Mary Barra began her General Motors (GM) career inspecting fenders and worked her way up to become the company’s CEO. Here are five career lessons that you can learn from the first woman to rise to the top of the American auto manufacturing industry.
Earn your stripes.
Barra’s first GM job consisted of inspecting fenders and hood panels. One of the reasons that she was later promoted to CEO was that she knew GM inside out; she had worked in both low- and high-level manufacturing and engineering positions. In order to reach the top, she proved her dedication to GM by being willing to take on any projects that came her way.
Be ambitious, but concentrate on doing your current job well.
It is smart to plan out your career path, but always concentrate on your present position; you will be noticed for your excellence and naturally move up. Barra did not focus on mapping out her ascension within GM, but instead committed herself fully to each of her roles.
Keep an eye on industry trends.
Always keep a finger on the pulse of your field and be willing to evolve to remain relevant. When GM announced plans to partner with Lyft, many people questioned why Barra would work with a company that puts fewer cars on the road. However, Barra’s recognition of the future in ride-sharing allowed GM to retain its trailblazing status.
Trust your coworkers.
While running Human Resources, Barra demonstrated her trust in her colleagues’ judgments by reducing GM’s dress code from 10 pages to the phrase “dress appropriately.” Showing trust in her coworkers empowered and motivated them, increasing productivity while minimizing oversight.
Embrace being the outsider in your industry.
Barra did not let her status as a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry stifle her desire to become CEO. Her story exemplifies how you should not curb your ambitions due to your outsider status; instead, continue striving for excellence and encourage others to do the same.
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