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How can women rise to the C-suite?

Denise MorrisonDenise Morrison
Denise Morrison, CEO and president of Campbell Soup CompanyPhotograph by Mel Evans — AP

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week we ask: How can women rise to the C-suite? The following answer is by Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company.

I’m from a generation of women that shattered the glass ceiling. We didn’t wait for doors to open. The lesson I learned is that you need to open some doors for yourself in pursuit of career advancement. Here’s what I suggest:

Declare yourself
Set ambitious goals and don’t be afraid to declare and aim for them. You need to know where you want to go in order to get there. It is important to have a destination in mind. Devise a critical pathway – a strategic career plan that maps out where you’ve been, where you are now, where you’re going and who can help you get there.

Don’t be afraid to zigzag
I describe my career path as a zigzag, not a ladder. Early in my career, I created a career tracker to review my progression horizontally across multiple dimensions such as size and scope of responsibility, number of direct reports and P&L responsibility. It helped me identify skillsbuilt, as well as gaps in my experience, which I sought to fill by pursuing challenging opportunities that would prepare me for senior leadership roles. For example, at one point in my career I was assigned to lead sales and marketing, while operating in a manufacturing plant. It was a true zigzag that helped me gain valuable supply chain experience and foster critical leadership development in an area that was out of my comfort zone.

Networking is working
When done correctly, networking is working and it can be incredibly strategic. You can’t become a CEO without working hard and delivering results, but that will only take you so far. Building and leveraging strong relationships with mentors and sponsors will take you the rest of the way. Identify a short list of people that you want to meet and then identify the people in your existing network that can facilitate the necessary introductions.

Serve on a board
I believe it’s important to gain leadership experience on multiple fronts. A great way to learn about how boards and their committees operate is to volunteer to serve on a nonprofit board that is doing work you are passionate about. I took this approach and it was instrumental in enabling me to pursue my first public board appointment. Being a director on a board provides a different perspective on leadership and the discipline of corporate governance. I currently serve on the MetLife board and the experience is invaluable.

Create a personal mission statement
Inspired by Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I created a personal mission statement that became a compass on my path to becoming a CEO. My mission is: To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference. I believe leadership is service to others. I’ve stayed true to this mission on the road to the C-suite, and that has made all the difference.