Cisco’s CTO: Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground

Padmasree Warrior

FORTUNE — Cisco System’s (CSCO) Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior may help the company navigate the competitive digital networking sector, but she also has her hands in the retail industry. In September, Warrior became a director at Gap Inc. (GPS), adding tech insight to enhance shoppers’ experiences and helping balance out the famed organization’s male-heavy board.

Fortune’s Most Powerful Women started as a list in 1998, kicked off its annual Summit the following year, and has since become a community of the preeminent women in business, government, philanthropy, education, and the arts. This weekly Q&A features one MPW’s personal take on leadership, aspirations, and (of course) balance.

1.What is the best advice you ever received?

When I left home at 17 to study engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, my dad gave me this advice, “Keep your eyes on the stars and feet on the ground.” I translate this to business and my leadership by having a bold vision while staying focused on the details of execution. This has been my personal mantra also and helps me to keep it real all the time

2. What was the last book you read?

Just finished reading Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This novella is short yet gripping, ambiguous, and opens up so many different interpretations. It’s fascinating. I just started reading Hateship, Friendship, Courtship,Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, a well-deserved honor for her talent as a writer.

3. What would you say to a group of young people looking to enter the tough job market?

Pursue all avenues, and push through open doors.

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4. What was your biggest missed opportunity?

Having more than one child. If I knew then what I know now, about career and parenting, I would have had more kids.

5. What is one startup you would have wanted to found?

Hmm … I am not the type to think a lot about “would have, could have, should have.” The beauty of technology is that there is always an opportunity to do a “startup” inside a big company or from the ground up.

6. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

Teaching is the best form of learning. To this day, I like to debate ideas and brainstorm concepts with my leaders before turning them into concrete plans.

7. What do you do for fun?

Paint, write haikus, take photographs, cook, and hang out with family and friends.

8. What business or technology person do you admire most? Why?

Elon Musk — for PayPal, Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX – all very bold moves.

9. What is one trait every leader needs more today than ever?

To simplify. The pace and magnitude of change today is the most dramatic I have ever seen in my professional career, whether it is technological, business model-wise, economic or geo-political. At the same time, the signal-to-noise ratio can be low given how fast information travels now. All of this means, leaders have to be able to sift through a lot of complexity and get to the essence of issues that need attention.

10. What’s your take on the “having it all” debate?

“Having it all” does not equal “Doing it all.”

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