In the past few months, I’ve interviewed dozens of female CEOs and C-suite executives, trying to understand what it was that helped them succeed in order to provide others the insights and inspiration they need to do the same. While the challenges and opportunities of the women I’ve interviewed were quite different, I’ve found some striking similarities in what it took for them to get to the top. Of course they are all smart and hard-working. That’s a given. But there were several other things about these women that played a major role in their ability to get ahead where others did not or could not. So, as you think about your New Year’s resolutions regarding your career, I offer you these 6 tips for how to make 2017 your best year yet at work.
1. Stop worrying about what you don’t know.
Every person I’ve interviewed has noted that women all too often sell themselves short when considering a new position by focusing on all the things they don’t know or haven’t done. The fact is, no one (male or female) has ever walked into a new job knowing 100% that they are equipped to succeed. The difference is, men don’t let on. They’re just more comfortable taking a “fake it till you make it ” approach. So ladies, my first tip is to put aside self-doubt; stop the self-sabotage. And, get ready to just go for it! Get comfortable raising your hand, taking more risks and advocating for yourself.
2. Get clear about what you want.
Now that you are ready to put yourself out there, it’s important to know why you are doing it. When I worked with Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft Foods she frequently said “we can do anything, but not everything.” The same is true for each of us individually. I believe you can do almost anything you want, but only if you are clear about what you want and what you are willing to do to get it. Without clarity and prioritization, you have very little chance of getting what you want. As one woman I interviewed said “the reason most people don’t get what they want is that they don’t know what they want.” Amen! And if you’re just starting out and really have no idea what you want, then just go for growth – try new things, get out of your comfort zone, etc. The more you try, the more you’ll realize what you’re good at and what you like and don’t like – a critical first step in determining your future path. Believe me, not succeeding isn’t your greatest enemy, especially these days when entrepreneurs fail multiple times on the way to becoming billionaires. A lack of trying is the only true failure you can’t get over.
3. Learn to negotiate.
Once you’ve raised your hand, you need to figure out how to close the deal. While some individuals may be naturally better at it than others, everyone can learn to be a good negotiator. That’s important because there’s simply no way around it – savvy negotiation is required to get what you want in life and at work. So, read a book, listen to our podcasts, watch your bosses, do whatever works for you but learn how to negotiate effectively.
4. Pick the right partner.
You might think it’s all about you but, to a person, the women I interviewed said they couldn’t have done it alone. So, it’s no surprise they viewed picking the right partner as one of the most important factors influencing their career success. Why? Because to succeed at work, everyone needs help at home, even if you don’t have kids. So whether they bought help or married it, the women who made it to the top were uniformly not afraid to ask for the support they needed.
5. Start investing now in building and maintaining relationship.
If you aren’t doing it already, build relationships with friends, mentors and sponsors – both within and beyond your current job. Most of the women I interviewed got ahead and survived the tough times based on having strong personal and professional relationships and networks they could tap into. So this isn’t a “nice to do” – it’s a “must do.”
6. If you haven’t had a P&L role yet, seek one out.
Whatever sector or function you ultimately want to go into, you’ve got to understand business. As Sally Blount of the Kellogg School of Management has pointed out “business is the dominant force today” so even if you want to go into the government or non-profit sector, you need a decent foundation in finance, economics, marketing, etc. Therefore, stop shying away from P&L roles. Grab one! You’ll forever be glad you did.
It’s early days in my project to help women uncover the insights and inspiration they need to create the careers and lives of their dreams. But, there is much we can all learn from these women who have already made it to the top. No matter what pivot point you are at in your career, let’s all put these tips to work in order to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.
Perry Yeatman is a dynamic corporate executive turned consultant, social entrepreneur and award-winning author. Throughout her 30+ year career Perry held senior leadership positions at two of the world’s largest companies (Unilever and Kraft Foods) and led ground-breaking communications work in more than 100 countries. Today she is the Founder and CEO of Your Career, Your Terms; CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners; and External Director at Mission Measurement.