Apparently the glass ceiling for some women is nonexistent. We know the numbers say that such a thing exists. And, in fact, many women deal with it on a daily basis. But then there are those who have risen to the top of their respective fields and hardly mention a ceiling at all.
I discovered this phenomenon while working on my book Women Make Great Leaders, where I interview successful women and ask them how they overcame the issues that held back so many others. I found six recurring themes that propelled them to the top.
1. You can’t (and shouldn’t) be mentored by an adversary.
It is easy to see men as your enemy—the foe that you need to vanquish to get to the corner office. But successful women who I’ve spoken to don’t operate under that assumption. In fact, they have found remarkable men who are not threatened by their success and even champion it. The stats are clear: There are currently far more men in upper management than women. That means there’s a good chance that you’ll be mentored by a man. Putting a target on him will create tension and likely disqualify you from the guidance you need to rise in your organization. Build great relationships. Acquire some wise counselors who have your best interest at heart. Heed their advice and they will be your much-needed guides.
2. Be willing to take on difficult roles when they present themselves.
Success and failure can both create opportunities for you. When things are going poorly for your organization, there is a frantic search for answers and people to help guide you out of the wilderness. When things are going well, there is a frantic search for good people to keep it going well. In both cases, opportunities are likely to come for you. Not the simple and easily accomplished variety, but high-wire walking, perilous assignments that are fraught with danger and have failure written all over them. When successful women selectively step out on the high wire and take those assignments, the upside is enormous. When every spectator is waiting for you to fall, then falling isn’t the end of the world, right? But everybody sees when you make it to the other side, and your stock rises accordingly.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail.
This is closely related to No. 2. If you constantly walk on eggshells and feel that one miss could mean the end of your career, you’ll never try to accomplish the big things that will make your career what it could be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a healthy dose of fear and trepidation when you step out. In fact, fear can be a fantastic motivator to find answers and accomplish things, if you don’t let it paralyze you. Successful women feel the fear and step out anyway.
4. Learn the financial side of the business.
Leadership and relationship skills are critical to success, no doubt. But they are less effective without a third aspect that seems to be most always present: financial and business acumen. If you want to know and really understand the dashboard of an organization, you have to know what’s going on with the money. It’s just that simple. Inject yourself into those conversations as often as possible. Again, have a mentor who will sit down with you and explain how the finances work.
5. Build a great network of advocates and partners.
Women are great relationship builders. They find common ground, and they are in their comfort zone building bridges. That’s one very important reason why today’s organizations need more women in their C-suites and corner offices. The truth is, no man or woman is an island, and to accomplish anything great, you’ll need a team who has your back and is willing to be honest with you at all times.
6. Stay humble and resolute.
You will win. And when you do, be a gracious winner. Become one of those people who lifts other people up and mentors them to achieve the great things they aspire to do. You had help getting where you are. Pay it forward.
Jill Griffin is an independent public board director; internationally published, Harvard “Working Knowledge” author; and global thought leader on customer loyalty. Jill is passionate about bringing more diversity to the corporate board room, and since 2003, she has served as Board Director for Luby’s/Fuddruckers Restaurants. She is the author of Customer Loyalty, Customer Winback, Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer and Earn Your Seat on a Corporate Board.