An article this week in the Wall Street Journal, How Women Can Get Ahead – Advice from Female CEO’s, recounted opinions from 11 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies about factors that fueled their careers and myths about the “advancement of women” they encountered along the way.
While the topic of gender differences and discrimination – both overt and subtle – fills volumes, I would suggest that most of the sage advice from these CEOs pertains increasingly to both women and men, especially as traditional gender roles have blurred – or been tossed out the window completely.
While many experts, including the legendary Jack Welch, believe that achieving superior performance – with accountability and external benchmarking – is the be-all end-all for success, a number of additional skills and attributes were cited, several of which included:
- Take risks: Angela Braly, CEO, WellPoint, advises, “Take the worst, messiest, most challenging assignment and then take control.”
- Demonstrate a strong work ethic: Make that super-strong
- Pursue new skills relentlessly: Denise Morrison, during her rise to CEO of Campbell Soup, served as VP of marketing and actually worked in a manufacturing plant to learn how the supply chain worked.
- Take responsibility for the dynamic around you: Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications, cites situations of making points in boardrooms and being discounted. When the same point was made later by a male, she took action by stopping the conversation and saying, “Do you realize I said that ten minutes ago?”
- Don’t wait to get noticed: While Wilderotter agrees that performance is the “ticket to the dance,” she also notes that all is not fair in the workplace. She advises, “Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd. When you hit a goal, speak up… A lot of women think the myth is true, that if you just do a good job and work hard, you’ll get recognized. That’s not the case.”
The last two points underscore the importance of good communications and applying public relations strategies. While appropriately tooting your own horn is vital to your career, doing it effectively yet graciously can be tricky. A few tips:
- Cite your results objectively with facts and figures. Don’t call them great; let others be the judge.
- “Merchandise” your results with clear messages. Include “context” for how and why your work provided value for your client and your company. In other words, what’s the takeaway and why should someone be impressed?
- Share credit with others. Acknowledge colleagues above and below you and/or clients, while also pointing out your role.
- Note challenges you encountered and how you overcame them to show hard work and creativity/problem solving.
- Provide positive feedback you’ve received along the way; record this as you go so you don’t forget.
- Make suggestions for next steps and future projects.
Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals sums up the best way to avoid bias by emphasizing that we can all work diligently to “establish an environment where good ideas can come from anyone – young, old, man, woman, assistant, executive – and opportunities are open to everyone.”
We’d love to hear about a situation you encountered that stymied your progress – and how you responded?
Photo: Career Advancement Blog