The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What advice would you give to women who hope to make it to the C-suite?” is written by Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president, and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
My role at Lockheed Martin puts me in contact with extraordinary leaders in many fields—from science and engineering to philanthropy and government. And since we also work closely with our nation’s armed forces, we tend to reflect a lot on leadership and how we can inspire successful teamwork, cooperation, and partnerships. In my experience, it is clear that the most successful leaders—both men and women—consistently demonstrate four fundamental traits.
Leaders must exemplify integrity and earn the trust of their teams through their everyday actions. When you do this, you set high standards for everyone at your company. And when you do so with positive energy and enthusiasm for shared goals and purpose, you can deeply connect with your team and customers.
A culture of trust enables you to empower employees and lays the foundation for communication, accountability, and continuous improvement. For us, trust is critical to the customers we serve, especially in the defense sector. Our customers rely on us to help them protect their citizens, and expect us to deliver on our commitments by providing the most advanced products and services.
You can’t forget that organizational success flows from the hearts and minds of the men and women you lead. Rather than treating your people as you’d like to be treated, treat them as they would like to be treated. Small gestures like opting for face-to-face meetings or sending personal notes can have an enormous impact on teams and their morale. In addition to thanks and praise, you must also understand people’s needs, pressures, and individual goals, which will allow you to lead them more effectively and contribute to their personal aspirations and professional development.
In times of uncertainty, employees crave clarity. As a leader, you won’t always have all of the answers—no one expects you to—so you must be open to listening and learning from others. Once you understand a particular challenge and outline the options, you have to be confident in making bold and optimistic decisions. With a foundation of trust and compassion in place, you can share your vision with your team and inspire action in the new path forward.
Given the rapid pace of change in every business environment, leaders must be prepared to adapt to new landscapes and assist their teams in doing the same. At Lockheed Martin, innovation is the lifeblood of our company. Leading a culture of innovation requires courage, and you must be willing to move beyond your comfort zone and take measured risks. Although you and your teams won’t always be right, you can learn from your mistakes and take every opportunity to improve.
Successful leadership demands a lifelong commitment to sharpening these four fundamental skills. No matter where you have the opportunity to serve, the qualities of trustworthiness, compassion, decisiveness, and innovation are the keys to leadership and organizational success.