person listening
Shutterstock

People who end up in leadership positions always talk about how they didn’t do it alone and how lucky they were, but we all know it must be more than that. People aren’t just plucked out of obscurity and placed into positions of power for no reason—or at least I hope they’re not.

Attending the 2015 Greater Boston Women in Leadership Symposium and hearing firsthand from an amazing panel of women leaders on what exactly made them so successful confirmed my suspicions. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot that goes into finding success.

Here are a few of the secrets they divulged.


1. Understand That You’re Not The Only One Who Can Do Your Job

Have you ever turned down an opportunity because you just didn’t know what your team would do without you? Don’t trick yourself—and especially don’t let anyone else trick you—into thinking you’re the only one who can do your job. It’s flattering, but it’s a lie. Jackie Glenn, Chief Diversity Officer at EMC Corporation, encouraged attendees to not be afraid to move up, leave, and take opportunities. Be the trailblazer you were meant to be.


2. But You’re Also Not Too Good to Stuff Envelopes

That said, unless you put in the work, those opportunities are not going to come knocking on your door. Fetch the coffee, stuff those envelopes, and answer that phone—all with the understanding that this is just a stop on the road. As Arleen Ashjian, Global Director of R&D Portfolio Management at IFF, explains, you can do more, but no one has any reason to believe you until you prove it.


3. Don’t Wait to Be Tapped—Put Your Name in the Hat

Working hard and waiting doesn’t always work. Chanda Guth, Director of Human Resources at Biogen, learned this the hard way early in her career. Yes, working hard will always be part of the equation, but don’t wait. Most people are too busy planning their own careers to pay attention to yours. So, when that reach position opens, put your name in the hat—if only to let people know where you see yourself headed and for the record to show that you tried.


4. Bring Yourself to Work—Don’t Check Part of Yourself at the Door

In a sad attempt to emulate success, many of us don’t bring our whole selves to work. We leave part of our identity behind and we try to fit in, but this never works. Guth gave the advice that when you’re not yourself, you’re not authentic, and when you’re not authentic, no one will trust you. Trust, in case you were wondering, is the currency you need to get places in life.


5. Know What Makes You Unique

Another reason why it’s so important to be authentic is that it helps you figure out what makes you unique. And knowing what makes you unique and using it, according to Linda Houston, Market Executive at Merrill Lynch, is what will get you ahead in life. In other words, what’s your superpower? What makes you special compared to all the other go-getters and hard workers? Maybe you’re a connecter of people or you’re exceptionally resilient—whatever your superpower may be, figure it out. Then, use it.


6. Handle Failure With Grace

Finally, no one ever found success without stumbling a few times first. Houston explains that you have to get up and move on, but how you go through these motions may actually be the critical bit. Taking the good times and the bad times in stride shows that you can handle yourself. So, if you get passed over for that promotion, don’t give yourself the week off—call up the person who got the position and congratulate her sincerely.



Success is so much more than being in the right place at the right time. It’s about working hard, taking leaps of faith, and showing up as your whole self. Oh, and failing—sometimes success involves failing, too.