An Unexpected Role Model in Paris

Who does this sound like? An experienced, older woman, a professional, and a parent, who has worked hard to get where she is today and takes time to give advice to young people at the beginning of their careers. Highest level female manager in her current organization. Likes travel, manages large teams, mostly men.

Add to that….speaks several languages fluently, has directed several military operations and has a lot of stars on her uniform and you get Admiral Anne Cullere, the highest ranking female in the history of the Marine nationale française.


I had the pleasure of meeting this inspiring woman along with my work colleagues at a career coaching event last month focused on young women engineers. The Admiral opened the conference emphasizing three key points:

  1. Osez ! Vous allez acquérir de l’expérience ! (Dare! You will get the experience!)
  2. Ne pas avoir peur. (Don’t be afraid)
  3. Mettre l’humain au cœur de vos préoccupations. (Put humanity at the heart of your concerns)

The advice was meant for the young, but resonated for me as well.

In her remarks that followed, Admiral Cullere encouraged the audience to not be self-limiting to try things they might not know already know how to do and related the story of how she got her opportunities. I remembered back to impatient days early in my career when I argued to one of my bosses that I was ready to manage the department based on my “months” of experience and “advanced” degrees. Sometimes daring plus hubris work together.

I thought it was interesting that the Admiral separated daring and fear. I was even a little bit confused at first. If I think about the decision to move, was it daring or was it courageous? Does the dare happen once and courage is continuous? In the Admiral’s story there is courage needed in making decisions that can have life impacting outcome – in her case sometimes life and death outcomes, political outcomes, etc.

The third piece of advice isn’t just keeping people at the center, but also doing something bigger than yourself. The Admiral’s stories about team and people resonated with me, but I do admit I had to seek out my colleagues to validate the translation of her advice statement. One thing she advised everyone was to learn another language J. We had the chance to speak with her in French and in English, my boss even spoke with her in German a bit. We found her to be generous and warm, an authentic person. She told us a little bit about the choices she made in her life. In retrospect, she said, some were good choices, some were not.

I am so inspired by this simple practical advice. With no disrespect to youth, to genius, to hubris, and the incredibly talented and awesome people in my professional and personal circles, what an unexpected role model to come across in Paris.



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