Women Who Lead: A Guide to Making It to the Top - Page 2

By Pam Baker
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Create Your Own Leadership Advisory Board

You're a smart and savvy professional, but you're too close to the subject (e.g., you) to be objective—especially in areas you're most passionate about. You're also not in a position to know how other people perceive you or to see options that may not be clear in your current field of vision.

You need an advisory board of trusted people who can meet to discuss your options and the viability of your current plans. This will help you take the actions that effectively move you forward.

"One of the most important things a woman can do to propel her career [or business] is to develop an advisory board," says Lori Dernavich, a growth-stage leadership advisor to CEOs and startups.

"Advisory boards aren't just for companies. They're equally important for an individual with plans to grow her career," says Dernavich. "An advisory board will open your eyes to new paths or validate the one you're choosing. It will also uncover what might stand in your way and how to work around it."

She recommends starting your advisory board with a mix of eight to 10 highly skilled people that you trust. Look for people among these groups: clients, friends, colleagues, mentors, previous bosses, and people from outside your company or industry.

"Get the board together in one room to have this discussion, so they can play off of each other. The information will be far richer than if you reached out to them individually," she says.

Leadership tips for women

Own Your Professional Story

While an advisory board provides value as a resource and as a sounding board for your ideas, it can also help you hone your professional message.

"Spend the time—and use support from a coach or an advisor—to explore and understand how your experiences, interests, values, and desires have all shaped you; and get very comfortable talking about it," said Nayla Bahri.

Bahri, a doctorate in adult learning and leadership, spent many years as an assistant dean at Columbia's MBA program. Currently an adjunct faculty member and leadership coach at Columbia, she works in global talent management for Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, a medical diagnostics company.

"Once you've honed your story, whatever it is, get it out there," says Bahri. "Too many women still demur when given the chance to share their achievements or aspirations. We all respect humility and a sense of humor about our personal biographies, but if we don't own our stories, someone else will write them for us—and that's risky."

Bahri adds that women need to be crystal clear about both what they offer and what they want to learn. "And don't apologize for it. We often brush off the importance of a skill set that comes easily to us because of our experience or natural talent," she says.  "Someone else needs that skill, and someone else struggles with something at which you excel—don't disregard it."

Good Leaders Leave a Tidy House

Have you trapped yourself in place by simply being too good at your job? Higher-ups may shudder at the thought of you moving up and leaving crucial tasks to an inferior being. Yes, it happens.

In order to move up, you must first prepare to move out and leave a steady ship in your wake. This is true whether you're an employee or the head of your own company. What you leave behind you is as much a sign of your leadership abilities as the way you handle the challenges ahead.

"Make sure you have a successor," says Cafasso. "If you don't, you'll never be able to move on to your next assignment. Make developing your team and succession planning a priority, and make sure that you give your high potential folks exposure to your boss and the level above you, so they'll feel confident letting a successor take your place. Develop that bench!"

That's exactly what good male leaders do. You need to do it, too. A true leader climbs the career ladder but leaves every rung she passes in a better state than she found it.

Resources for Women Leaders

Each of the experts we interviewed for this story offered resources to help you in your climb to the top. Here's the complied list:

  • Catalyst.org: a top resource for women and business. Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit organization working on expanding opportunities for women. With more than 700 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst has offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, and Japan.
  • Women 2.0: a media company offering content and conferences for women innovators in technology (both current and aspiring). "Our mission is to increase the number of female founders of technology startups with inspiration, information, and education through our platform."
  • Women Unlimited: an organization that sells comprehensive leadership training packages that groom talented women to be the next generation of top executives.
  • The Corner Office: a section of The New York Times devoted to conversations about leadership and management.
  • Local opportunities cited: your local alumni association, local sorority alumni chapter, and link up with potential mentors and mentees at networking events.
  • The books I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion and Create the Career You Deserve and Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do, both by Kate White, former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and New York Times bestselling author of business books and suspense novels.

Pam Baker has written for numerous leading publications including, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, the NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on October 29, 2015
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