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Getting a Grip on Power with Patricia Sellers

October 11, 2011

As we gear up for our Women in Leadership Institute we wanted to share some insightful career tips that Patricia Sellers from Fortune has gathered through the years with her interviews with the women who have made the Most Powerful Women (MPW) rankings. To read her article and watch her video, click here>>

The following career tips are taken from Sellers’ recent article, Getting a grip on power: 10 tips for a successful career:

1.Don’t plan your career. Most of the women on the Fortune MPW list, starting with PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi, No. 1 in the rankings since 2006, had no clear career map when they graduated college or business school. Rather, they stayed flexible and open to the possibilities.

2. Forget the ladder; climb the jungle gym. What good is a ladder when the world is changing so fast and unpredictably–and who knows what tomorrow’s ideal job will be? Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.

3.Worry about the job you’re in. “If you don’t do that one well, you’ll never get the next one,” says Jan Fields, who started out cooking French fries at McDonald’s (MCD) and rose to U.S. President. While it’s important to envision some ultimate goal, says Fields, “you have to focus on what you have right now, or that long-term opportunity won’t come.”

4.Follow your compass, not your clock. Avon Products (AVP) CEO Andrea Jung lives by this advice, ever since she got passed over the first time around, for the CEO job. Former Time Inc. (TWX) CEO Ann Moore, on the Avon board at the time, gave Jung this advice. It’s good that Jung stayed. In the CEO role since 1999, she’s now the longest-serving female chief in the Fortune 500, and she’s on the Apple (AAPL) and General Electric (GE) boards.

5. Take risks. Google (GOOG) VP Marissa Mayer had a slew of job offers from well-known companies in 1999 when she was coming out of Stanford University with a Masters in Computer Science. She chose Google, then a brand new startup, because, she says,  “I wanted to work for smart people, and I wanted to do things I wasn’t ready to do.”

6.Be yourself. When Ursula Burns learned that she was going to be named CEO of Xerox (XRX), she knew that one of the easiest ways to succeed would be to act like her popular predecessor, who brought the company back from near-bankruptcy. “You can’t try to be me,” Burns recalls Mulcahy telling her. Burns says this is one of her rules today: “You can be somebody else and follow all your life, but you cannot be somebody else and lead.”

7. Don’t balance. Juggle. “Stop believing in balance,” says Anne Sweeney, who has raised two children including an autistic son while overseeing Disney’s (DIS) Media Networks. She calls balance “the B word because it just doesn’t exist.” On days when you can’t get it all done, “the best thing you can do is say, ‘You know what? I gave it my best and I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and try again. She adds, “There are days when it falls into place, but chances are, it happened because you had a lot of smart people that you work with who were knocking it out of the park.”

8. Give thanks. While, this may sound Polyannish, the people who make it to the top and stay there–especially women, who are judged within a narrower band of acceptable behavior than men tend to be–give out more appreciation than they take for themselves. “One of the greatest unwritten rules of business,” says Gina Drosos, in charge of a $20 billion beauty business at Procter & Gamble (PG), is that it’s so important to appreciate the hard work of your team and the people around you.” As Drosos notes, the higher you climb, the less you do it all yourself.

9. Don’t leave before you leave. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg introduced this advice in an essay that she wrote in Fortune‘s 2009 Most Powerful Women issue. She wrote the piece out of frustration–seeing way too many young women crimp career ambitions as they anticipate having children or otherwise settling down. Instead of “leaning back”–and then, almost inevitably getting bored–Sandberg advises: “Take life one step at a time and don’t make decisions before you have to.”

10.  Own your power. Most women on our MPW list cringed at the word “power” 13 years ago when we launched the annual rankings. Sandberg came around eventually (She describes her “a ha moment” in a recent New Yorker profile). Oprah Winfrey has too. The secret to getting comfortable with your power is to define it your own way. My favorite definition comes from Oprah, who told me: “Power is the ability to impact with purpose.”

Through our own research over the past two decades, we’ve found out that there are critical competencies and skills that enable leaders to drive results; capabilities women leaders need to accelerate in organizations today. The speed of succession of women leaders in the organization increases when organizations send multiple high potential women to a learning experience. And lastly, a high-impact, cohesive, and immersive learning experience that includes peer connection, deep skills-based learning, and on-going support is needed.

So we created the Women in Leadership Institute, an experience that begins onsite with a self-assessment, continues with focused learning sessions and peer learning teams, and maintains development after the experience with the Global Women’s Network.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 1–4, 2022 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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