Inspiring Women Share the One Leadership Quality That Helped Them Succeed
Looking to make the leap from mid-level worker to manager or CEO? We've turned to fierce women we admire for advice about the number one leadership quality that helped them excel at work. From authors and actresses to businesswomen and political advocates, these inspiring leaders pin point the traits you need to get ahead. Keep scrolling to find out the top qualities every leader should have in order to succeed at work.
Who: Emma Watson entered the public eye as an 11-year-old actress in one of the highest-grossing literary series of all time, but her ability to speak with conviction has allowed her to transition from child star to fearless leader with ease. Case in point: her articulate UN Women HeForShe speech calling for gender equality, delivered with surprising self-assuredness well beyond her age.
Top Quality: Conviction. After her viral HeForShe speech, Watson took to Twitter to answer questions from fans and women keen to learn from her. When asked what quality she believes is most important to have in your professional arsenal she replied with one word: Conviction.
Who: Her usual script might be drenched with sarcasm on her latest Netflix series Chelsea Does, but comedian, executive producer, and television personality Chelsea Handler admits cracking jokes in front of an audience didn't always come naturally.
Top Quality: Perseverance. "I hated doing stand-up in the beginning. I couldn’t wait for a set to be cancelled because no one showed, but after getting cold feet many times, I made an agreement with myself that I would show up, get up, and do my set, no matter what the circumstance," she says in an article for LinkedIn. "Once I showed up enough times, it became my reality; it was no longer an option to not show up. I now practice "showing up" with everything I do," she says, admitting it has changed more than just her career. "It has permeated every facet of my life. Whether it’s wanting to cancel a workout, a friend’s party, a public appearance, my family in New Jersey. Whatever it is, when I commit, I show up."
Who: Vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, former NBC news correspondent, and author of a book aimed to empower children, Chelsea Clinton is much more than the daughter of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Top Quality: Assertiveness. The outspoken advocate of women in business says she managed to step out of her parents' shadow by finding her own voice. "I'm really grateful that my parents have always expected me to have an opinion but also to have the evidence and data to back up my opinion and my argument," she says.
Nervous about speaking up in the workplace? Clinton says reading more about world events is the first step to becoming more informed and assertive. "The first thing I ever learned how to read was the newspaper. I loved reading the newspaper because it gave me access to what was happening in the world so that I could make up my own mind about what I wanted to see more of, or what I wanted to see less of, what I wanted to change," she says.
Who: Having spent years known as "the other Olsen," Elizabeth Olsen has stepped into the limelight as an award-winning actress. When it came to creating her own path to success, Olsen says she was inspired by her sisters.
Top Quality: Diligence. Elizabeth Olsen credits her success to hard work, perseverance, and diligence, lessons instilled in her by Mary-Kate and Ashley. "My sisters are the most inspiring women to me because of the way they lead their lives. They’re insanely diligent, and they taught me that you can do whatever you want if … you work hard at it," she tells The Edit. Rather than resisting her sisters' fame, Olsen says she found success by embracing her family and learning from them as role models. "Their fame made me more determined," she says. "My sisters are mainly an inspiration as business people, and whenever I feel like I'm ready to package some project of my own, they'll probably be the first people I'll talk to for advice."
Who: With one of the world's most recognisable surnames, Melinda Gates is much more than the wife of tech tycoon Bill Gates. The philanthropist and businesswoman is the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was named by Time as one of the magazine's "Persons of the Year" in 2005.
Top Quality: Strategic thinking. When asked about her advice for women wanting to climb the corporate ladder with speed, Gates says being able to make strategic decisions is key. As a college graduate, she was offered advice from a hiring manager at IBM to take a job with the opposition, Microsoft. To her surprise, the manager told Gates to "get an offer there and take it. The chance of advancement as a woman is a fast trajectory if you do as well as I think you'll do." Gates admits she was shocked at the time but now realises that it was among the best advice she ever received. She tells young women to make long-term career decisions and think strategically, not just take the first chance at career progression that presents itself.
Who: Businesswoman Aerin Lauder is the great-granddaughter of famous cosmetics brand founder Estée Lauder, but she has proved her own serious leadership prowess, inheritance aside. In addition to working as the style and image director at her family's company, Lauder is the founder and creative director of Aerin, her own successful cosmetics, fashion and home décor line.
Top Quality: Passion. When asked about her best piece of career advice, Lauder recalls her great grandmother's wisdom. "Whatever you do, do it well and be passionate," she tells Buro 24/7. It's clear that passion is what sets Aerin Lauder apart as a leader in her family business. She even went as far as dedicating a fragrance to Estée, to pay homage to her company's heritage. "It was important to me, personally, to see Estee's work through," she tells Vanity Fair. "I think she would be proud."
Courtesy of SoulCycle
Who: Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, the dynamic duo behind cult fitness studio SoulCycle, know a thing or two about the qualities you need to rise to the top. The pair started their business back in 2006 in a Craiglist sublet in Manhattan's Upper West Side. One decade later and they have multiple studios across America, a dedicated following and revenue figures that continue to rise beyond belief.
Top Quality: Courage. Their tip for rising to the top as a leader? Have the courage to take a risk and back yourself. "I think the number one thing is you cannot let fear paralyse you. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. You just gotta break it down and keep going," the pair says in an interview.
Who: Academy Award–winning star of 12 Years a Slave Lupita Nyong’o made the transition from big-screen star to activist and role model by embracing one simple leadership quality.
Top Quality: Honesty. Nyong’o admits to being terrified of giving her groundbreaking speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, but she pushed through the fear because she knew she had to speak the truth. Nyong’o tells Glamour that letting honesty prevail allowed her to "really step into your own power," earning her the respect of her peers and taking her career to the next level.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert
Who: Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert says one quality was important after the fame of her debut novel, Eat, Pray, Love, when she sought to expand her image and step away from her initial stardom. Gilbert dishes some unusual advice about the quality every woman should embrace to get ahead.
Top Quality: Curiosity. Unlike Lauder, Gilbert believes passion shouldn't be the main quality we strive for. Instead, she believes maintaining a curious mindset is key. "Passion is rare; passion is a one-night-stand. Passion is hot, it burns. Every day, you can’t access that," she tells Oprah in an interview. "Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion, or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity. And that should be enough too," she says.
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Is there a leadership quality that's been left off this list that deserves a mention? Tell us in the comments below.