market plummeting, fears of another Covid wave or fears of whatever medical disaster is around the corner, the one that we know for sure is that we don’t know anything,” Boorstin said. “Finding strategies that rely on data, rather than ego, can be really valuable, no matter who you are.”

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