Many recent college grads head into the job search just hoping to land that first job to start their career. Others graduate from college with a clear goal in mind: To become a corporate leader, company president, CEO, or major industry influencer.
If the latter fits your career aspirations, and you are a female seeking to climb the corporate ladder to career success, then follow the lead from Melissa Greenwell, author of Money On The Table: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership (Greenleaf Book Group, January 2017). Greenwell is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of national retailer The Finish Line, Inc., and a certified executive coach who helps women and men understand how they can leverage natural strengths to identify and make behavioral changes that help them succeed as senior leaders.
Greenwell’s book, Money on the Table, includes several stories from women who didn’t follow a corporate path and leveraged their passion and leadership skills to build their own businesses.
“When you are someone that others follow or look to for help, you will stand out from the crowd,” says Greenwell. “You won’t need to push your way through.”
To get started on the path to career success, and to become an influential female leader, follow these tips and advice from Greenwell:
1. Be the best team player one can be: The first thing a recent grad should do, beyond mastering their subject matter, is to learn how to be the best team player they can be. Help others, volunteer for assignments, and make the extra effort to move projects or initiatives forward that will enable the organization to be successful. “When leaders see you working for the good of the organization, they will notice,” says Greenwell. “This is the behavior they want to see in their future leaders.” Pay close attention to the best leaders in the organization. Ask one to mentor you. Make it known that you want to earn a position in leadership.
2. Realize that every business and industry needs leaders: Every business, whether large, small, startup or not-for-profit, needs leaders. One path is not necessarily better than another. You should pursue an organization and job that fits your passions and career goals. There is no one common path. Learning about various parts of a business and attaining that broad-based knowledge can help you become very effective at solving complex problems. Beyond that, developing leadership skills, through constant self-evaluation and seeking feedback from others, is critical.
3. Find a mentor: It’s important for women to have mentors, says Greenwell. “The best leaders are the ones who never think they are the best and who always seek to learn how they can be more effective,” says Greenwell. “Along the journey of your career, building a network, including your mentors, and staying in touch with that network, is very important. A great network can open doors to opportunities throughout your career.”
4. Follow the lead of other successful female leaders: Those who emerge as leaders in their field are not afraid to change their behavior and think outside the box to achieve success. This includes some small changes in behavior that can pay big dividends throughout one’s career. Recent college grads who want to become leaders should not be afraid to do these things to advance their career and develop as a professional, according to Greenwell:
- Speak up.
- Take more risks by asking for assignments or new roles.
- Do not disengage from interacting with groups that are male dominated.
- Choose to work for an organization that supports women: Even if they don’t have gender-balance in their senior leadership positions today, it is important to understand if they are taking measures to achieve this. “Those organizations are likely to be more supportive and flexible for women raising families, if that is something that you plan on doing,” adds Greenwell.
5. Focus on lifelong learning, but don’t let a lack of advanced degree slow pursuit: While continuing education – getting a Master’s Degree or MBA, can always help advance the career of future women leaders, don’t let not having an advanced educational background prevent you from pursuing your dreams of becoming a leader. “I would never discourage someone from advancing her education,” says Greenwell. “Knowledge is powerful and you can never have too much of it. That said, I don’t believe that it’s an absolute requirement to for being an executive leader.”
Greenwell speaks from experience: “I personally did not complete my master’s or MBA and I have many very successful colleagues who did not either. I have been life learner, as have my colleagues who didn’t complete higher levels of education. We always want to learn new things and be better leaders.”
6. Don’t focus solely on a job title: Some job seekers, especially those just starting their career, focus on job titles versus opportunity. Don’t sacrifice doing what one loves for the sake of a title. Instead focus on the work itself. “If you enjoy what you do, but think you will also enjoy a position with greater responsibility, then absolutely you should move on,” says Greenwell. “But if you’re only doing it for the title and the money, you will likely regret it. I’ve seen people take on positions for those reasons alone and end up moving back into a role that better aligned with what they enjoyed.”
“People who succeed in whatever they’re doing are people who have aspirations and goals, are willing to work hard and put forth extra effort, communicate clearly, consistently and often, and most importantly, work for the good of the enterprise and bring others along,” says Greenwell. “Women specifically are driven to work for a purpose and can capitalize on that special drive.”
The opportunity is there for women seeking to develop into business leaders. Finding a mentor and being a team player can help one develop into a future leader. Do that, and follow these tips from Greenwell to develop a career plan and path to an executive opportunity and leadership success.
Melissa Greenwell, author of MONEY ON THE TABLE: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership.
About Melissa Greenwell
Melissa Greenwell is the author of Money On The Table: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership (Greenleaf Book Group, January 2017). She is also the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of national retailer The Finish Line, Inc., She has nearly 30 years of experience in corporate America, and in senior leadership roles, has had a “seat at the table” surrounded by almost exclusively men. She spent her career partnering with executive teams to create talent strategies that support business objectives in organization design, performance and rewards, succession planning, leadership development, and employee engagement, and has seen firsthand how gender imbalance is causing company after company to lose money.