There are five key themes that have run through my career and the careers of those women I know who are happy in executive positions. I would advise all women looking to advance in a corporation to focus on them:

  1. Think big. This goes not only for setting high goals for your career, but for how you go about solving business problems. Too many people get accustomed to existing industry, process, or departmental constructs and do not push themselves to be imaginative and think past them. They undermine themselves. There is great demand in corporations for those who can imagine a better tomorrow and execute a plan to realize that vision.
  2. Speak in facts. Yes, everyone does need to get comfortable with making decisions and moving forward when the ideal amount of information is not available. However, it pays to become skillful at uncovering facts quickly. Don’t get caught up in the whirlwinds of heated conjecture—take a quick step back to get your facts in order. Assembling a reasonable level of information doesn’t take as long as you may imagine it will; I cannot overstate the benefits of having compelling business cases filled with fact-based options.
  3. Keep your support systems healthy. There is no question about it: you will have highs and lows in your career—it’s a journey. The successful women I know regularly make time to maintain the support systems that help make them who they are. You define your own support systems; they may center around faith or relationships with family, mentors, colleagues, or friends. By investing in them now, you’ll be able to count on them to see you quickly through any rough times ahead.
  4. Have fun and give back. This is not just “nice to have.” In my book, it’s a must. Learning how to create fun and community within corporate teams pays huge dividends. Think back to the times you have most enjoyed your job—I bet it is due in large part to the leadership caring enough to emphasize fun and community. Everybody wants to have a sense of belonging at work, and you have the power to create that! It starts with setting goals in this area just as you would in any other important area of your work and personal life.
  5. No regrets. First, become a highly competent decision maker—in circumstances when you have consensus up front and when you do not. Then don’t be afraid to change direction if needed. There is often more risk in delaying an important decision than in making a marginal one. You do not want regrets or fear to constrain making a decision because these are not only useless feelings, they have a tendency to stifle that all-important creativity!