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One quality all young female leaders should have

January 22, 2015, 5:31 PM UTC
J&J Pharmaceutical Success Drives Increase In 2014 Forecast
Sandra "Sandi" Peterson, group worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), stands for a photograph at the J&J consumer healthcare products plant in Lititz, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Johnson & Johnson, the world's biggest health-care products company, beat expectations in its first-quarter earnings release in April and raised its 2014 forecast by focusing on new drugs and reducing its reliance on medical devices. J&J is expected to release second-quarter earnings figures on July 15. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? is written by Sandi Peterson, Group Worldwide Chairman at Johnson & Johnson.

I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a wide range of leadership roles throughout my career — leading organizations in diverse industries that have faced numerous challenges. Along the way I’ve worked with talented people and observed many gifted leaders in action. Most importantly, I learned that success isn’t a destination; it’s an ongoing journey. You never want to stop learning, growing and pushing yourself. Wherever you are in your career, it takes work to make an impact. Below are a few other key lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Courage and confidence are key
Leaders who make things happen have both confidence and courage. Many view these traits as innate, but they can be – and they need to be – cultivated. Confidence comes from doing your homework – you need to to know your business and your market. And courage is the constant willingness to go beyond your comfort zone. Doing so will help you gain deeper insights and analysis.

Always ask questions
Confidence is built as you come to understand your business. This means a lot of listening— something that might feel counter-intuitive for a new leader. However, the best leaders will solicit input from their team regularly. It’s the leader’s responsibility to allow these voices to be heard and, more importantly, to learn from them. Your team will feel empowered and embrace your guidance. Great leaders have people working for them who can do their jobs even better than they can. Leaders don’t need to know all the answers or always be the person out front making the big presentation and taking all the bows.

Stick to your gut
Decisiveness is at the heart of leadership, and it’s especially important for women. Female leaders are still expected to tread a fine line between “soft” and “strong.” The best way to earn the trust and respect of your team and your peers is to be willing to take the risk, make the choice, and avoid waffling on the tough decisions.

On the journey to success, all teams face adversity and obstacles. When they do, they look to their leader for the resilience, courage and confidence to continue to inspire change and make things happen. Cultivating those qualities is a leader’s responsibility, not just for herself and her career, but also for her team.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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What it means to join the c-suite by Colette LaForce, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at AMD.

Why ‘knowing it all’ won’t help you at work by Adena Friedman, President of Nasdaq.

Why you should be more friendly at work by Mary Civiello, President of Civiello CSommunications Group.

4 reasons to ditch the ‘corporate mold’ by Kathy Collins, Chief Marketing Officer, H&R Block.

10 tips for survival when you’re the new boss by Debby Hopkins, Chief Innovation Officer at Citi.

Why every new leader should take Lupita Nyong’o’s advice Gloria Larson, President of Bentley University.

Why I’m proud to be gay — at home and at work by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

Why great doers don’t make great leaders by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

3 things you can learn from your worst boss by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

One CEO’s cheat sheet to the top by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 ways to think like a leader by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

What the best bosses can learn from mountain ski guides by Susan Coelius Keplinger, President and COO of Triggit.

The one quality all leaders must have by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

3 lessons every new leader should know by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Barbara Bush: 4 tips for aspiring leaders by Barbara Bush, co-founder of Global Health Corps.