Like most career women, I had timelines in mind for achieving certain milestones, accomplishments and academic degrees. However, my personal life choices often altered these timelines—for the better. I was drawn to the opportunities offered by the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as a contracting officer. After choosing to leave the service when I got married, I continued to support the Air Force in a civilian role. There, I connected with an experienced mentor, who took time to teach me about the job and managing a career. After graduate school, a stint as a small business owner and raising four children, I moved to Textron Defense Systems, where that same mentor offered me a promising new career opportunity.

I continue to seek out mentors today, both professionally and personally. Mentoring opportunities are often informal – asking questions of subject matter experts, or networking with peers to seek best practices. I believe learning must be a priority for people looking to advance their careers. Formal education is important, but so are those informal learning opportunities you find in your daily job. I’m also an avid reader as a way to expand my horizons, learn from history, and grow both personally and as a leader.

The best leaders I’ve seen are invested in their employees’ success. Knowing my boss cares about my success has always inspired me to go that extra mile. Likewise, communicating your expectations is critical to success, ensuring that everyone is striving toward the same goal. The result is a win-win for both individuals and the business.

Timely decision making is undoubtedly the most difficult challenge I’ve experienced as a leader. There are times when you need to make a call, often without all the necessary information. In other circumstances, it’s about collaboration or knowing when to wait. Either way, it’s about coming to the best conclusion at the appropriate time.

Throughout my career, I often had to take on tasks that no one else wanted – thankless, tedious jobs that were usually in addition to an already full workload. Even if it wasn’t noticed, I tried to go above and beyond what was expected. Take pride in every task that has your name assigned to it and be accountable for the outcome, good or bad. In my experience, that attitude gets noticed – and when you want to take the next step in your career, you’ll get that chance.