Given that ~10% of Fortune 500 companies are being led by women, it’s clear that there are systemic flaws that make the path more challenging than it should be. However, time and again women have broken these barriers, and thus, have experiences and insights that are crucial for empowering future generations of women leaders. In this context, we’ve collected some thoughts from successful women leaders who share how they navigated the ups and downs to get where they are today.
Maintain a growth mindset
“Worry more about how you are going to learn and grow than about what role you are going to have next,” advises Kim Caldbeck, Chief Marketing Officer at Coursera. Concentrating on the possibilities in front of her, even if they weren’t immediately connected to her ultimate goals, is how Caldbeck developed the core knowledge she currently employs in cross-functional leadership. “And ask questions along the way,” she adds. “Until you are able to form your own opinions, get a lot of feedback, and work to improve and grow each day.”
Don’t be afraid of failure
Sara Blakely, self-made millionaire and CEO of Spanx, said that failure was an important part of her youth and helped form her into the leader she is today. “My father pushed us to try and fail. “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mind set at an early age that failure is not the outcome; failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid,” she says. Blakely continues to push this concept inside her company, freely sharing her blunders and encouraging her staff to do the same at “oops meetings.”
Never underestimate the power of mentorship
Reshma Kewalramani, MD, FASN, chief executive officer and president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, says that “Mentorship is important because life is about evaluating weak signals and trying to make the best decision by connecting the dots in these weak signals. That’s where mentors come in. They sit on a different perch. They have different life experiences. They read the weak signals differently. And by sharing their perspectives, they often open the aperture for what’s possible.” Kewalramani also adds that “It’s important to remember that mentors don’t have to be similar to you. Seek multiple mentors who come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. Two of my most important mentors are men, and the diversity of thought, ideas, and life experiences are what helped these mentorships flourish.”
Continuously envision why you want to lead
In the words of the current Executive Adviser and Former CEO of Women Deliver, Katja Iversen, “Keep the vision of why you want to lead and, not least, what you want to lead towards. And keep articulating the vision for the work to your staff and partners. That is what makes the difference between a manager and a leader.”
Focus on your strengths
“My advice to women looking to progress is to focus on your strengths and play to those,” says Kylie Green, SVP of Global Sales at Reward Gateway. “Put your hand up for everything so you can learn anything you can. Be a superstar in your current role, so the next opportunity doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Show you are coachable – ask for regular feedback and demonstrate that you can absorb and implement it”, she adds. “Finally, don’t be shy! Share your wins and your losses (and learnings), and chat about your ambition. Make sure you are on the radar, so you are front of mind when an opportunity comes up.”
See opportunity in redirection
“There’s no such thing as a right or wrong decision. It’s simply a learning opportunity,” says Angela Kim, Chief Product Officer at Chief, a female-led executive leadership community. Kim began her career in consulting before moving into product, as she quickly decided it wasn’t the right path for her. Rather than spiraling into self-doubt, she used the chance to increase her self-awareness, attempting to understand what she disliked about consulting and how to go ahead with that new perspective. “Reframing it into a decision and not adding judgment made it all that much easier to learn from the experience and apply what I learned to my future career in product and tech,” she adds.
There is a lot we can learn from the paths traversed by successful women leaders. So, take a moment to reflect on a woman who’s inspired you, whether it’s someone you work with or a well-known figure. Their stories are sure to provide you with an impetus to chase your dreams and achieve success.