Today, compared to years past, women aspiring to be corporate executives are in a position of opportunity. In a highly competitive global economy, talent supercedes everything. I know we can all agree that America is in no short supply of talented women. That’s great news for women, America, and corporate enterprise.

Throughout my 26-year career at Cintas, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a progressive culture that’s transformed a once small, regional laundry into one of Fortune’s “Most Admired” companies. I’m proud to share some of the valuable lessons learned:

  • Cherish front-line employees. Regardless of your corporate position, spend time with the people in the field who actually do the work. Make it a priority to ride with service or sales representatives, and roll up your sleeves and work in the plant. Understand what it takes to exceed customers’ expectations.
  • Diverse experiences will shape your ability to lead others and make executive decisions later in your career. While both are important, education and wisdom are not the same. Through experience, learn the business, build exceptional levels of trust, and gain the wisdom from successful mentors and leaders. Stay positive and focused, and be a great listener.
  • Learn the “big picture” early in your career by volunteering for interdepartmental projects. Go for the tough ones, the unpopular ones, the ones that allow you to see how all the pieces fit together to solve problems. Build a broad network. Later in your career, you’ll draw on those experiences and knowledge. You will know where to get valuable information in order to make informed decisions.
  • Have a sense of humor; never forget how to laugh. All of us face challenges at work and at home, and the work/life balance is never perfectly level. Take the position that obstacles are meant to be opportunities. Stay positive and enjoy what you do. People will be inspired by your professionalism and enthusiasm. The ability to inspireothers will carry you far as a leader.