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Finding Your Path to Leadership as a Woman — 5 Things I've Learned Along the Way If you are someone who has found your way to a leadership position, you must ensure that you reach out a hand to those who are following behind you.

By Michelle Arieta Edited by Chelsea Brown

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I speak to young women just starting in their careers, they often ask me, "If you could go back in time, what would you tell the 22-year-old version of yourself?" The truth is, there is nothing I could say that would have prepared me for the twists and turns that have made up my career. But there are many things I wish I'd had in my toolbox (or at least had sooner) that might have made some roadblocks a little less challenging to maneuver.

The path to leadership comes with a steep learning curve; without support, it can feel like you are trying to translate a language you've never heard. To get more women in leadership, those of us who have learned the language need to spread the wealth, sharing the mistakes we made that we wish we hadn't, the opportunities we went after that we are glad we did and the lessons passed down from leaders before us that guided us to the top. Here are five of the lessons I've learned:

Related: 3 Ways Women Can Turn Fear of Failure Into Fearless Action

1. Fear is a compass

The opportunities that scare us are, more often than not, the ones that are most likely to change the trajectory of our careers. If we want to advance and find work that excites us, we have to be willing to take calculated risks — explore the career path we haven't been able to stop thinking about, move to the city we've always dreamed of living in, and ask for the promotion we know we deserve.

For example, the Global Head of Health and Life Sciences at Domino left the company she had worked at for almost 20 years to join our startup. It was a big risk for her career and her family. Still, it was a move she felt called to make (and one she made after careful thought and consideration). She took the leap, left the stability she had known for two decades and now feels she has landed the job she has dreamed about since she first began working.

Don't be afraid to reassess the vision you had of your career and take calculated risks — fear is merely a compass pointing us in the direction we should go next.

2. Be a Jill-of-all-trades

Many may find success by specializing in one niche, but that is not necessarily the only path to success. Moving laterally from role to role can be just as valuable for your career as moving vertically on the same track. Don't be afraid of a new opportunity just because it is not in line with your current track; getting yourself out of your comfort zone and learning a new area of expertise will only help your career, not hurt it. By gaining knowledge in a wide breadth of topics, you will be able to connect and communicate effectively with a wide range of people and support projects in topics that span the entire company. We need experts who can fix the tiny glitch in our computer systems, but we also need the Jill-of-all-trades who brings the team together and connects the dots to move everyone toward the company mission.

Related: A Successful Career Path Doesn't Have to Be Linear

3. Find mentors

If you ask any woman in leadership what has been the single most impactful element of their career, they will likely say, "my mentor." A mentor can help fast-track your career; they guide you around the pitfalls they may have stumbled on and challenge you to seek new opportunities.

That said, we cannot sit back and expect the perfect mentor to fall out of the sky — we must strategically seek them out. It may feel intimidating to reach out to people in positions you aspire to and ask for their guidance, but that is the only way we will find a quality mentor. Message an executive on LinkedIn whose work you have long admired, or reach out to the notoriously difficult-to-please manager at your company — no matter who you choose to ask to be your mentor, what matters is that you don't wait. Finding a mentor in your chosen field, and finding them early, will be crucial to your career advancement.

4. Be ready to improvise

As much as we might try, we cannot plan for everything. As an undergrad, my plan was charted: Graduate, go to medical school, and become a doctor. However, due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I had to pivot and chart a new path. What felt devastating at the time is now a moment in my life I look at with gratitude.

So many of us think we must follow the script handed to us, but life is far from a tidy screenplay with a beginning, middle and end. External factors inevitably force us to improvise — to pivot quickly, scrap the script and start fresh. When this happens, do not panic at the thought that your life is over. It may not be exactly what you imagined, but it could be even better. There's no direct path to success. All we can do is prepare with a plan A, B and C and learn to roll with the punches when it turns out we have to devise a plan D.

Related: 10 Powerful Women Executives Share How to Thrive as a Leader

5. Leave the door open

Finally, when you find success, don't slam the door shut behind you. There are so many women and men who helped me get to where I am today; I now pay them respect by passing on their legacy of guidance, mentorship and support.

Whether it is fellow women, people of color or those in the LGBTQ+ community, it is vital that we lend our support to those who need it most to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace. None of us found success alone — remember who supported your climb, and pay it forward. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Michelle Arieta

Senior Vice President Human Resources for MediaLab

Michelle Arieta is a strategic HR business partner who has a systematic approach to organizational issues to support performance within an organization, looking beyond the day-to-day limits of the business and focusing on long-term goals while delivering tangible results.

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