Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Leadership Advice for Current and Future Executive Women

Earlier today I came across this helpful article on one of my favorite blogs, the Glass Hammer, with leadership advice from various executive women. Being a woman in the business word can be difficult, to say the least. Fortunately, the bloggers at the Glass Hammer have gathered some simple and straightforward advice. Check out a clip of their article below.

Get Really, Really, Really Good at Your Job.
“I didn’t chart my career out,” said Sutton, “but I always had a good view of what I loved doing and what the next career step might be.” Sutton started her career in finance as a clerk with Wachovia and worked her way up through the organization over 35 years, until she left to establish the banking business for Morgan Stanley. She added, “I’ve given advice to people I’ve mentored that if you are too focused on the next step, you are not going to do a very good job in the job you are in. And I’ve seen that over and over again. Get really, really, really good at the job you are in because if you are and you’ve mastered it, you will move from the next role to the next role to the next role, but if you look too far ahead, you probably won’t… People who seem to be really successful are great operators. They get in the business and understand the business.”

Be Comfortable With Ambiguity.
Said Smith, who, after 14 years of brand management and executive roles at Kraft Foods, was brought to Avon by Andrea Jung to help her transform the company: “We are all taught that great leaders set the strategy and then set everybody off marching. But, right now, nothing is more important than a general agile leader who is comfortable with ambiguity. Let’s face it - it is going to be a bumpy and fascinating ride. We need people who are nimble and agile in their thinking who are, to some degree, comfortable with figuring it out as they go along. We [at Avon] look for people who can handle change, who can handle the curve balls…understanding that you can’t possibly have it all figured out and being open to that. Also, people that can communicate and inspire. That’s always been important in leadership but now more than ever because you have to communicate and be really transparent and take people along on the journey, to say, ‘This is uncharted territory but this is where we are going.’” Sutton agreed, adding that even her job at Morgan Stanley, which was created for her, changed shortly after she joined the company. “What I was hired to do changed in 6 months and that shifted because the environment changed. [But it was OK because of] the belief I could make a difference.”

Think of Your Career as a Jungle Gym Rather Than a Ladder.
Moderator Pattie Sellers advised the audience of MBA women: “Don’t think of your career as a ladder, think of it as a jungle gym. If you think of it as a ladder, you won’t have the peripheral vision to enable you see the lateral opportunities and especially today when you don’t know what the hot job is going to be tomorrow. You’ve got to keep yourself open and you’ve got to swing to the opportunities that come along.” Smith agreed, “I believe the greatest plans are restrictive instead of instructive. Figure it out as you go along. The only guiding principle I’ve had is to insist that my life and work have passion and purpose. When I think about the pivotal jobs I took [like her move to Kraft’s Callard & Bowser-Suchard to handle the then-unknown Altoids brand for Kraft or the jump from being Group Vice President and President of the U.S. Beverages and Grocery Sectors in Kraft to Brand President for Avon], they really made no sense on paper.” She continued: “Just go into everything saying – I’m going to be inspired and I’m never going to settle and go where that takes you. ” And Sellers added, “I’m struck by women on the Fortune’s Most Powerful who’ve taken lateral moves or even taken downward moves because they wanted to expand their experiences. And that’s what pays off in the long term.”

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