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Speaker advocates playing to your strengths

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People figured Viola Baskerville was just a doctor’s wife when she ran for a seat on Richmond’s City Council in 1994.

But Baskerville, now the interim CEO of Commonwealth Girl Scouts, knew she had a key advantage over her opponent, a former mayor.

She was 2 inches taller, she told the 165 women attending the 19th annual Leadership Colloquium for Professional Women on Thursday at the University of Mary Washington’s Stafford County campus. So she decided to pull on her “power pumps,” a pair of 3-inch heels, when they were onstage together.

“The visual was priceless,” Baskerville said. “I won that election. From that day on, whenever I made a public presentation, I wore 3-inch heels.”

Her keynote address at the daylong program was, appropriately enough, titled “Power Pumps: Leading With Your Strengths.” In it, she referred to “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” a book and online test by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie that helps people pinpoint their leadership qualities.

“Your strengths equal your talents and any investment that you may make in them,” she said. “Your talents are your natural ways of thinking, acting and believing.”

Baskerville said she discovered that her strengths include individualization and being able to relate to others.

“StrengthsFinder 2.0” defines individualization as being intrigued with the unique qualities of each person and having a gift for figuring out how people who are different from each other can work well together.

Baskerville said that when she was named to her current post, she asked for the job descriptions and talents of her employees, and then met with them individually. That helped her to realize that one employee was miserable because her current post was a bad fit. Baskerville tailored a new position just for her.

“After two weeks, her whole demeanor changed,” Baskerville said. “It was evident that she needed a reassignment.”

Baskerville said that as a “relator,” a “StrengthsFinder 2.0” term, she enjoys close relationships with others, and finds satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve goals. She said she prefers to associate with those she termed “balcony people,” supporters who cheer her on.

“Stay away from ‘basement people,’” she advised. “They pull you down.”

Baskerville’s address was followed by a choice of seminars on a variety of topics ranging from emotional intelligence to business etiquette to creating a personal brand.

Among the morning speakers was nationally known motivational speaker Donna Tyson, who talked about how to best handle a career on the upswing and survive any crash that might follow after reaching a high point or suffering a crisis.

“When you’re cresting,” she said, “be in a state of gratitude. Send a thank-you note to someone every single day.”

Tyson also suggested keeping a journal, which can help pinpoint strengths and determine patterns over time, and an “idea box” where great ideas can be stored until there’s time to use them.

“When you crash and have no clue what to do, there’s a starting point,” she said.

To survive a crash, Tyson said, people should simplify their lives, be grateful for what they have and not think that the current situation is the end of the world.

“When you rebuild,” she said, “you’ll find people and things will come into your life that you never thought possible.”

Following lunch, Germanna Community College Dean Martha O’Keefe received the Patricia Lacey Metzger Award. It honors those who “uphold high standards in their personal and professional lives while fulfilling a career goal of significant nature.”

O’Keefe, 54, is dean of workforce and professional development at the Germanna Center for Workforce and Community Education. She has held the position for 11 years.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407