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Leadership Lessons: Tips from the Top

marissa-tarletonWondering how to climb the career ladder with savvy and skill? Learn the ins and outs of succeeding in the c-suite from these women business leaders – all at the top of their professional game:

  • Karen Dolan, head of global marketing for Dimensional Fund Advisors, University of Chicago Booth School of Business (MBA)
  • Melissa Eamer, vice president, sports, outdoors & toys at Amazon, University of Michigan Ross School of Business (MBA)
  • Christine Laurens, chief financial officer of AT Kearney, HEC-Paris (MBA)
  • Sue Mahony, senior vice president and president of Eli Lilly Oncology, London Business School (MBA)
  • Margaret Molloy, global chief marketing officer for Siegel + Gale, Harvard Business School (MBA)
  • Marissa Tarleton, chief marketing officer, North America, RetailMeNot, Inc., University of Texas McCombs School of Business (MBA)

These women recently shared choices that shaped their professional lives and the hard-won wisdom they gained while seeking the highest career levels. Here are their tips for getting to the peak and staying there:

Prepare to re-direct

Careers can take unexpected turns. Sue obtained a Ph.D. in pharmacy before getting her MBA and never thought her career would intersect science and business. “You can put a plan together, but don’t expect it to happen” as intended, she said.

As a French woman in the male-dominated consulting industry, Christine did not see chief financial officer of an American firm in her future. She has succeeded by taking risks because “sometimes opportunities don’t show up twice.”  Marissa echoed these insights, saying that waiting too long to seize an opportunity can backfire.

Bottom line: take risks and move forward. As Melissa said, great things happened when she “was willing to pick [her] head up from [her] current course and take a new direction.”

Own your mistakes

Risks do not always pay off, but setbacks become easier to accept with time. As her career has matured, Christine has turned missteps into new skills. Similarly, Margaret got over an early-career defensiveness about receiving feedback to now seeing it as “a gift.”

Leaders must own up to their mistakes and see them as mere “bumps in the road,” Karen said. “Errors happen, and we can be upset about them or call them learning opportunities.” The price of ignoring mistakes is steep. If leaders do not address their failures, it is “the surest way to lose a team,” Sue said.

Melissa observed that “the most effective leaders… don’t shy away from making unpopular decisions when it’s necessary but also aren’t afraid to admit when they are wrong.”

Speak up

Many women in business are familiar with the “male talk-over,” being interrupted mid-sentence by male colleagues. Sue recommends to simply “carry on speaking” in those cases.

Speaking up makes a woman stand out. “I am where I am because I spoke up,” Christine said. Christine described how in her career she has had to challenge her supervisors, which made her uncomfortable, but “it was her job” and important to align her actions with her values. Marissa provided a client perspective, emphasizing the value of speaking up and asking “why” until the client’s needs are clear.

Speaking up while networking can be intimidating, but strong relationships are the lifeblood of careers. Karen said that to network successfully, “you have to give a lot, and you have to ask for help as well.”

Bring your point of view

To stand out from the pack, flexing more than just professional expertise is key. As Margaret said, it is “important to have a style because how you show up – the energy you bring to the conversation – matters.”  An MBA student used her artistic gifts to draw Christine’s portrait during an event, and Christine called it “a great example of diversity of talent” and a unique way to connect with someone.

Sue and Karen said that it is essential to be as diverse as clients are, and attracting women to all industries is vital. According to Sue, “women are often the decision-makers” in health matters so their inclusion in the pharmaceutical industry makes a difference. Similarly, Karen believes the investment industry’s “ability to serve women in [financial matters] well is very dependent on attracting women to the field.”

Find your joy

A fulfilling career should bring joy. Margaret was attracted to marketing because she is “deeply interested in human behavior and…why consumers buy what they buy, and the ability to influence that.” Karen feels passionate about her role at Dimensional because “investing is an essential matter in life” that “touches everybody.”

Melissa was drawn to Amazon because of its reputation for innovation and customer focus. Committed to Amazon’s values, she took the bold step of writing a white paper about a customer feature she thought Amazon should build and carried it with her to every interview.

Connect with Forté

These women leaders uniformly support Forté’s mission. From a recruiting standpoint, Karen commented that Forté “draws the crème de la crème,” giving her firm “access to the best talent out there.”  Melissa commented on the value of a Forté network as a career-long resource.

When asked for their best advice, Sue said to “get a network” and Christine said to “ask for help when you need it,” both benefits of engaging with the Forté community.

Do you have any “tips to get to the top?” Share your tips on Twitter via #ForteTips.

Get more leadership tips by registering to attend one of our Women Lead Webinar Series.


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