I spoke with a few female executives about their career path as I am figuring out my own and here is what they had to say.
I have recently taken on a leadership position as an executive and this is completely new terrain for me. As I often do when I find myself in such situations, I reached out to a few female executives to learn about their career path and any leadership lessons or advice that they had to offer. I found this to be very insightful and here are some lessons they have shared with me that I am privileged to share with you.
1. Their career path was not linear
A common and recurring thread in what I have heard so far is that the career path has NOT been linear. In fact in many cases it looks completely different from what they had anticipated. This is both reassuring and scary. A lot of the times the big career leaps happened through unexpected circumstances that they were able to pivot into a new position. Another common thing is that they were dedicated with a strong work ethic in their role at the time and this led to them being considered for an executive leadership position.
Key lesson: what you do when no-one is watching matters; your hard work and work ethic will single you out even when you are not expecting it.
2. They were supported by mentors
Nearly all the executives I have spoken to were mentored either formally or informally by people who were more experienced than them. In many cases they sought advice of mentors on a case by case basis or on general career advice. Every single executive I spoke to talked about mentors and their importance in providing career guidance.
Key lesson: regardless of your professional level, you need mentors to help you level-up your career. Check out this blog post on 5 ways a mentor can help you level-up your career.
3. They battled with impostor syndrome
This one surprised me a lot. I didn't expect that impostor syndrome was something you experienced even as an experienced executive but yes, even executives go through periods of imposter syndrome. Especially when one is either female, or a person of colour or BOTH. This was both reassuring and nerve racking. I thought that surely the higher you go in your career, you would be able to overcome the thoughts of self-doubt. Giving yourself time to find your groove was one of the key ways to overcome impostor syndrome. Also having good mentors to encourage you as you navigate the journey is very important.
Key lesson: imposter syndrome doesn't just happen early in your career. Learning to overcome it is a skill you'll need to do every time you're in a new professional terrain. Check out this blog post I wrote on how to overcome imposter syndrome
3. They found their voice
I have been surprised to hear that a lot of the executives found their voice. They found their groove and also found this inner confidence. This is not something that came from outside. It was an internal reflection. It was a decision than then brought on the feeling of confidence. It was also a result of realizing that those around the table weren't any more worthy of being there as the executives themselves. In realizing that there wasn't anything particularly extraordinary about those in leadership positions allowed the leaders I spoke with to also affirm their role around the table. Finding your voice also means having the courage to speak up and speak against injustices and unfair practices.
Key lesson: seek opportunities that help you to find your voice. Build that internal confidence and recognize that it doesn't come from outside but rather from within.
4. They weren't afraid of making mistakes
They overcame this by giving themselves the grace to not be right all the time and to embrace mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. In fact as the fear of making mistakes subsides, the more their confidence grew. These leaders recognized that making a mistake is inevitable - the most important part is to learn from the mistake. Overcoming the paralysis and fear of taking a wrong turn helped the leaders to hone in on their decision-making skills.
Key lesson: learning from mistakes is far more important from fearing and running away from mistakes altogether.
5. They didn't have to know everything
In this day and age of google and smart phones, a lot of information is available and is quite handy at our fingertips.
It's ok to say "I don't know the answer but I will find out and get back to you
This is an important skill that brings you confidence. You realize that you are not required to know everything, you are often required to figure out how to get the information or who to get the information from. As long as you remain resourceful and humble, you will always grow professionally. This also eases the pressure and you suffer less imposter syndrome. Depend on the strengths and expertise of your team and build a team that covers the areas that may not be your strong points.
Key lesson: focus on learning where the resources can be found but stay humble and acknowledge if you don't know the immediate answer committing to find out
Regardless of where your career is at, these lessons are applicable. Did any resonate with you? Join the Career Slay Mama Tribe so you never miss a post!