From Girl to GirlBoss: 8 Rules I Followed to Become an Executive
By Helen Heidenreich
When I was 25, my friend and I ventured into creating a one of a kind non-profit organization in the Seattle, WA area. The idea for a free-to-nominal cost women’s clinic came to us when we noticed the lack of accessible medical services that cater to women’s preventative health care, sexual health care as well as reproductive health care. Widely embraced by the community for its grassroots beginnings, we dived head first into devoting our time to opening a free women’s clinic, completely dedicated to educating by serving and empowering women to receive evidenced-based health care by licensed medical professionals.
Four years later, I was appointed Executive Director at the age of 29. I always knew I wanted to create and run a non-profit. I just never thought I’d get here so fast and at this age. I am humbled by the ability to lead such an important and necessary resource for women in the Seattle area, but I also know I didn’t get here by slacking off or not learning from the many directors, managers, and bosses that I’ve been supervised by. With that said, I thought I would share some tips and tricks of the trade for young women out there whose ambition and drive is to climb the corporate ladder and how it’s not out of your reach.
Every job is a step forward – Yes, we so often are told by society “do what makes you happy.” And that sounds great in theory, but holding out for a job that would make you endlessly happy looks a lot like being broke, living with your mama, and digging up change from the couch. Throw your net wide and take a job that pays fairly well and may or may not fit your career goals. I took many jobs that didn’t necessarily align with my career goals in my early twenties; sometimes they were torture, but they taught me so much. With every bad boss, bullying co-worker, or mind-numbing data entry position, I learned what not to do and what kind of leader I didn’t want to be. Learning what not to do at a young age will set you up to be a good leader and boss in the long run.
Never delegate up – When you’re not in a leadership position, you are not in a place to be delegating tasks up the chain. When your boss or direct supervisor hands you a project or task that might be challenging, ask for clarification or more instruction, but never put it back on their plate. One, it shows you lack initiative, and two, it makes you look lazy. Your boss has enough to do, so when they delegate something to you, you rise up to the task and take it head on. If any issues come up, either take care of it, or let them know what the issues are as well as the solutions you’ve thought of to fix the problems.
What you wear matters – Just because you’re at the bottom of the pyramid, doesn’t mean you got to look the part. If possible, try to dress better than your boss. It sends a message of confidence, professionalism, and that you take your work seriously, even if it’s something mediocre. Others in your workplace will notice that you put effort into looking your best for the work that you’re doing and will follow suit. It sets a tone for the work environment and helps you stand out, and that’s always a good thing when you’re trying to climb that corporate ladder.
Be your own social worker – When I was a social worker, I was my client's advocate. I was always finding new social services to help my clients have a leg up in life because in reality, they didn’t have anyone else fighting for them to be successful. This same concept can be applied to you in the work force. Like a social worker, you need to advocate for your client: yourself. You need to exhaust the many programs, incentives, bonuses, and resources available to you. Don’t shy away from talking to your boss about where you want to go next in your company or why you think it’s time for a talk about your raise. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to show your boss that you are ready for a new challenge or that you know that the quality of work you are doing deserves higher pay.
Move up or move on – Don’t be afraid to leave your job and get a new one if you’re starting to see that there aren’t many opportunities for you to move up the ladder. I see young women just stay in the same position for years because they are too afraid of the unknown. If your job is not challenging enough or not offering you opportunities to climb the corporate ladder, do yourself a solid and start looking for a new job elsewhere. Of course, be sure to give your current position a good run (about one year) before you start down this path. And during this time, let your boss know that you’re willing to and capable of moving up the corporate ladder.
Age is just a number – Many people will overlook you because you’re young and inexperienced. Don’t let it get to you. You know you got this, so just tune those people out. You’ll run into co-workers that treat you like the rookie of the team and throw shade at you, but you just keep the course. Don’t let others make you feel less than. You got through the application process, the interview, and you got the job. You clearly are the right person for the position.
Nice is boring, so be kind – Anyone can be nice, but being kind takes more effort. Try your best to be kind to people. Go out of your way to ask people how they are doing. If it happens that a co-worker isn’t being kind or even bullying you, remember to not take it personally. They might be going through a rough patch. This also doesn’t mean you should take it lying down either. Bullying in the workplace is real and it has happened to me many times. Communicate with your boss and HR, and document everything just in case things escalate. If the situation allows itself, stand up for yourself and don’t back down. One of my most influential bosses once told me, “you are called to be charitable, but not a doormat.”
Give reasons, not excuses – Everyone has personal stuff going on outside of their work life, and a good boss will be sympathetic to that. Avoid letting your personal life affect your work. If it gets to a point that it does, have a conversation with your boss and let them know that you are going to try your best to not let it impact the quality of your work and actually stick to what you say. Most good bosses will give you the space to get through a rough patch, but don’t take it for granted, and be sure to show your appreciation for the graces that were given to you.
These are the most influential rules I’ve learned since I got my first job 13 years ago. Even though I have made many mistakes and had to learn the hard way many times, these eight values and rules have really prepared me and helped me get to where I am today. I’m thankful to the many people in my life that have shown me what it means to be an effective leader and employee. It’s easy to confuse being successful with having a position of power. Remember that success can be measured in many different ways, but the path to success is knowing you worked hard and earned all of your achievements. If you work hard, set achievable goals, and strive to be an effective employee, you can be a boss no matter what your official position is.