Wisdom is gained with time and experience. And when it comes to wisdom learned in business, most female executives can attest that there are plenty of mistakes, failures, and life epiphanies along the way.
It’s been nearly a decade since I took the plunge into a new career field, working my way up from an entry-level employee. Today, as a COO making her way to the executive suite, I’d love to share some of my own with you.
Here are 10 things I wish I knew when I started my journey into female leadership.
Advice from a female executive: 10 things I wish I knew back then
Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. During and after college, I had three great job offers on the table. New to the game, I saw each salary as a fixed number that I had to accept no matter what. However, that’s not always the case. Don’t be afraid to ask for more upfront—even if you’re fresh out of school.
If you want it, ask for it. Your value is not set based on what is offered to you. YOU establish your value. In most cases, you can almost always earn more. You cannot rely on others to want to pay you more. You have to gain the courage to ask for it.
Not all leaders are rooting for you to succeed. Sometimes people will give you bad advice simply because they want you to fail. Sometimes people won’t support you, or they’ll outright refuse to train you. Why? Because they want to keep you small. As you begin your career, go into it knowing you can’t trust everyone. Don’t blindly follow one leader’s advice. Instead, seek mentors outside of your circle who can offer a variety of perspectives and wisdom.
Don’t internalize other people’s actions. Have you encountered a coworker who very obviously isn’t your biggest fan? Or are you supervising someone who never finishes work on time or produces less than desirable results? It’s good to consider ways to help, but try to remember not to internalize the actions or behaviors of others. Try not to judge and know that not everything other people do is your fault. Sometimes, people simply are who they are—with or without you in the picture.
Lead and serve from the heart. I certainly started my career with this mindset. However, along the way I lost sight of this mission and instead became far too task oriented. Once I realized the disconnect, I had to work hard to find my back to leading and serving from my heart.
Find your own leadership style. Know your values and let them guide you as you climb the ranks of your career. Focus on being your own authentic self as a leader and avoid copying other people. Consider who you’re following before adopting their beliefs and habits. Do they have the same values as you? Once, for example, I took a course that encouraged me to essentially give up my life and sacrifice family time for my business. I very quickly realized that’s not for me. I need an outlet—and that includes friends, family, and other support systems. Be careful how much you adapt to other people’s style.
Establish your values early on. If you don’t set your boundaries from the get go, others will do it for you. Enter a job having already set your non-negotiable boundaries, and make them known to your superiors and colleagues. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself doing things you never thought you would. It’s how people end up working 70 hours a week, missing family events, and making sacrifices they never intended to make for their careers.
Your value comes from where you value yourself. The time to value yourself is now, not when others are being valued. Are you yearning for a higher salary? You don’t have to see someone join your team at a higher rate to ask for one yourself. You don’t have to wait. If you’ve worked hard and you know you’ve earned it, the time is now.
You will never be 100% ready. Earning a new role or title isn’t what makes you ready. You only gain experience through doing. Don’t wait to speak up at meetings. Don’t wait to start training. Don’t wait to do the things you think are limited to higher ranking positions. Do those things now and develop the habits that will accelerate you faster into the job of your dreams. Ask yourself— What attributes do I need to be great in this position? And start working on them now.
If you want your ideas accepted, present them in full detail in writing. Don’t just speak up—write out a strategy. Put ideas in writing and submit them. This has single-handedly been the most powerful weapon for me in my career. In truth, I didn’t understand the power of it when I first started.
Writing is powerful. And if you start writing out small problems today, you’ll soon be able to tackle large things tomorrow. When you write it, it’s yours. No one can take that from you or claim it as their own. You’re the author. The writing makes those things stick. When speaking, others can cut you off and change the narrative. When it’s in writing, it’s black and white. They may not agree, but they have to take notice of it.
Want to learn how to write your way to the career of your dreams? Check out My Promotion Plan, a strategic guide for getting promoted as an aspiring female business leader.