High-Powered Women Share Their Secrets for Success

I probably don’t have to remind you of the statistics about women in high-level leadership positions in the U.S. (And if I do, let’s put it this way:They’re grim .) Most of the time, all you have to do is look around the C-suite of your company, and the picture will be all too clear.

But there are plenty of women who have made it to the top—and today, they’re sharing their secrets for success. To learn more about their journeys, their career paths, and the advice they’d share with others, I recently chatted with six of the most prominent leaders I know. If you’re aiming for the top , read on for their quick nuggets of wisdom on leadership.

Kathleen Tierney

Recruited out of college to work at Chubb Insurance, Kathleen Tierney learned very quickly that she could distinguish herself by volunteering for projects and initiating ideas. Her strategy paid off, and after working in many different business units, today she sits at the helm as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. She is also the first woman to run a business unit at the organization.

Define a great leader. What are some traits you think great leaders possess?

“Leaders need people skills, organizational skills, and the ability to ask really good questions even when they don’t always have all the answers. Great leaders are able to see trends that others can’t, to see the big picture, to ask the pointed questions, to set the goal and get people to that common goal, and to celebrate successes or quickly rethink and retool.”

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

“There’s never going to be a precisely right moment to speak, share an idea, or take a chance. Just take the moment—don’t let thoughts like ‘I don’t feel like I’m ready’ get in the way. Look to see if you have the main things or the opportunity will pass you by. Don’t let perfect get in the way of really, really good.”

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

“If you make a mistake , own up, apologize, and move on—don’t ruminate. Appreciate feedback, and think, ‘What can I do with this?’ If you’re not making mistakes, you may not be doing something interesting.”

Nita Lowey

After a career in local activism, grassroots politics, and state and local government, Nita Lowey has served as a U.S. Congresswoman since 1989. She is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and was the first woman of the Committee to lead either party.

Define a political leader. What are some traits you think great leaders possess?

“Someone who’s effective in achieving priorities. An effective leader should also understand the unique ability elected officials have to influence policy that helps improve others’ everyday lives.”

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in politics?

“For women who are eager to enter into public service, I think they should keep in mind that women’s experiences as mothers, daughters, wives, and primary caretakers, as well as employees, businesswomen, and community leaders, often make us uniquely qualified to address through public service the issues facing our families.”