By Brenda Wensil 


When it comes to maintaining career momentum, our research shows that women leaders share more than just a successful career path. They share specific traits and behaviors that have helped them take charge of pivotal moments throughout their journey to the top. One of these shared traits is tenacity. 

Take, for example, Lydia, who was always clear on her goal: She wanted to be the CEO of an investment company, and she never wavered from that dream. Every experience was focused on preparing herself for that opportunity when it ultimately came to her. 

Lydia is now the CEO of a thriving investment firm. But it didn’t come easily or quickly. In fact, it took years of gaining experience, taking some hard knocks, and shifting roles to get there. Her unwavering commitment and perseverance is a great example of how tenacity creates career momentum. 

What Builds Career Momentum for Women Leaders?

As executive coaches for women leaders, we wanted to understand why some women can sustain and maintain career momentum, despite the systemic, structural problems women – and especially women of color – face in the workplace. 

For our recent research report, Pivotal Moments for Women Leaders, we interviewed 37 women in senior leadership roles (senior directors, vice and senior vice presidents, C-suite) whose experiences spanned more than 75 corporations. We asked these leaders to describe pivotal moments that helped them maintain career momentum.  

The insights gleaned from these interviews helped us understand the key traits that helped these professional women persevere at times when they felt stuck, dismayed, or limited in their options. One of the most interesting findings is that, while the women we spoke with had varied backgrounds, interests, personalities, and careers, they shared similar traits and behaviors that gave them momentum during these pivotal moments.  

The Power of Tenacity in Women Leaders

Tenacity was one of the common traits among the pool of women leaders. This focused drive or determined persistence simply would not allow them to give up or get sidetracked. Each experience, whether perceived as good or bad at the time, was embraced as a steppingstone to the next goal. Each of the women tapped into an inner mettle that helped them place short-term difficulties in the context of higher goals. And it made the difference.  

“I had a variety of experiences that helped me develop and get to know all parts of the business, from HR to technology, operations, administration, sales, and marketing,” Lydia told us of her quest to the CEO seat. “I had some real failures, setbacks, hard knocks. After a lot of work and experience, I realized at least for me that it’s all about people and I had to do more to create a village of people working toward a common goal.” 

“I stayed with it. I know myself and I like to build,” she said.  She also learned “It’s important to package yourself for the role you want.” 

Many of the women interviewed described the ability to push forward in solving entrenched problems or moving past disappointments while not taking setbacks personally. One CEO who is known for her ability to get results, and as a VP earlier in her career, described showing the ability to overcome obstacles. “You must have resilience. You can never quit until you get there,” she said. “It’s about driving outcomes and moving forward.” 

Following through on a professional goal despite obstacles is a hallmark of tenacity. In fields as varied as law, retail, healthcare, banking, and manufacturing, the women leaders in our study kept pressing forward on their goals and interests over years and decades, displaying a mindset of always moving forward through each experience, no matter how challenging. 

Another finding was that all of the women were seasoned through hardship. They had lost jobs, made difficult trade-offs personally and professionally, or endured various indignities. For example, one of our research participants, a black female prosecutor (now a judge), shared the emotional and mental toll of being consistently mistaken for a court clerk by the defense counsel.  

Another executive leader told us she was so impacted by a former boss earlier in her career that she had to leave the company. “The situation rocked my self-confidence so much that it took three jobs and several years to overcome,” she said. “I learned to recover much sooner than I used to.” 

Tenacity, Women Leaders, and Career Momentum 

While we found tenacity itself was a key fundamental trait these women have, that alone was not enough to make them successful. We discovered an interconnectivity between their shared traits and behaviors, their reactions, and the decisions they made when faced with moments in their career that demanded a pivot. Having resilience helped them make that pivot and continue their journey to their career goal.   

We challenge you to recognize your own resilience – test it, develop it – so you have it as a tool to continue your career momentum.  

Download the complete report, Pivotal Moments for Women Leaders: Executives Reveal the Keys to Career Momentum to learn more about tenacity, the other key traits successful women share, and more.  

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