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Making Waves: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage

The following is an excerpt from MAKING WAVES: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage, by Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. The former CEO of Celebrity Cruises reveals how she navigated an extraordinary four-decade journey with boundless energy, quick wit, and pursuit of excellence in the face of adversity.

As I have thought about evolving as a leader over time, and as I have become a more experienced and mature leader myself, I’ve learned that leadership, just like life, is a boomerang. You get what you give.

I’ve always believed this. As we all internalize and assess who we are, what we do, and what we want our advantages to be, we bring all of these to the forefront of how we lead every minute of every day, in every interaction we have. And that comes back tenfold. Just like a boomerang. Over time, I have tried to become better at this, and it’s not easy. But by trying to be better, you will naturally lead yourself and your teams forward, and this will help you build your brand and your business. As a result, you will accomplish great things.


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This idea of the boomerang of leadership relates back to the discretionary effort that people give you—not because it’s their job but because they really care. And this is because they know you really care. I have so many examples of how the boomerang method of leadership creates a unique environment built on mutual investment in each other’s success and caring. I would like to share a few of them.

One day, I was in a leadership meeting. It was a small group, just five of us, and our discussion centered around an off-site leadership meeting the others had just had. During the discussion, one of these leaders said that she found herself getting too involved in certain parts of her areas of responsibility that she shouldn’t have to. I asked her why she did that: Was it because that was her nature and a leadership opportunity, or did she not think her team was capable? She said, “I do it because I don’t want to let you down.” That was not the answer I expected. And it really hit me.

Thinking about it, our company’s culture is created based on the principles, behaviors, and expectations I have of myself. One thing I never want to do is disappoint or let anyone down who is counting on me. But somehow, I hadn’t realized that my desire and behaviors to ensure I didn’t let anyone down were creating the same desires and behaviors with those I worked with every day.

I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about never disappointing or letting each other down. I want to be clear that despite all of the positive and powerful examples of the culture we have created at Celebrity Cruises where none of us want to disappoint each other, I have in fact been disappointed quite a few times. Though many will tell you they don’t want to let you down, it’s going to happen anyway. And probably often. People will tell you they believe in the culture you have established and the integrity by which they are all committed to abide, but later you may realize that this isn’t the case. When this has happened to me, it has significantly affected me. Every time. Like a punch in the gut. My profound disappointment in those who have let me down me takes me a while to recover from. I take it personally.

But that’s another lesson I hope you learn from me: Don’t do that. I’ve realized that I am working with human beings. Imperfect human beings. You can’t take things personally. I shake disappointment off after a while, and I don’t let it lessen my belief that the vast majority of the people I work with every day are not going to let me down. But I am still pragmatic that it will happen on occasion.

Despite the occasions that do happen, I choose to stay committed to my unwavering belief in the boomerang style of leadership and its contribution to a leader’s superpower: when, as a leader, you have enabled, developed, and led your people in such a way that they do their best whether you are there or not.

The boomerang is symbolized in our Edge Series of ships, which has been so special to Celebrity for so many reasons. It set the brand on a totally different trajectory when it was first introduced and continues to do so as we introduce the rest of the series into the brand and the marketplace. Every time I look at Edge, I’m reminded of the boomerang. The dozens of people involved in this project who went “all in” to make it a huge success. I remember being so grateful during the process of designing the series. Grateful to so many. Without their support and belief in what we were doing, we never would have ended up where we are now. If I keep throwing the boomerang out, the reward of it coming back is priceless.

MAKING WAVES: A Woman’s Rise to the Top Using Smarts, Heart and Courage is published by Matt Holt Books.

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