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What makes a good leader?

Kathleen McFeeters, the Northeastern University parent and New York City-based fashion designer, discussed the key traits of highly effective leaders in an interactive lecture at Northeastern University’s Alumni Center on Friday morning.

Her list of must-have leadership qualities comprised confidence, communication skills, and the propensity to take risks and build trusting relationships. Listening, she said, often trumps speaking.

“Good leaders keep their team informed and present their vision to the entire organization,” noted McFeeters, mother of Dillon Breuning, DMSB’18, and CEO of Ali Ro and Donna Morgan, the chic clothing lines. “But it’s not only about talking. As a good listener, you hear where problems arise and ways to solve them.”

Her lecture marked the first installment of We Aspire, a professional development program for faculty and staff. Attendees included those who wanted to share professional development strategies for continued career success, with a particular focus on staff interested in the advancement of female leaders.

University Advancement designed the program in recognition of the contributions made by the Northeastern community to the university’s Empower campaign, a com­pre­hen­sive fundraising drive to secure $1 bil­lion in sup­port of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and research inno­va­tion.

“We are grateful to you for the work you do at Northeastern,” Diane MacGillivray, senior vice president for university advancement, told staff and faculty in attendance. “We created this series to thank you for your leadership in advancing this institution.”

McFeeters, she said, has embraced the Northeastern community, employing eight co-op students in her design office and donating 40 dresses for a fashion show fundraiser in support of Scout, Northeastern’s student-led design studio. “Kathleen’s focus, drive, and creativity all make her a great leader,” she noted. “I can’t think of a better way to launch this series than to have her here as our inaugural speaker.”

The program included a breakout session. Attendees discussed how McFeeters’ must-have leadership qualities apply to their work at Northeastern and then a designated spokesperson from each table reported the findings to the whole group.

“The traits are interwoven,” one team leader reported. “If you build trusted relationships, you’ll have more confidence to take risks.” Another focused on communication, saying that it’s important to “take a step back and make sure that everyone’s on the same page.”

McFeeters closed by imparting three more nuggets of wisdom to the aspiring leaders in the room. Be flexible, she told them, challenge yourself, and leave your ego at the door. “Bury your pride,” she said. “You cannot imagine the success you will have.”

The next installment of We Aspire is being planned for the spring. For more information about the program, please contact Kristin Pohl, director of talent management and organizational development for advancement, at

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