In a sense, I have led two careers in my life. For nearly twenty years I climbed the corporate ladder in a Fortune 500 company, working in virtually every department at some capacity, taking both lateral moves and promotions in order to gain the most extensive experience I could. The time I spent in the corporate world was invaluable; enriching my experience by working with different kinds of people, building my network, and receiving sage guidance from my mentors – both male and female. I would encourage anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship to take a corporate tour for a few years before starting a business, for that corporate experience made me well-prepared on the path to starting my own business.
And so for the past 15 years, my second career has been The Northridge Group, which I co-founded and continue to be CEO. Both of these careers have taught me a great deal about what it means to lead and, naturally, lead as a woman. I am particularly excited by the shift in momentum for women’s leadership and advancement in the workplace from a primarily “women’s” issue to one that is important for both genders to achieve the greatest success. The UN Women’s #HeForShe campaign is a powerful example of the global championing for gender equality and empowerment that are helping to accelerate the need for equal rights and balanced leadership. We need to position women for success in every corner of the world, and every man, woman, and organization can be part of that journey.
In an effort to position every person for success, I have described a few essential skills that both women and men should master in order to lead with success:
Confidence is Key
The higher you rise in an organization, the fewer pats on the back you will receive. More often, feedback will highlight the areas in which you need to improve rather than all the things you’ve done well. In business, you must have the confidence to know that critical feedback can give you direction. Occasionally, people can take business critique personally, and it’s important to understand the distinction.
Worry Less about Being Liked
Early in my career, I had a female senior executive say to me, “If you don’t get over being liked, you’re going to have to be happy where you’re at because it will take tough decisions to move forward.” It was a lesson that has stuck with me. Most people prefer to be liked, but as a leader making tough, critical choices, there are going to be moments where a decision might make you unpopular. It is substantially more important to have the respect of your team than it is for everyone to like you.
Many of the female executives I know will tell me that it is the men that come into their office and ask for the next job. They are honest and open about what they want and can back up their requests with proven results. Women who are successful do the same. More often than not, however, women expect the results to speak for them when in reality it is each woman that needs to speak up. Executives need to know that you want the job and need you to fight for it.
More often than not, women expect the results to speak for them, when in reality, it is each woman that needs to speak up.
No one achieves true success without authenticity. The definition of success will differ from person to person, so you must create and be true to your own scorecard. Often, a woman’s definition of success has a broader scope than a man’s. As far as your professional career, success might be a certain job title, income or flexibility; whatever the metric is, you won’t get there without understanding what is most important to you. Follow your skill set and your gut to get to the place that will satisfy your own terms of success.
While the numbers may be disappointing when we consider that women don’t represent a large portion of the c-suite in Fortune 500s, it encourages me to see the growing enlightenment and progress toward achieving an equal and balanced workplace for men and women. Nothing happens overnight. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” With each person that recognizes gender inequality as a critical issue and takes a step to alleviate biases, this grants the world opportunity for growth.