Top 3 Traits Of High-Achieving Women

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helpful traits for career developmentIf you were asked the question: What three qualities supported you to get where you are in your career today? What would be your answer? That can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Choosing only three factors, when there are likely many, can be tough. That's what I was asked to do as part of a presentation to a group of high-achieving women who participated in an extraordinary women leaders program at a local university.

I thought for quite a while and decided these three were dominant:

  • persistence
  • resilience
  • courage

1. Persistence

I would say that persistence is one of my strongest traits. As a matter of fact, some people say that I can be determined to the point of stubbornness and sometimes they are right. If I want something bad enough, I will find a way. Had I not been persistent I would not have finished college and certainly would not have started a business. Getting an education was difficult.

After having spent my entire childhood in a rural area on a farm, I was anxious to venture into the world of life in the big city. My mother desperately wanted me to go to college and the fact that there was no money for college did not dampen her dream for her youngest daughter. But I, as an 18-year-old know-it-all, I knew what was best for me -- or so I thought. I was New York bound! My stay in New York lasted two years, where I worked menial jobs before deciding to move to Washington, D.C. That move did not immediately improve my situation because I spent another two years working in low-paying clerical jobs.

Fast-forward four years. I am a freshman at Howard University. Getting there is where persistence paid off. After coming to the realization that I needed an education, my work was cut out for me, with financing being the major issue. My family still had no money for college, so possible sources were scholarships, loans and a job. I pursued every possible avenue because my experience had shown me that education was my only way out of the nightmare of the last few years. My efforts paid off in the form of scholarships, loans and a part-time job. No doubt those were available four years earlier, when I finished high school, but I did not see the value of an education at that time. Those three funding vehicles propelled me through Howard in four years. I was determined to graduate no matter what it took.

Financing my education at Harvard offered the same challenge. I did not get a scholarship, so had to rely on loans. Adding those loans to the the accumulated at Howard created a monumental obligation, but perhaps small in comparison to today's students.


2. Resilience

This trait played a major part in getting my business started. It ran the gamut from getting established in a male dominated industry, to getting financing, to getting my first contract and then building my team. I encountered a number of "no's" and questions about my ability. Previously, I had served as executive vice president of a company in the same industry, and gained valuable experience. Nonetheless, there were those who felt I should not venture into this male dominated industry. At times I not only had to mention my in-depth experience but also, very diplomatically, allude to my Harvard MBA.

First, I was turned down for certification in a program that was established to support minority-owned firms in getting a foothold in the government market. To me, my application was a cinch. I was a double minority -- African American and female. Not so! Only after many questions and the submission of voluminous documents was I approved.

Once certified, a company was expected to market to the federal government and identify contracts for the program which were then awarded through the Small Business Administration. Again I ran into a roadblock. I identified a contract with which I was familiar and was confident I could perform. Despite my efforts, I was told with no explanation that I would not get the contract.

Back to the battlefield! By the time I went through all the red tape, this contract had been awarded to another company. I finally got results when I threatened to go to my congressman if another contract was not found for me. The result was the award of the first contract, which started my business. In retrospect, my company would have died a quick death had I not been able to bounce back from this seeming failure.


3. Courage

There are times when you must be brave enough to do something that seems daring. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, take a little risk. You won't achieve anything by staying in the same place and doing the same things. You will need courage to fuel your success. In many ways, I was courageous to a fault. I took some real risks as I was trying to find my place in the world.

During my undergraduate years, I worked part-time jobs during the school year. But for the summer, I always explored intern opportunities. On two occasions, I got internships in cities where I'd never been -- Houston and Atlantic City. That did not deter me, even though I had no place to stay. For my Houston job, a friend interceded on my behalf by calling a friend to ask if I could stay with them. For Atlantic City, I ventured there with plans to find accommodations upon my arrival. In both situations, the opportunity was too good to pass up. My courage made me overlook some of the potential dangers.

Put yourself to the test and think about three things that bolstered your career and how you can use those same traits for further growth.

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