Years ago, a woman leader taught me an important lesson about perception that I still remember. We were scheduled to attend a business meeting where we would be face-to-face with top company executives. I asked her how I should prepare. Her response surprised me.

She told me what to wear. She said it would be best if I wore something black so I wouldn’t be noticed. I found her advice strange, and thought perhaps she had misunderstood my question. That night, I bought a red dress to wear to the meeting, because I think I look great in red.

At the meeting, my boss seemed appalled that I wasn’t wearing a black suit like the rest of the team. I stood out. In my red dress, I was a confident professional willing to share my thoughts and ideas. By the end of the meeting, every executive in attendance knew who I was.

But even more important than having executives know my name and listen to my ideas, was learning that I know who I am. I’m feminine by nature, and wearing the red dress helped me exude confidence. I chose to stay true to who I am.

The best way to move your career forward is stop trying to fit in when you can stand out.

Focus on business principles and be true to who you are, instead of who someone else thinks you should be. We are each unique individuals, and leadership should encourage everyone to feel empowered.

These are lessons I to teach my team today. When they ask me how they should prepare for a meeting, I explain that I am more concerned about their ideas, and how we are going to communicate them in a meeting, than I am in having them blend in.

On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
Success comes to those who have the courage to lead change—and to make mistakes.

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
There are too many role models in my life to call out by name, but I have found that they all possess common characteristics, including being humble, incredibly self-aware, caring but challenging, and fearless. I am motivated by those who work like they don’t need a job. They aren’t paralyzed by fear of making mistakes, and are able to make the decisions that can impact an organization in a profound way.

On Facing Challenges
In order to have it all, I can’t do it all. I’ve learned it is essential to balance my career and family.

Shannon’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Write your own personal brand story. If you don’t, someone else will be the author of your career.