A ‘Woman to Watch’ Offers Tips to Career Success


Paula Davis

Friend and former colleague Paula Davis was just named a “Woman Worth Watching” by bi-monthly magazine Profiles in Diversity.  Paula is President of the nearly half-billion-dollar Alcoa Foundation.

For the magazine and this blog, Paula shares the five “lessons learned” on her way up the corporate ladder of success:

Fate has introduced me to talented, motivated and patient people who have taught me how to be a more effective professional, a stronger leader and a better person. Five of the most compelling lessons I’ve learned from these mentors, colleagues and family members follow:

Say, “I’ll do it!”  In my first PR job, I raised my hand for every assignment. I read the newspapers in the morning and painstakingly cut and pasted them for executives. I ran errands and faxed without hesitation. Gradually, I was asked to write news releases and organize media events. When I landed my next job, I was told, “Your attitude and eagerness got you noticed.” I still volunteer for extra assignments. Embrace opportunities outside your responsibility.

Add value in every task.  When I was asked to help with events at Sears, I always came back with, “what if we did it this way?” Rather than ask what to do, I suggested options and recommendations for my boss to react to. It highlighted my critical thinking skills, creativity and initiative.

Be inclusive.  Build relationships with colleagues in a meaningful and sincere way; you want them to care whether or not you make it. Ask for advice and seek buy-in from the right business owners; they will feel vested in your success. Find out what’s important to influencers and deliver wins for them. They will see that you get things done and will be more eager to support your initiatives. And share the credit, even when it’s not entirely due. If you want people to feel a sense of ownership, include them in your success.

Learn to say, “I’m sorry.”  I had always thought that admitting a mistake was a sign of weakness. My brother taught me otherwise, and the lesson was reinforced at Siemens when I apologized for missing a media opportunity, even though it wasn’t my fault. I took the hit and averted a strained relationship with a senior executive. Quickly admit when you are wrong. It demonstrates credible leadership.

Lighten up.  Colin Powell once wrote, “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” In short, don’t take things personally. If your idea doesn’t get selected or it’s criticized, learn from the outcome and move on. Don’t pout. It is about getting to the best solution.

These are my top five learnings that have helped me advance my career. Admittedly, some of these were learned the hard way, but they all made me stronger.

Paula Davis is President of the Alcoa Foundation.   She worked with me at Sara Lee and at Sears before moving into senior public relations positions at Siemens USA and Pepsi Bottling Company.  An English and psychology  graduate of the University of Michigan, Paula earned her MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. 


2 thoughts on “A ‘Woman to Watch’ Offers Tips to Career Success

  1. Great points! I found the first and last to be particularly helpful. It’s too easy to do the minimum required to get the job done, but volunteering for extra work will ultimately improve your chances at better assignments. Additionally, it’s tough to separate your job from yourself sometimes, but taking everything personally can only harm your self-confidence and ability to do the job in the long run. Thanks for the tips!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. It is refreshing to hear such a positive approach to climbing the corporate ladder. I will be sure to keep this in mind as I begin my career as a PR professional. Just out of curiosity, do you think this applies across the board to all fields or is it more specific to PR?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *