4 Tools for Finding Your Way: A Guide for Women Leaders

As a woman leader, the tools you need to navigate your career and build your leadership skills may look slightly different than those for men.

It’s especially important for women leaders to:

  • Seek out mentors and advocates. Successful women are shown to have had help from above. Build relationships and find a mentor to help you navigate your organization, provide feedback and open doors.
  • Take risks, accept challenges. Being able to adapt to new roles and new circumstances shows your versatility as a leader. Research shows that women who have stayed in one area of expertise too long or who have too-narrow a functional orientation are not viewed as promotable, so be willing to change jobs and take on special projects to gain experience.
  • Be decisive, demand results. Successful women leaders make it clear that they expect results. They also need to be decisive and willing to take an unpopular stance.
  • Be confident. Projecting an effective leadership image requires confidence. Don’t undermine good results with a weak or too-modest self-image.

Do you feel that the tools you need to help you grow as a woman leader are different than that of your male colleagues? If so, why is that?

5 thoughts on “4 Tools for Finding Your Way: A Guide for Women Leaders

    1. Erin,

      Some of this research can be found in Morrison, A., White, R., & Van Velsor, E. (1991). Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Largest Organizations? Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Admittedly, those data are now quite old and we have not done a recent study of these same factors. However, I’m interested in hearing from readers of our blog whether these factors still feel relevant. Some of our program participants seem to have the view that things are changing; however others say that book could have been written about their company today. Being seen as too narrow has been a “derailment” factor for both men and women over the years, as it can indicate great depth of knowledge in a limited area without broad knowledge or a more strategic view of the organization as a whole. Thus it certainly still seems like good advice to pursue broader opportunities, and to seek these out, as a woman, if these opportunities are not forthcoming.


  1. I’ve been a Premium member for years and I’m just now getting the time to read the material. As a CEO for a nonprofit org. I’d like to see a series on women leadership incorporating the specific strengths women bring to the corporate and nonprofit world, the vulnerabilities they have ie; exhaustion, multi-tasking, emotional drain, little support. CCL would also be an excellent venue for networking for women leaders to elevate this study. Onward!

  2. Hi Erin, I’ve got a request into our research team to see if the data referenced is in a format that can be easily shared. I know that a lot of this research is in the book Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women, but I’m looking into getting a hold of the research itself. Give me a couple of days and I will circle back with you here.

    Anne, I have passed your suggestion to Sara King, Ellen Van Velsor and Marian Ruderman, who all have researched/written a great deal in the area of women in leadership.

    -Laura, Leading Effectively Staff

    1. Hi,

      I would also love to hear the data. My work with women in East Africa raises many challenges about women’s leadership. I would love to see the data and how it relates to what I see on the ground.

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