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Women leaders: Embrace ambition to move up

Thursday, September 29, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Stacy Wiggins of Stop & Shop New England, Amanda Martinez of The Albertsons Companies and Maura Scott of Altria shared their career stories at NEW Leadership Summit 2016. 

"Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings.” – Salvador Dali

Women seeking to advance their careers should embrace their ambition and reject the idea that women must compete with each other to succeed, according to three industry executives who offered their insights at the NEW Leadership Summit 2016 in Orlando.

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Amanda Martinez, group vice president, corporate procurement, The Albertsons Companies; Maura L. Scott, vice president, region sales, Altria Group Distribution Company; and Stacy Wiggins, senior vice president of operations, Stop & Shop New England Division, Ahold Delhaize, shared their personal and professional stories during "Ambition and Competition: Dreams, Fears and Realities,” a discussion moderated by NEW Board Chair Karen Stuckey, senior vice president, private brands, general merchandise at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Early career ambition

Martinez: "I didn’t target an executive position. My first job was as a junior buyer; my goal was exceeding expectations. Later I targeted lead buyer and roles [where I could succeed as] an individual contributor. I always focused on my position and what I needed to learn for the next role. It was a mentor who said, 'Why not an executive role?'”

Scott: "I took on leadership roles in high school and law school, but realized as a lawyer in a law firm my leadership skills were left by the wayside. As I improved my network at Altria, I realized there were other pathways. I saw myself as a leader, but in a different context – not as an executive. The position I’m in now [is the result] of having wonderful mentors who helped me see I could translate my skills into a bigger leadership position.”

Ambition and competition

Martinez: "Being ambitious is a reflection of self-confidence – believing you can do something more challenging. [But] being ambitious without being honest with yourself about your performance, image and exposure is not realistic.”

Scott: "A lot of women shy away from those words – [as if] saying ‘I can do that’ would be bragging or ‘unladylike.’ I have had to re-frame ‘ambition’ in the context of not wealth and power, but seeking a challenge and finding something that can fulfill me. I like to win – but not for myself, but for my team. It is better to aspire to scope of impact or fulfillment, rather than aspire to a specific job – that can Better to aspire to scope of impact or fulfillment, rather than aspire to a specific job – that can be limiting."

Wiggins: "I don’t think of my peers as competition. I think if we work together and compete against the outside, we’ll all be the best."

Influencing others

Scott: "I’m a big believer in transparency and the truth will set us all free. If I’m more worried about myself and competing with my peers, I’m not doing what the company is asking me to do. When competing [internally] for scarce resources, being open and honest about your needs with the person you are trying to come to an agreement with can be disarming. If someone is not forthcoming, you may need your network to help you understand that person’s needs and agenda. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘You and I need to agree and disagree about this and let’s elevate it together rather than undermining one another behind the scenes.'”

Developing personal power presence

Wiggins: "I stepped in the elevator today and a man – a construction worker – stepped in and said, 'Wow, you look powerful.' My shoulders went back a little and I thought, ‘That is perfect.’ The visual of power is what most people think about: black suit, hair back, glasses on – someone who is able to get on a stage, give a presentation, lead a meeting. But more important to me is everyday presence and being comfortable with who you are. Being a leader is to inspire people, lead them to do things they thought were not possible. You can’t do that if you are not genuine.”

Martinez: "There was a time in my career that I realized I didn’t know how I was supposed to act. When I stepped back and realized I needed to be myself, that took the pressure off. I am approachable and accepting and talkative and I can still be those things and lead a meeting and have tough conversations.”

Advice for reaching career goals

Wiggins: "It is absolutely one of the most important things to be yourself and be genuine. Don’t lose your personality or who you are. That’s what will make you successful.”

Martinez: "Stop saying you can’t. Yes you can. There is no reason for you to stop working toward what will fulfill you. If you need help, ask for it. Your great leaders are those who want to help you.”

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