Over my 20-year corporate career spanning five companies and six countries, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and be inspired by several leaders. Only a handful of those were women, but what exceptional women they are. They seemed to have it all—the career, the family, the lifestyle. Each of them had a different personality and work style, but they were tremendously successful and respected in their field. To top it all of, they made it look so easy.
As I grew in my career, I faced my own set of challenges—switching career paths, changing countries and balancing my work life with starting my own family in a different country. It was certainly not as easy as it looked. I asked for and distilled the advice from my role models.
Barra, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors, is as committed to bettering the GM environment as she is to actionable social change. Her career at GM has spanned more than four decades, during which she has overseen substantive change and transformation.
Today, Campbell is the executive vice president of The Home Depot. But once upon a time, she was a part-time cashier at the company while working her way through college.
Ranked among the most powerful women in business, Catz is an Israeli-American executive and current CEO of Oracle.
Johnson has served as president and CEO of Fidelity Investments and chairman of Fidelity International for a number of years after taking the reins from her father.
The CFO of Alphabet Inc. and Google, Porat is credited with leading the massive tech giants through financial crises.
The CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, Su, whose resume includes positions at IBM and Texas Instruments, oversaw one of the greatest tech transformations of all time.
Deemed a "trailblazer," Sweet, the CEO of Accenture, is considered "one of the most powerful women in corporate America" by The New York Times. Along with leading a top company, she seeks to inspire and support other women in business.
Serving as president and CEO of Artista for more than a decade, Ullal is credited with growing the company and making it what it is today.
Media mogul, business leader and one-woman empire, Winfrey has the ultimate rags-to-riches story — and today is one of the richest (and most famous) women in the world.
The CEO of YouTube has embodied a business spirit from a young age. After becoming involved with Google early on — Larry Page and Sergey Brin actually built Google in her garage — Wojcicki rose from a marketing manager at the then-startup to handling the purchase of and leading YouTube.
Almost all of these women leaders do these ten things regularly to yield tremendous success and respect in their workplace.
When you’re crystal clear about the value you’re bringing to your employer or client, it raises your self-worth and boosts your confidence. This skill is also helpful when negotiating higher compensation.
Each woman leader I worked with knew exactly how her skills and actions translated to value for her clients and employer. She was not afraid to ask for her worth.
Draft a one-liner statement based on these two questions: “what are you known for?” and “who do you help?”
Think about yourself as a brand (“I help CEOs do…..”) and not your employer (“I work for ABC company”). Focusing on you and your skills instead of the name of your workplace will allow you to clearly communicate your value at the next meeting or business opportunity.
Have you ever been in a meeting when you shared an idea, nobody reacted—but then a male colleague said the exact same thing and everyone loved it? Have you ever been cut off mid-sentence, then the whole discussion went a different way? It’s more common than you think.
Most of us would let this slide and then fume later. These women leaders made it a point to speak up and express their opinion and rationale. Whether the meeting participants agreed with them was irrelevant; the point was that they made themselves visible and their opinion heard.
The next time you get cut-off mid-sentence in a meeting, make it a point to get back in the discussion at the next opportunity, using phrases like “As I was saying earlier….” or “Coming back to the point I was making …….” Or “I’m glad you concur with the point I made earlier.”
I have also used “That’s exactly what I said 5 minutes ago!” in an informal group discussion where a male colleague literally repeated something I had expressed earlier in the meeting.
Where do you see yourself in five years, two years, even one year? Does it make you uncomfortable to think so far ahead? Are you letting your career run on autopilot?
In conversations with each woman leader, I realized they always had a vision for their career. Some told me that they do not plan more than two years out because the economy is so dynamic—but they had a clear vision of their career path until those two years were up.
More importantly, they broke down their vision into bite-sized actions on a career roadmap. This helped them identify the skills they needed to learn and understand how they needed to show up today to become the leader they envisioned tomorrow.
Conquer the overwhelm that comes with a big goal by drafting a career roadmap. You’ll get a bonus sense of accomplishment for completing your bite-sized milestones as you move towards that big scary career goal.
A successful leader knows the value of teams and making people grow. The woman leaders who inspired me genuinely cared for the professional growth and success of the people on their teams. They did this in multiple ways:
In all cases, these women cared most about the team member’s growth and long-term success. These women earned their team members’ respect by investing in their success. And in turn, these team members were deeply committed to these women leaders and their success.
All successful women leaders I’ve worked with had executive presence.
You could be the sharpest tool in the box and work the hardest, but get sidelined because you don’t “look” capable enough for your client or employer.
Executive presence is not about being the best-dressed or most beautiful woman in your workplace. It’s certainly not about wearing makeup or high heels. It’s about showing up professionally, dressed with poise and confidence.
Who would you like to hire? A smart person with a good executive presence, who shows confidence and composure in dress and demeanor—suggesting they are capable of handling complex roles? Or a brilliant but mad scientist who shows up disheveled and looks distracted—suggesting they could break down at the thought of handling large operations?
I have yet to see one successful woman leader who was also the president of the “Party Planning Committee” (sorry, Angela!).
I once worked with a strong woman leader on a project where a senior male leader joined in for a few days. On a Monday morning, we were going to the pantry when she asked him: “Coffee?” His response was, “Yes – cream and sugar, please.”
He just assumed she would get him his coffee.
As I fumed silently, she looked at him calmly and said in a perfectly normal voice, “So, will you be coming with us to the pantry?”
He was dumbfounded, and I was wowed by her cool response to a very sexist situation.
This is not to say that you have to be stuck-up and that you can’t do the occasional team coffee/ bakery run. But how many senior male leaders do you see physically getting coffee for their teams or planning office parties?
Whether we like it or not, this is a gender stereotype—and it’s best not to fall into that trap.
I’m not saying that successful women leaders are heartless. On the contrary, showing occasional vulnerability and sharing your story can help build powerful work relationships with your teams and clients. We’re not machines, after all.
Showing emotional balance at work is about how you handle challenging situations with your team or clients—conflict, missed deadlines, difficult projects, late nights. Do you crumble under pressure or flip out if a client complains about a work deliverable? Or are you able to objectively assess the situation and see how to fix it?
All the uber-successful women leaders I’ve met in my 20-year career were deeply respected for their maturity and capability in handling sensitive work situations—while staying on top of all their work commitments.
Never have I ever come across a successful woman leader who engaged in any form of gossip. This includes complaining about co-workers, getting personal information about colleagues, work relationships and more.
Almost all successful women leaders I’ve met were extremely disciplined about their schedule (always on time for meetings); health (waking up early to get a workout, eating balanced meals); family life (blocking time for family activities, assigning certain days to travel) and time (avoiding meetings that could be emails).
They managed their time extremely well, which allowed them to manage multiple work projects—along with prioritizing their families and themselves.
When you meet an extremely successful woman leader, you have met a person who has evolved the action of saying no to an art form.
I have met talented women who raise their hand for everything and then die trying to deliver on all their work commitments. They sacrifice family life, get raccoon eyes from all the late nights and still disappoint their seniors at work because their deliverable did not wow them.
Deeply respected women leaders know exactly how much work to take on or whom to delegate it to so they can deliver stellar results—all while having a life.
Setting boundaries and managing expectations is the key to having it all.
Women who are deeply respected at their workplace have faced the same challenges as us. It’s their responses to these challenges that have made their colleagues respect them and their careers skyrocket. Which of these ten actions will you implement in your career next?
This article was written by an FGB Contributor.
Punya is a former management consultant with 15 years of experience at 2 Big4 firms, serving top Fortune500 clients. She has lived and worked in 6 countries and changed 3 careers working across several industries. Punya is passionate about sharing the crucial, but little known Business Skills that can help you stop playing small, land the most high profile projects and build a reputation that gets you the recognition you deserve. Find her on the BYOND GOOD Blog, Quora, or LinkedIn.
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