Mellody Hobson is leaning in.

Mellody Hobson

Investment Expert

Chicago, Illinois

It’s one thing to be assertive but quite another to be abrasive. Similarly, there is a fine line between confidence and overconfidence.

While in college, I worked as intern at Ariel Investments. As the youngest of six kids from a single mom, and the first and only to graduate from college, I had very little knowledge of the inner workings of the business world. When I graduated in 1991, I decided to return to the firm to continue my education.

At the age of 22, my “shiny new penny” perspective was dramatically impacted by lunch with my firm’s founder and then-president, John W. Rogers, Jr. On Day One, at the local TGI Friday’s, John informed me that I would frequently find myself in the company of rich and successful people with big titles, lots of degrees and lots of experience—and yet, my ideas could still be as good or even better.

This early advice bucked up a shaky voice and became the guiding force that has underscored my entire career. When I was starting out, I thought my inexperience was a liability, but John contended my greenness was an asset because it offered a fresh point of view. As my mentor, John encouraged me to be bold. As my boss, he took some giant leaps of faith to support me.

Because of our first lunch and the years of support that followed, I never questioned speaking up, raising my hand or taking a seat at the table. Leaning back was never an option. But John’s advice came with a one important caveat—I needed to keep my ego in check. It’s one thing to be assertive but quite another to be abrasive. Similarly, there is a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. With that in mind, I have had to learn to balance leaning in with humility. As someone once told me, “the goal is to be non-threatened and non-threatening.”

Now, as the President of Ariel Investments, I work hard to mentor and encourage our youngest teammates. While there are many stories to share from my years at the firm, I often echo the advice of my mentor, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”

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