Speaking at American University’s Key Executive Leadership program’s FedTalks Speaker Series recently – presented by the School of Public Affairs as “Women and the Future, revisited” – Gwendolyn Sykes and Zina B. Sutch, Ph.D. shared stories of the winding roads that took them to positions of authority and influence in the federal government. Both have leveraged their various senior-level roles in government and education to affect genuine cultural change.

Some of the tips that they gave women and men alike include the following:

Work On You.

Strengthen your self-awareness every day. Be conscious of what you say, how you sound, how other people respond to you, and what you wear but not so much so that you’re taken out of reality. Are you carrying yourself with executive presence? If not, what can you do to change that? Let the answers come to you naturally then putting them into action and you will find that change coming naturally. Learn what your fears and triggers are and face them; find a way to change them, get around them or move past them.

Moderate Your Internal Speech

Be conscious of your self-dialogue. What you say to yourself drives your attitude, behavior, perspectives and performance, far more than you think. “Pay attention to the voices in your head,” Sutch implored the audience, adding, “What are you telling yourself that you need to stop telling yourself?” She is onto something here.

On a Personal Note

I can say that I was affected by what I told to myself in the past as well as how I looked at myself because of my inner-dialogue. As a result of this, I ended up with a poor perception of myself and instead of talking to yourself in the negative, focus on what you achieve on a daily basis. Thanks to this simple change in tactics, I’m now able to recognize where I shine and where I don’t. Since I was able to put everything in order from great to bad, I was able to see everything more clearly and move on from there. You can too.

Show Them That You’re Serious

Show you are a leader that you are open to learning new things. Every job can teach you something new, even if you believe there is nothing left to learn. Get educated, with both degrees and certifications but don’t stop there. Do trainings, always be reading something you’ll learn from and get coaching if you can. 

And remember To…

Ask, ask ask! I call this strategy leveraging “mini-mentoring moments.” Ask a friend or family member whose opinion you value for 15 minutes of their time. If there is some specific issue you want advice on, ask them a specific question right there in the moment; whether that be in an elevator, the conference room or wherever you happen to be.  Ask your boss what it would take for you to achieve a certain job, a raise, or to be put on a specific task force, committee or board.  Do not assume they know you want it. Make sure they know you want it!

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