Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Cisco CTO's tips for a top career

March 8, 2010: 1:55 PM ET

Guest Post by Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology Officer, Cisco Systems

Today is International Women's Day. While we're celebrating the achievements of women, we also need to recognize that in many fields, there are way too few women. This is the case in my domain: engineering and technology. And so, I'm spending today thinking about the future--and asking, How can we use this day to help the next generations of women charge ahead? I can help by sharing 10 career tips that I've learned along the way...and by the way, guys on the way up can relate to these too.

1. Creativity is a journey beyond boundaries. Chart the course of your work past the limits that you see. The road I've traveled to get to where I am today has been full of surprises, unsuspecting twists and turns. Some good, some challenging. But along the way, I met a lot of amazing people and learned a great deal. Creative leaders blur boundaries.

2. Build expertise from experience. Ideas alone are not enough. It's important to execute and demonstrate results. You'll fail along the way. That may be the most valuable experience you can gain. To become an expert, it's more important to know what not to do than it is to know what to do. Knowledge comes from openness.

3. Understand the paradox. There's a fine line that separates behaviors that are appealing vs. overbearing. Engage others by being confident, not arrogant. Passionate, not dogmatic. Decisive, not judgmental. Be a leader, not a spectator.

4. The only person that can slow you down is you. Must you, in your career, deal with politically motivated maneuvers, petty rivalry and jealousy? Sure! They become barriers only if you let them. Build supportive relationships that can compensate for the roadblocks you'll face. Self-confidence is the best gift to give yourself.

5. Be authentic and approachable. I find it pretentious when people say they don't have time for email or phone calls. Given so all the modes of communication at our fingertips, it's easier today than ever to respond promptly and have a dialogue with a broad community. People today seek authenticity in leadership. For women, this means no longer needing to act a certain way, talk a certain way, dress a certain way. To be a great leader, you need to be yourself.

6. Influence outlasts authority. Leading laterally across company and global boundaries is increasingly important--and challenging. From my own experience, I can tell you that it's much easier to dictate a direction in a traditional command-and-control environment. But that kind of leadership gives you short-lived authority. Influential leadership gives you a sustained following.

7. Learn the art of storytelling. It's a special skill to take complex topics and turn them into interesting anecdotes that leave an impression. This is especially true in the detail-centric world of technology and engineering. How do you capture in a few seconds the essence of an innovation that took years to create? Simplify.

8. The best way to earn recognition is to give it away. Give credit to others freely, openly and frequently. This is easier said than done. How often do you see projects stall because people are hiding critical information lest credit be taken from them? Make it their idea and watch them run with it! Ideas get stronger when shared.

9. A successful career is about integration, not balance. After graduate school, I started my career in the semiconductor industry. During this time, my son was born, and I came face-to-face with the joy and reality of being a working mom! Success is not about seeking perfection, as suggested by "work-life balance." To me, the word "balance" implies that work and life are somehow at odds and out of balance. Aim to improve the integration of your work, family, community and yourself.

10. Work hard but play harder. Take your work and community seriously. But don't take yourself too seriously. Smile!

Warrior is a phenom of the Web. She has 1,421,450 followers on Twitter. Before she joined Cisco (CSCO) as Chief Technology Officer in 2007, she was CTO of Motorola (MOT), where she led 26,000 engineers and directed Motorola Labs, with an annual R&D budget of $3.7 billion. She spent 23 years at Motorola. Warrior holds an M.S. degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India.

Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Video
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.