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What does it mean to be successful? For today’s high-achieving women, success is more than breaking barriers and achieving their professional goals. Success is about how they get there, too.

CCL’s research shows that as high-achieving women approach their careers and their lives, they are factoring in five key themes: agency, authenticity, connection, self-clarity and wholeness.

These five themes are woven into the career decisions and leadership styles of women leaders. Collectively, the themes reveal deeper, more complex images of successful women and offer insight for women who are navigating their leadership journey. Let’s take a closer look at these themes.

No. 1 – Agency. Agency is about taking control of one’s career. It is about being your own pilot and feeling as if you are shaping your job, your leadership style and your life. In the CCL study, agency referred to intentional actions taken towards achieving a desired goal. For example, you may take steps toward becoming more comfortable exercising authority or learning to be more politically sophisticated within one’s organization. Strategies for realizing greater agency include:

  • Analyzing your career steps.
  • Setting realistic, specific goals and developing a plan for achieving them.
  • Asking for challenges outside your current functional orientation.
  • Seeking recognition.
  • And asking for what you deserve.

No. 2. – Authenticity. Authenticity is being genuine, being yourself. The importance of authenticity to women in the CCL study was resounding, whether or not they felt they were living extremely authentic lives. Authenticity comes from finding your style, your way of leading. By developing self-awareness, you gain clarity about your values, preferences and skills. You can then determine the gap between “fitting in” and being yourself. Choose the kind of work, roles and organizations that are compatible with who you are, being mindful of the choices and tradeoffs you are willing to make.

No. 3. – Connection. Connection involves a focus on relationships. A desire for closer friendships and family ties drove many of the goals, choices and decisions of the women in the CCL study. Even the busiest executives invested in connections, both personally and professionally. To strengthen your professional connections, slow down and take time for people, build relationships, and network, network, network. Find a mentor or establish your personal “board of directors” to serve as a support system and sounding board.

No. 4. – Self-clarity. Self-clarity comes from understanding one’s values, motivations and behaviors. It is the desire to have a greater sense of self. The search for self-clarity motivated many of the women in the CCL study to continue their own growth and development. To increase your self-clarity, seek feedback to better see your strengths and weaknesses and to understand the impact you have on others. Evaluate how your needs, motivations and goals change over time, and continue to reassess what is of value to you. Look for patterns, but be open to possibilities. Make learning and reflection a priority.

No. 5 – Wholeness. Wholeness represents the desire to seek roles beyond work or to unite different life roles into an integrated whole. It was the most dominant theme in the CCL data. Some of the women were concerned that they had nothing else in their lives but work. Others were concerned about wholeness because they felt fragmented and divided between work and other life roles. They valued multiple roles, life beyond work and a broader definition of success. To help you gain a sense of wholeness, let go of the idea that it is about balance or equitable division of time between work and other roles. Wholeness is about setting priorities and valuing all your commitments. It’s about saying no to roles or obligations that no longer serve you.

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