The theme of this year's conference, hosted virtually, was authenticity and resiliency.
Blue and white Simmons Leadership Conference banner with portraits of the speakers on the sides.
Speakers at this year’s Simmons Leadership Conference included Mindy Kaling, Angela Duckworth, Jenna Bush Hager, Tiffany Dufu, Whitney Johnson, Tererai Trent, Lynn Perry Wooten, Ally Love, Neha Sangwan, and Margie Warrell. Image: Stephanie Darga

On March 23, more than 230 Laboratory staff attended the 42nd annual Simmons Leadership Conference. This conference seeks to provide attendees with resources to practice inclusive leadership while encouraging them to stay true to their authentic selves and pursue their goals. This year, more staff members were able to attend than in previous years.

The Lincoln Laboratory Women’s Network (LLWN) Conference Committee and Diversity and Inclusion Office worked together to purchase a larger pool of tickets for this year and promote the event throughout the Laboratory. "My hope is that this helped to send the message that the Laboratory cares about the development of all of its staff and that it has inspired people to be authentic at work," said Valerie Finnemeyer, who is the deputy lead for the Laboratory’s Simmons Leadership Conference planning efforts and a staff member from the Advanced Imager Technology Group.  

The main conference included keynote addresses from Tiffany Dufu, author and founder of Levo League; Tererai Trent, an author and educator; and Jenna Bush Hager, cohost of TODAY with Hoda & Jenna. There were also two business panels about authenticity and resiliency at work and several networking events. The conference was followed by a series of live skill-building webinars led by women’s leadership experts Angela Duckworth, Ally Love, Neha Sangwan, and Margie Warrell. 

One of the most popular talks of the day was given by Whitney Johnson, CEO of WLJ Advisors and author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, among other books. Johnson’s talk — a fireside chat on the subject of resilience — laid out a three-step process for challenging oneself to keep learning. 

"I learned about a way to characterize the process of learning new things, called the s-curve," said Nicole Homeier, a staff member from the Counter-Weapons of Mass Destruction Systems Group. "The s-curve has three sections: the first section is when you are just beginning and you’re uncomfortable, the second section is the sweet spot where you are competent and executing the task well, and the third section is mastery."

The idea, according to Johnson, is not to stay in any one phase of the s-curve for too long, and instead to be constantly challenging yourself to return to the first stage after achieving mastery. 

"To me, that resonated with how we work and approach problems at the Laboratory," said Anne Adamczyk, who is the Assistant Leader of the Space Analysis and Test Group and the lead for the Laboratory’s Simmons Leadership Conference planning efforts. "We are always challenging ourselves to take on the hardest problems. You complete a study and get this great result, present it to your sponsor, and then need to move on to do something different and challenge yourself to move through that process again." 

The Laboratory also added a Microsoft Teams chat for staff who attended the event to discuss the talks and simulate the in-person experience of networking at a conference. "My favorite part, in all honestly, was participating in our Teams conversation," said Finnemeyer. "It helped me connect with other staff at the Laboratory about topics of leadership and personal development that are not often easy for us to talk about."

"I attended the conference in person in 2018 and again this year virtually," said Molly Schue, who is a staff member from the Advanced Lasercom Systems and Operations Group and part of the LLWN Simmons Planning Team. "It was great to know that my management is investing in my career development and encouraging me to gain leadership skills through conferences like this. I feel that it increases my morale, allows me to build better teams by learning effective management and leadership styles, and helps me feel more connected to others who also attend."