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It's risky to think you have it all figured out.

By Kathy Bloomgarden
February 9, 2017
February 09, 2017

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’s the biggest misconception women have about success?” is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Women who aspire to reach the top of the corporate ladder work very hard to get there. I think the biggest misconception at this point is thinking they’ve made it when they reach a top role. Actually, the hard work is about to get even harder.

In today’s world, keeping on a successful track requires constant innovation and relentless focus. It means continuously urging people out of their comfort zones and charting new territory. As Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Alphabet, has said, “incremental innovation leads to irrelevance.” More of the same isn’t going to work in a world that is changing as fast as ours. You can’t implement half-way.

The reality is that you will always be on the journey to success, and there is no destination where things get “easier.” So, once you reach the top, how do you continue to succeed in a way that ensures you stay at the top?

This year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, gave a framework for success that resonates with my thinking. He called it the 30/30/30 strategy. First, take a 30-year perspective (or longer); second, keep an eye on companies with 30 employees or less that are nimble and think out of the box; and third, look at the world through the lens of a 30-year-old, as this generation will build the future of business. This strategy holds many important lessons for women who want to reach the top:

Stay focused on the long-term vision

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the accelerated pace of change can lead one to focus on making it through the next quarter, or even just the next 12 months. But according to Ma, the cycles of disruption run 50 years, and leaders need to keep an eye on where they want to be, maintaining a vision for the company across several decades of that cycle.

Leaders need to consider a 30-year time frame, understanding how their business will succeed as the landscape evolves. In the public relations world, we have to recognize that the traditional business model is changing. So I have focused our agency on transforming our business model. Having recently acquired a data analytics firm, we’re more than ever underpinning our work with data-driven insights and ensuring that our communications efforts are built on powerful social platforms.

Watch smaller competitors

Ma urges leaders to look for disruptors by watching companies with fewer than 30 employees. The natural tendency is to watch your closest competitors, fighting for market share and an innovative edge. But it is often small, nimble innovators that jump ahead and surprise the market.

At Ruder Finn, our traditional competitors are no longer the ones that I benchmark against. Startups are emerging at a rapid pace, bringing new skills and ideas. It is now an embedded part of our company’s strategy to interact and partner with startups in our ecosystem.

Think like a millennial

As Ma stated, millennials will be the builders of tomorrow. Approach your business as a 30-year-old would, and you will find new ways of thinking. I realized that I could expand my own scope by having a “reverse mentor,” and for quite some time every morning I honed my storytelling capabilities with some of the smart millennials that are rising members of my team.

So, my advice for women is to understand that success is a moving target. Getting to the top brings along with it the responsibility of keeping your company on the success trajectory, which demands relentless focus, intense passion, and a constant drive to forge new and effective paths forward.

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