Top 9 tips for reaching your full potential in business


I recently attended the Inspiring Women Conference hosted by Management Today and the Chartered Management Institute – which was, by the way, brilliant and I can thoroughly recommend attending!

During the day 26 extraordinary and successful women shared their top tips on how to reach your full potential in business.  The following blog represents the key themes which recurred throughout the day #iw_london.  I only hope I have done the fantastic speakers justice, if I haven’t I apologise sincerely.

In terms of importance I would put Confidence in the first 5 places, Brand ME and Networking would take the next 3 places and all the rest would come in at 9th place!


A few great quotes from the day:

‘Being a good girl isn’t enough’ Baroness Kingshill

‘To get to be really good, you need to do less!’  Harriet Green,  CEO Thomas Cook

‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’ Madeleine Albright

Confidence Confidence, Confidence, Confidence

The number one thing holding most women back is their own lack of self-confidence.  Women underestimate their own abilities by at least 20%, for example women will not apply for a job even if they meet 95% of the criteria because they focus on the missing 5%.  If a man met 80% of the criteria they would consider themselves well qualified.  So what do we need to do (and that includes me):

  • Celebrate all your successes, no matter how big or small they are
  • Focus on your strengths not your weaknesses (a cup half full)
  • Be brave, she who dares wins
  • Face your fears, both inside and outside work.  A fear faced in your home will help you in work and vice versa.
  • Forget modesty!  If you get a complement – just say thank you, don’t discount it!
  • Don’t undermine yourself, there are plenty of other people out there willing to do it for you
  • Resist ‘Imposter syndrome’ (when you start questioning your own ability and expecting to get caught out) – it is incredibly negative – recognise when you are doing it and actively stop yourself (often in the middle of the night).
  • Ask for feedback, but not on a constant basis – seeking validation can be seen as weakness
  • Don’t say yes to everything, there is power in saying no

Further reading: Nicholas Bate is terrific coach, this is his blog he has also written a number of great books on the subject.

Brand ME Brand ME

You need to ask yourself ‘How do I want other people to think of me?’ Being good at what you do won’t be enough by itself to get you promoted.  To start with you need to assess how you project yourself in the real word and then equally importantly in the digital world (future employers will research you on line long before they meet you).

  • Eat well and exercise – getting to the top is a long haul battle, only the fit will make it.  This may seem a bit off theme but if you don’t feel well, challenging the status quo is a big stretch.
  • Think about the image you want to project, don’t go overboard and remain true to yourself.  If you try to project an image which isn’t authentic to you a) it will be very tiring to sustain and b) you will appear insincere.
  • How you dress is important – accept the fact that we live in a shallow world!  While power dressing is no longer needed, ie don’t try to dress like a man unless you are one, looking shabby, messy, dirty, tarty doesn’t help either.  Invest in comfortable quality clothing because you want to look as good at the end of the day as you did in the morning.  Finally, do not be afraid of color or patterns, you want to be remembered but not as part of the scenery!
  • Try to think of yourself as a role model and spend at least 5% of your time working on your public image!
  • Defining and articulating your strengths is invaluable but it is much harder than it sounds.  I continue to struggle with this – simply including a shopping list of your skills isn’t enough, make it real and be sure to differentiate yourself.  Think about all your skills (transferable), not just work.
  • Do a serious review of your career regularly (at least every couple of years).  Where do I want to be in 5 or 10yrs, what do I need to do to get there?
  • You must have a social media profile, make sure it is consistent – blog, twitter, linkedIn, website should all reflect you.  Ask a friend or colleague to evaluate your social media profile dispassionately.
  • When you are moving towards the top it is important to have a point of view.  If you have been interviewed, commented, blogged or videod make sure it is visible digitally.  If you haven’t seek out opportunities to do so, particularly public speaking!
  • Google yourself once a month!
  • Finally, make sure you make space for some me time.  Working Mum’s are particularly bad at this!  Worth reading Power Mum’s

Brand ME, is harder than it sounds, there are a number of good coaches available, it is worth investing, even if it is your own money! Miriam at is good.

 Networking Building a great networking

Networking is something women are particularly bad at and you simply must make the time!  90% of senior roles come through networking!

  • It is important to network both internally and externally.  Find the decision makers within your company and connect with them, not just on the level immediately above you but all the way up.
  • If you cant go to the pub after work find your own way to network.

Ambition Effectively expressing your ambition

Ambition is a good thing but if your company doesn’t know you are ambitious, the chances are you will be overlooked.

  • Make sure that you express your ambition to management
  • Understand the context of your organization and think about when/how is the best way to approach your boss
  • Rehearse the conversation first, practise makes perfect
  • Make sure you know what skills you need to acquire to get to the next level
  • Express how you could add value to the company in that role
  • Demonstrate your competence
  • Make sure you know what the correct pay is for your role and that you are being paid it

Passion Be passionate

Be passionate about what you do, if you aren’t passionate about what you do/your company then you need to find something else to do.  To get to the top in a company you are indifferent about will be a long hard struggle, no matter how good you are.

 Mentor Find a Mentor

Find a mentor or a sponsor – this doesn’t have to be a formal relationship and you may need more than one relating to different aspects of your work!

Resilience Resilience, keeping strong in the face of adversity

Everybody gets knocked back at some point and if you don’t it means you haven’t been trying hard enough!  How you bounce back is the true test of character.

  • Firstly give yourself time to recover
  • Restart by setting yourself small achievable goals
  • Reconnect with your positive colleagues / friends.  Initially most people want to hide, but once the initial shock is over reconnecting will help you recover more quickly.

The board Getting on to the board

Actually being on the board shouldn’t be the be all and end all. If it is your ambition be sure you want to do it for the right reasons, there aren’t that many board positions and it may not turn out to be what you wanted. If you decided you do want to aim for the board try reading Heather McGregor on how to get to the board  I am not sure I agree with her opinion on ‘women quotas for boards’ but I love the work she is doing at the 30% Club.

  • The first step is simply to apply, most women don’t and if you don’t apply there is a 100% certainty you won’t get it!
  • Approach Chairman directly, open a dialogue
  • Be clear what skills sets the board needs and what you have to offer
  • Start by trying to get experience with a Charity to get governance experience

Confrontation Managing confrontation

Women tend to avoid confrontation but sometimes it is unavoidable and necessary.

  • Humour can help diffuse a confrontational situation
  • Do not bear a grudge and never sulk, always be direct
  • Do not cry, if you are on the verge of crying, try sipping water it will stop you welling over
  • Do not assume that if you don’t get a promotion that it is due to sexism, assess the situation fully first.
  • If you truly believe that you have experienced sexism, you should challenge it quickly and publicly.
  • If your company is inherently sexist… leave.  Life is too short.