I’ve observed that increased job responsibilities generally require a greater ability to manage ambiguity. There are nearly always multiple right answers to challenging problems and your job is to choose the best option. This ambiguity often makes people uncomfortable, but it’s a skill worth mastering.

While most of my role changes have been ones where the opportunities were presented without me seeking them directly, I believe fundamentally that they resulted from my track record, openness to change, and eagerness to learn.

An important time and learning for me was when my husband, Randy, and I were preparing for the birth of the first of our three children. I needed flexibility to focus on family. So I proposed a new role that essentially shifted me off the “fast-track,” allowing me to work part-time—mostly from home during nontraditional hours—but still address business critical needs.

The responsibilities of the new role ranged from technology road-mapping and patent analysis, to late-night teleconferences to help develop our growing international teams. While the changes may have seemed like a step back, they were actually foundational to building a unique set of competencies. These insights, connections, and experiences have been invaluable to me in every role since.

Sometimes the most obvious short-term path isn’t the one that serves you best in the long run

On Doing the Inner Work that Makes You Better
The essential skills early in my career came from a strong scientific foundation. As my career progresses, the learning comes more from direct engagement with people—external groups, customers, and a variety of 3M’s top experts. This was particularly critical when I changed industries from electronics to healthcare, then to our consumer business. Whether it’s training at a wound clinic, touring international retail markets, or learning about electronics assembly in a Chinese clean room, experience is often the best teacher.

On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
There are three key elements that lead to success and staying competitive:
• Hard work and openness to collaboration and true partnership
• Knowing what you don’t know, finding people who do, and partnering with them to make things happen
• Leveraging technology and innovation to solve problems that help create a better future for our planet and the people living on it

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I’m fortunate to have had many fantastic informal mentors over the course of my career. The mentors who have had the most profound impact are those who encouraged me to think and go big—bigger than I’d ever imagined for myself.
Examples range from pursuing a PhD, to balancing motherhood and increased work responsibilities, to pursuing an executive career path.

On Facing Challenges
My hardest challenge has been making sure to hit the right balance and focus at the right time for both my family and career to flourish.

Gayle’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
• Be true to your unique self—there is no single “right” path and every day starts anew
• Spend the time, and make the effort, early on to build a strong foundation of skills and knowledge that will create options you can explore throughout your life; continue to build along the way and be open to possibilities as they unfold