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Seven lessons from great female leaders

by Gunjan Jain on October 12, 2017

When you’re chasing a dream—be it a successful career, a business of your own or a cause you believe in—it’s not easy. And if you’re a woman, there are so many more hurdles to cross, it can seem ridiculous.

But we can always take inspiration from those who have gone before us. There may be more women than you think (though still too few) who have managed to reach the top despite everything that society has thrown at them. And in that spirit, here are a few insights from seven women who have made a name for themselves as leaders.

1. Break out on your own

“While most venture capitalists still don't get it, rapid advances in technology are allowing women to start companies in way they never could before. In addition to being good for the founders themselves (and, you know, growing the economy), a bonus is that many of these businesses also better serve other women,” says Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, an online investment platform targeted at women.

2. Free your mind

“Don’t worry about how you’re being perceived, especially as a woman entrepreneur with a female-centric business. I learned I had to play by my own terms and be authentic to who I am. Don’t worry about fitting in to the molds of business stereotypes,” says Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder and CEO of Care.com, a website for managing family care.

3. Always have a plan

“I grew my business, and continue to do so, with a focus on a future vision for what it will look like in five years. What will the studio be like that I go to? How many people will be working there? Where will I see my product on shelves? How will the brand be regarded?” says Jenny Bird, designer and founder of Jenny Bird, a jewelry line.

4. Learn to say ‘no’

“One thing I’ve learned doesn’t work is taking on a client or job that you hate just because you’re afraid there won’t be anything else. If you’ve got no love for what you’re doing, if your motivation is fear, it’ll come out in the work, and you’ll just get more of the same. Saying ‘no’ is ok. In fact, sometimes it’s required,” Gina Trapani, founding editor of Lifehacker.

5. Take risks

“You’ve got to surround yourself with people who have perseverance and a willingness to take risks and fail. I watched HuffPost come alive to mixed reviews, including some very negative ones, like the reviewer who called the site "the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one." She called the site a "failure that is simply unsurvivable." It's an illustration of one of my deepest beliefs, which is that we must dare to take risks and to fail, as many times as it takes, along the way to success,” says Arianna Huffington, co-founder and former editor-in- chief of Huffington Post.

6. Understand yourself

“You have to be true to yourself to understand what you’re good at, as well as what you’re not good at — which means being clear as to where your passions are coming from. Accepting who you are begins with really knowing your strengths. What’s more, you need to have strong values — values will guide you through difficulties. If you have values that you can align with your work, it will allow you to say the things you need to say even when it’s hard to say them, or it is difficult to commit to them,” says Ari Horie, founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab.

7. Stay alert

“Technology is changing so rapidly, you're very quickly obsolete. What you thought you were building six months ago is no longer relevant. You have to constantly be alert to what's changing in the world, be able to adapt and not get too attached to what you're building,” Caterina Fake, angel investor and co-founder of Flickr.

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