he best advice I’ve ever been given about life or business came from my parents. They were people of strong faith who believed that each of us is on this earth for a reason— and that we can’t always predict what we are destined to become.
In my mentoring relationships with promising women and men at Ford, I’ve often offered the same advice, but with a different twist. I don’t believe that anyone should set a clear career path and expect to stick with it for three or four decades. Instead, I encourage young professionals to be open to taking unexpected twists and turns along the way. I challenge them to be brave enough to accept the advice of those who may see something in them that they themselves may not recognize.
That’s exactly what happened to me. It was a mentor who first suggested that I tackle my first leadership position, less than 10 years into my job at Chrysler—even as I vehemently argued I was not ready. It was a mentor who recommended me for a high-profile job leading the Chrysler proving grounds, which really was like operating a small city. And it was a mentor who encouraged me to move into the type of environmental and regulatory work that led to my global responsibilities at Ford.
As an engineer who was trained to focus on the technical aspects of the business, each of these assignments was daunt- ing at first! Each challenged my skills and confidence and demanded that I reframe my view of myself and my career. But each gave me the experiences I needed to be more open when the next opportunity came along.
Ultimately, this led to my current “dream job” at Ford— helping to create safer cars and a cleaner environment. At Ford, I currently mentor seven high-potential women as part of an innovative group we call the Senior Women’s Initiative. I urge these women to give each opportunity a fair shot—even if it does not fit neatly into their well-defined career plans.
To achieve success today, women need to be open to a variety of challenging assignments. We need to seek out and trust in the views that others have of us, along with the views we have of our- selves. As we build experiences, skills and confidence, our careers and lives can take directions we might never have envisioned.