Fortune released its list of the Most Powerful Women in 2017. To break the glass ceiling, sometimes you have to be willing to be uncomfortable.
women and work

Career lessons from Fortune’s 5 most powerful women in business

Fortune released its list of the Most Powerful Women in 2017, the 20th anniversary of ranking the most powerful female leaders across industries.

The list comes amid rumblings of a rising backlash against the growth of women in some industries — including tech — and amid continued low representation of women in the executive ranks of corporations.

Here are some things we can learn from the top-ranked women leaders:

1. Mary Barra: Get comfortable being uncomfortable

The Chairman and CEO of General Motors claimed the top spot for the third year in a row, and talked about why trying new things can be beneficial for careers.

Responding to a question about what she’d tell young women, Barra talked about the importance of widening your horizons, even if it makes you nervous.

“I would say to young women, when you get that little bit of a knot in your stomach and you feel a little bit of discomfort because of, you know, the new assignment, you should take it, because getting breadth of experience and understanding how — whatever industry you’re in — really understanding how it works is so critical for advancement. So take those assignments that cause you to step a little outside of your comfort zone,” Barra said in a Fortune interview..

Earlier in the interview, she mentioned the types of people who shaped her career, including those who gave her feedback, saying, “feedback is a gift.”

2. Indra Nooyi: Never stop learning

The Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo came in second place on Fortune‘s list this year. She shared her perspective on the importance of learning in an interview with Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon at a Stanford Graduate School of Business View from the Top event in 2016.

“Our CEOs and leaders have to be lifelong students—not just students in the sense of attending courses or reading a book or two. You’ve got to learn how to read widely, walk the market, look at trends in the marketplace, make connections that don’t seem obvious,” Nooyi said.

3. Marillyn Hewson: Work hard and don’t forget who you are

The Chairman, President, and CEO of global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin came in third place on Fortune‘s list this year. She says the benefits of hard work shouldn’t come at the cost of forfeiting what’s important to you.

“I learned from my mother that if you stay true to your values and you work hard and you’re determined, that you can do anything that you put your mind to,”Hewson said during a Fortune interview, “And she had five children. That was the lesson that she taught us every day. I mean, she just said, ‘you have the capability, but you’ve gotta work hard. And you gotta be focused on it, and be determined, and be resilient as you face challenges, and then you’ll be successful’.”

4. Abigail Johnson: Focus, focus, focus

The Chairman and CEO of Fidelity Investments took the fourth spot this year. In 1946, her grandfather established the company, in 2014, she became CEO, and in 2016, she became chairman, according to Forbes.

Johnson demonstrated her professional drive in a past Forbes interview.

Johnson praised her father, who was chairman until she was named to the position in 2016, for teaching her to have a “relentless focus on continuing to try to improve everything you do.”

“No matter how senior you get in an organization, no matter how well you’re perceived to be doing, your job is never done. Your customers are expecting more from you, your competitors are putting pressure on you by doing more and trying to beat you here, beat you there,” she added.

And while there’s always room for improvement, self-doubt never helps, she added.

“Don’t doubt yourself. Keep at it, stay looking ahead, stay committed, and stay true to yourself.”

5. Sheryl Sandberg: Don’t limit yourself

The Facebook COO and author of Lean In and Option B took the fifth spot this year, and thinks that the sky is the limit when it comes to your life — including your work.

She responded to a question on Quora in 2015 about what advice she would have given herself when she was “starting out.”

“Believe you can do anything. This is important for everyone and especially for women. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t have both a meaningful professional career and a fulfilling personal life. When you hear someone say you can’t do something, know that you can and start figuring out how. Ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I weren’t afraid?’” Sandberg wrote.