5 Characteristics of Successful Women

You see them all around you; women succeeding in every avenue of life. They seem to have direction and know what they’re doing. They seem busy, satisfied, and put together while you can barely coordinate an outfit. You wonder how they manage to look so calm and collected when you know they work full-time and yet somehow concurrently enjoy a full and happy home life.


How do these women do it? While there is no magical secret to success, there are certainly characteristics that most successful women share, and if you can adopt them in your own life, there’s no reason you can’t attain the same level of success.


1. Determined. Those who succeed are willing to try, fail, and try again. You’ve heard the saying “no risk, no reward” and truly successful women embrace this idea whole-heartedly. In order to advance in any area of your life, you have to be willing to go out on a limb. But more than that, you must have the willpower to pick yourself up when you fall flat on your face, and continue with even more resolve.




2. Resourceful. Let’s face it; women do not have the same advantages as men. True, they are light years ahead of where they sat just a few generations ago (presumably in the kitchen instead of the boardroom), but they still face a lot of hurdles when it comes to professional inclusion and progression. For that reason, women must use every tool in their arsenal in order to reach the same heights. They must garner a strong base of education and experience, and blend them with interpersonal skills to get ahead.




3. Engaging. Many women in office settings suffer from the same disorder; a woeful inability to speak up. Women are much more likely to downplay their own role and attribute successes to a team, whereas men seeking to climb the ladder will almost always take credit for their achievements (and make sure everyone hears about them). You must not only do well in your position in order to get promoted, you must be willing to market yourself as an asset and convince others of your value.




4. Ambitious. Women without ambition rarely achieve greatness. Queen Elizabeth I gave up the chance at a family (and had her own sister imprisoned) in order to rule England. Susan B. Anthony and many other suffragettes risked being ostracized and thrown in jail in order to spread the message of women’s equality. Throughout history, the most successful women have been willing to take control of their own lives and do whatever was necessary to reach their goals.




5. Confident. Without a firm belief in yourself, you cannot hope to achieve true success. Nobody wants to back someone who is uncertain about their own ability to follow through. Those who lack confidence may be seen as spineless, incompetent, and even lazy, whether they are or not. Women who are self-assured, on the other hand, inspire confidence in others. And believing in yourself, knowing that you are capable and self-sufficient, really makes material success more like the icing on the cake.

25 Most Successful Women (Forbes 2011)

Rank Name Age Country Category
1 Angela Merkel – Chancellor 57 Germany Politics
2 Hillary Clinton – Secretary of State 64 United States Politics
3 Dilma Rousseff – President 64 Brazil Politics
4 Indra Nooyi – Chief Executive, PepsiCo 56 United States Business
5 Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook 42 United States Business
6 Melinda Gates – Cofounder, Gates Foundation 47 United States Non-Profit
7 Sonia Gandhi – President 65 India Politics
8 Michelle Obama – First Lady 48 United States Politics
9 Christine Lagarde – Managing Director, IMF 56 France Non-Profit
10 Irene Rosenfeld – CEO, Kraft Foods 58 United States Business
11 Lady Gaga – Entertainer 25 United States Celebrity/Lifestyle
12 Jill Abramson – Executive Editor, NY Times 57 United States Media
13 Kathleen Sebelius – Secretary of HHS 63 United States Politics
14 Oprah Winfrey – Media Personality 58 United States Media
15 Janet Napolitano -Secretary of Homeland Security 54 United States Politics
16 Susan Wojcicki – SVP, Advertising, Google 43 United States Business
17 Cristina Fernandez – President 59 Argentina Politics
18 Beyoncé Knowles – Entertainer, Designer 30 United States Celebrity/Lifestyle
19 Georgina Rinehart – Mining Tycoon 58 Australia Billionaire
20 Cher Wang – Cofounder, Chair, HTC 53 Taiwan Business
21 Margaret Hamburg – Commissioner FDA 56 United States Politics
22 Michele Bachmann – Presidential Candidate 55 United States Politics
23 Julia Gillard – Prime Minister 50 Australia Politics
24 Mary Schapiro – Chair, SEC 56 United States Politics
25 Anne Sweeney – Co-Chair of Disney 54 United States Business

Ladies Who Lunch

Lauren Pheeney Della Monica graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in art history and Spanish Literature in 1995.  Lauren completed a program in art connoisseurship at Christie’s, NY.  She then worked at an American paintings gallery and at the Citibank Private Bank Art Advisory Service, assisting clients with purchasing fine art and valuing artwork for loan portfolios.  As a complement to her arts training, Lauren received her JD in 2001.  While in law school, she interned in the General Counsel’s office at The Museum of Modern Art.  Lauren practiced commercial litigation and art law at a firm for two years.  She then launched her art consulting business, LPDM Fine Art Consulting, in 2004.

Yesterday I met a friend/client for lunch at a lovely restaurant known for its salads and pastries. There were quite a number of tables inhabited by pairs of women.  I arrived five minutes early, so I was seated in a corner table on a banquet, right beside two lunching ladies who were in their mid 50s. I could not help but overhear their conversation, try as I might to check my email on my Treo, turn off the ringer, write myself a list in my pocket notebook, and drink my newly poured glass of cold water. But, they were just inches away, and I could hear every word. And I was fascinated. Lady A and Lady B were discussing some women they know who never had children, and so they also have no grandchildren. My mind was racing with each statement made. Their take is that because these other women have not had kids (and these are all quotes as best I can remember them):

(Lady A) “They care more about which restaurant we go to and less about friendship. They will say things like, “Oh, I can’t eat there. The food is terrible.” It is as though they don’t know what is important in life because they have not had children. Lunch should be about the friendship not about where you eat. If the food is edible that should be good enough.”

(LPDM — I just have to interject my thoughts) I simply don’t understand the logic. How does a woman’s womb have anything to do with where she dines for Caesar salad in her 50s? Perhaps the women at issue are not interested in the same menus, in which case perhaps they should not dine together. But why is this about reproductive history? And then how exactly does reproductive history inform one’s understanding of friendship? I thought friendships were learned and developed early on in life before the age of reproduction (and continued long after the childbearing years).

(Lady B) “It is just terrible. When you are seated at a table and all the rest of us have children and grandchildren to talk about it is just so terrible. They have nothing. They have nothing to add to the conversation because they have nothing in their lives. So, I just shoot the others a look and try to turn the conversation away from families.”

(LPDM) Excuse me. Hearing you talk about your children and grandchildren is probably boring and something which others (parents, grandparents or otherwise) tolerate to an extent out of politeness and custom. A few minutes of that kind of proud mother/grandmother talk at any ladies lunch is acceptable, but it can get old fast whether you are a parent or not.  And wait, don’t you have anything else to talk about besides your family? Is your life that empty? Not having children and grandchildren does not mean you have nothing in your life. It means that you don’t have THAT in your life. It means that perhaps you can’t relate on that topic any more than when a group of men sit around discussing basketball scores and you are not a fan so you are probably bored and have nothing to add. It does not make you empty, just off topic. Go ahead, change the topic. But please don’t do it out of pity.

(Lady A) “I know. They always need to talk about themselves because they don’t have families to talk about. They need attention. I notice that they create illnesses to talk about just to get attention because they have not had children and they don’t know how to put themselves second and care for other people first. They don’t know that the world is not all about them and they don’t know how to care about anyone else.”

(LPDM) In an age when baby boomers are having to care for their own aging, and perhaps ailing, parents in record numbers according to many sources I find it hard to believe that simply not having children will absolve anyone from ever having to care for anyone else. Chances are they care for their spouse as well as for themselves. They also have had parents at some point and may have had to care for them, and maybe even for a sibling at some time, or another friend or a pet. Women have lots of care taking roles in their lives and the need is only projected to grow over the coming years. I guess it only counts for Lady A and Lady B, though, if you care for your children.

Maybe their childless “friends” are terribly self-centered, vapid hypochondriacs and if so, I think all of these women should stop having lunch together and perhaps give up the charade of friendship. It sounds dreadful. However, if a friend comes to you to discuss her illness have an ounce of compassion — maybe your friend is scared about being ill and needs some support.  Since you are such a warm, giving, family-oriented woman perhaps you could spare some kindness and lend your friend a shoulder rather than vilifying her for talking to you.

(Lady B) “Well, you know, they are bored in their marriages and they don’t have children or grandchildren to distract them. That’s their problem.”

(LPDM) Oh, so not having children means one has a problem. I see. Lady, other people’s marriages are none of your business. As my dear friend once said to me, “If you aren’t in it, don’t judge it.” Hard as that is sometimes, it is good advice. Maybe Lady B has some marital issues of her own that she is projecting?  And I don’t think anyone would say that having kids saves a bad marriage. No matter how much you love your children, it is still a bad marriage but with more pressure and responsibility.

Finally (and this is really the big one) how dare you be so judgemental!  You can never know why someone does not have children.  Perhaps it is a conscious decision not to have children and to choose a different lifestyle. Not everyone wants to be a parent, and it is not for you to judge. Perhaps the woman desperately wants kids but has been unable to conceive and has been through years of agonizing and expensive fertility procedures. Perhaps the woman never found the right partner with whom to have children or her timing was off and so it never worked out. My point is that simply having children does not make you better than someone who does not have them. It just makes you different.

Ah, thank goodness. My lunch partner has arrived. Now we can get down to our business of talking about her newborn, our love and lives and our business transaction!s

Protect Your Passion 2009

It has been said that “the surest way to keep a man in prison is not to let him know he’s there.” And the surest way to keep a woman from embracing her pure career ambition is to make her believe she’s already done it.

Don’t believe it. 

Heading into 2009, we women still are not advancing in our careers the way we should. We’re not getting the fulfillment we desire or making the money we deserve. And this time it’s not men who are holding us back. This time, sisters, we’re doing it to ourselves, because ambition—for us—is still a dirty word.

Do you unconsciously buy into our prevailing cultural paradigm, that double standard that says: ambitious men are go-getters, but ambitious women are bitchy, greedy, cold, arrogant females who attract enemies, repel lovers, make rotten mothers, live lonely lives and, in one way or another, miss out on fulfilling lives because of their ambition?

Are you not advancing in your career as quickly as you’d like? Are you not making the money you deserve and getting the fulfillment you desire? Are you afraid of what you might have to sacrifice if you pursue your big goals?


It doesn’t matter where we grew up, went to school, or go to work. It’s the same whether we’re in our twenties and new to our careers, or in our fifties and sixties and among the most highly-regarded professionals in our industries. Today, the greatest barrier to earning more money, getting the power and recognition we deserve, and feeling entitled to stay the course comes from inside of ourselves. We agonize over whether or not we deserve to be ambitious—and about what it will cost us.

High-achieving women of all ages and at all stages of our careers all harbor the same dirty little secret:
 we all struggle with socially sanctioned failure to embrace our ambition. We all have some version of the same pernicious audio loop playing between our ears:

“Will being as ambitious as I dream of being make me less of a woman? Can I? Dare I? Have I gone too far? Will it cost me my personal life? Will I make enemies? Is it impossible to be a great mother and as equally committed to my ambition as I am to the well-being of my children? Will it make those I care about suffer? Is it impossible to be ambitious and happy? Am I giving my employer or my clients their money’s worth? If I negotiate, if I ask for what I’m worth, will I lose the opportunity? Is it wrong to care as much about making money as I do about making a contribution and being fulfilled at work? Does taking credit mean I’m greedy, arrogant? Am I worthy of recognition and power? Do I deserve to go after my biggest, most precious career dreams?”

Ambition is not a dirty word, but as far as many of us are concerned, it might as well be.

Why do so many of us self-sabotage without noticing that we’re doing it?

Because everywhere, there are disempowering ideas about women disguised in positive, and even sometimes flattering terms. 
The ideas translate into seemingly desirable traits women should cultivate, and we buy into them and internalize them. But these views and attributes are not desirable—they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they lead to self-sabotaging beliefs and behavior. By accepting them, and action on them, we women compromise our ambition—but we don’t see what we are doing to ourselves.

Our culture encourages women to derive our sense of self from being selfless, by giving to everyone else first and foremost—even at the expense of our career dreams.
 Could there be a more confusing, contradictory recipe for self-satisfaction? No wonder we drop kick our dreams!

We women have been told—implicitly or explicitly—not to value our ambition as much as our other priorities. Instead, we’re spoon-fed a culturally acceptable, watered-down definition of success:

-”You don’t have to be unabashedly ambitious. You’re above all that. You’re sophisticated enough to realize that ambition isn’t as important as getting the life-balance equation right. Get balance right and you’re successful, even if you have to sacrifice your dreams.”

Few of us challenge the notion that the accepted definition of success might actually be holding women back because it is couched in such a positive way. 

How can we take seriously the necessary soul-searching required to discover what we were meant to do professionally when we’re rarely encouraged to explicitly acknowledge and to discuss our pure, unadulterated ambition? 

This year, tell yourself a new message: your ambition is not a dirty word. It’s the best of who you are.You owe it to yourself—and the world—to make the contribution you were born to make. You can be as ambitious as you want to be—with integrity, grace, and dignity. And being true to your ambition needn’t cost you a happy personal life.

Here’s my new year’s challenge to you: 

Go down just as hard for your ambition as you do for any other primary priority in your life, be it lover, friend, child, community. Don’t sacrifice your ambition for any reason.

In 2009, let’s reclaim ambition as a virtue by adopting three rules: 

1. You must love your work.
 You must be willing to aggressively pursue the professional work you were meant to do and to strive for any career opportunities that inspire you.

2. You must regard your deepest career aspirations as unconditionally sacrosanct. 
The real way to have a great life is to see your career ambition as a part of your value system to which you must give equal attention, along with other non-negotiable priorities in your life, including your partner, your unconditional dedication to your children, and your commitment to your friends and community.

3. You must feel entitled to earn your worth.
 You must charge your full marketplace value without self-reproach, without leaving money on the table, and without feeling like an impostor.

If you don’t go down hard for your ambition, you’re letting the best part of you, the part that the world deserves to have you contribute, rot in a basement. 
In 2009, let’s get her out.

Protect your passion. As the ambitious woman you are entitled to be, I encourage you to answer for yourself, every day, a question posed in Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me, What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

To steal a line from the musical “Rent”, “It’s gonna’ be a happy new year.”