Getting to the C-Suite (from a female COO who did)

If you really want to advance your career and get to the C-suite, Melissa Greenwell, Chief Operating Officer of sporting goods retailer The Finish Line, knows exactly what it takes.

She’s held senior leadership roles for 30 years and is also an executive coach, providing women with proven strategies to succeed as senior leaders. Along the way, she’s developed her own rules to help women like you get there.

7 Proven Strategies to Advance Your Career

women-in-leadershipINFOHer “Rules for Women Who Want to Lead,” which are based on her own experiences watching successful men and women leaders in senior management roles, are included in her new book, Money on the Table: How to Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership (Greenleaf Book Group Press).

If you practice the following rules, she says, you will be noticed, heard, remembered ‒ and promoted:

  1. Speak first. In a predominantly male work environment, it’s key that women say what’s on their mind, but “talk about what you really believe, not what you think people want to hear,” offers Greenwell. And, she adds, use your sense of humor whenever possible. That is what helps others remember you.
  2. Select a mentor. It’s important for you to find a mentor yourself, suggests Greenwell, and it doesn’t matter if your mentor is male or female. It’s more important that the person is “really at good at something you want to be good at,” she says.
  3. Communicate face-to-face. While calling and emailing are often more convenient, it’s key that women make time for at least 10 in-person conversations a week, says the CEO. Building relationships is the most critical element in influencing others, says the leader, and women need practice being effective in influencing both genders.
  4. Power through a difficult talk. When others lose their temper in the middle of a conversation, always stay in control. “Ignore the outburst,” says Greenwell. If you need to defuse a situation, ask questions or take a step back and start from the beginning. This will usually calm things down to where you can begin to build a foundation for a compromise.
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    Melissa Greenwell, author of Money on the Table

    Ask for what you want. Be “selfish” when it comes to new opportunities, stresses the CEO, and make sure that upper management knows where you’re headed. “Remind them frequently,” she says. The same goes for money as well, she says. Yes, pay inequity exists, but research shows that more men ask for what they want in regards to compensation more often than women. Ask for the money you deserve, but go directly to the decision maker, rather than HR. “When you make the case for yourself, you make a better case,” she states.

  6. Be resilient. If at first you don’t succeed (with getting your point across, that is), try, try again because “men need to hear an idea more than once to digest it.” It may be annoying or exhausting but “either play to win or just sit on the sidelines and be frustrated,” says Greenwell.
  7. Nurture other female talent. As you are in a position of power, you’re in a unique position to help other women to get hired or advance. And you don’t have to be in the C-Suite to make a difference, she says. Reach out to a female peer who seems to be struggling or could benefit with some advice from a women’s perspective. Or consider mentoring a young female professional. Share the knowledge.

Now, stop and think about these rules before you head into work tomorrow and the next day and the next. Maybe keep them handy.

It may take some practice to change your behavior, but the more you practice, the more you will begin to see yourself differently. And soon others will see you differently too ‒ as someone who is a strong, impactful female leader, who belongs in the C-Suite.