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Big bank alums find 5 keys to success

Sallie Krawcheck (L) Dambisa Moyo (R)Sallie Krawcheck (L) Dambisa Moyo (R)
Sallie Krawcheck (L) Dambisa Moyo (R)Getty Images

It’s one thing to find your power inside a company. You do your job, look out for opportunities and show your value to your boss.

It’s another thing to drop out, rebrand yourself, and redefine your power so brilliantly that you land on magazine covers and become an exemplar of career success.

On Wednesday at Barclays’ first-ever Women in Leadership Forum, I moderated a lunchtime panel with two women who are such role models. One is Sallie Krawcheck, the former star banker who famously got fired from Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), then bought and renamed professional women’s network 85 Broads, and has become a social-media phenom with 750,000 followers on LinkedIn.

My other panelist, Dambisa Moyo, is not as famous as Krawcheck (who is on the cover of the current Fast Company), but she too has achieved inordinate success, unbeholden to one organization. A native of Zambia who earned a PhD in economics at Oxford, Moyo quit Goldman Sachs (GS) to promote her first book, Dead Aid, and went on to nab major corporate board seats—at Barrick Gold , SABMiller (SAB) and Barclays (BCS)—and get named to the TIME 100.

Having studied female leaders for 20 years, I’m impressed by the 26 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies—but I am absolutely wowed by women like Krawcheck, 49, and Moyo, 45, who build their careers, untethered. How do they do it? Here are their five guidelines on networking to gain power on their terms.

1. Connect far and wide. “Your next business opportunity or new client or board opportunity is more likely to come from a loose connection than from a friend or a tight connection,” says Krawcheck. “That’s because your friends and tight connections tend to know the same people and same things.” Broadening your network expands your knowledge base—and your potential opportunities.

2. Say ‘Yes” to every invite. Women—even superstar women—feel guilty saying “No.” It’s a Most Powerful Women affliction. Yet Moyo believes it’s wise to accept every invitation, within reason. “I say ‘No’ to nothing. Sometimes you just show up, and one person can transform your life.” It worked for her, and for Krawcheck too. A few years ago, Krawcheck happened to sit next to Arthur Levitt, the former SEC chairman, on a plane; they talked, shared ideas, and intros followed. Two years and seven connections later, this led her to Janet Hanson, who was looking to sell 85 Broads. Restless for a new mission, Krawcheck bought it and has renamed it Ellevate to connect, advise and invest in women.

3. Give and take. “Think about networking as planting seeds,” says Krawcheck, who feels distressed when she sees young women in Ellevate ask for advice without giving back. “Whether its passing on a piece of research or saying ‘You should meet this person…,” you need to invest in your connections,” she says. “Some will never turn into anything. Others can lead to big things.”

4. Build a personal board of directors. “Most people won’t tell you the truth,” says Moyo, who has created her own personal board of directors. Think of yourself as a business, and hand-pick candid advisers who will keep you pointed in the right direction. Krawcheck loves this idea—and it makes sense for women, she notes, because we have a particularly difficult time soliciting feedback. “Women are less likely than men to receive feedback at work,” says Krawcheck, adding, “Men get nervous that women are going to cry.” Krawcheck isn’t joking. Research proves this.

5. Find a sponsor. Two days after Krawcheck lost her job at BofA in 2011, she reached out to every board member, thanked them for giving her the opportunity to rebuild Merrill Lynch, the bank’s brokerage arm, and asked: “What could I have done better?” Krawcheck says that the BofA directors told her that she might have survived the bank’s reorgs if she’d had a powerful sponsor to protect her. So, Krawcheck advises: Recruit an advocate. Moyo adds, “Seek out your weaknesses—and invest in them.” And, she says, “Feel free to cry. Just do it in the ladies room.”

“From the MPW Co-chairs” is a series where the editors who oversee the Fortune Most Powerful Women brand share their insights about women leaders.