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Wise words from a Warrior

Tighe Flatley, Gap Inc. bloggerComment

What's more productive: taking an hour on a Saturday to answer your emails, or taking a full 24 hours off to unplug from work and technology?

It's the latter — at least according to Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's Chief Technology & Strategy Officer and Gap Inc. board member.

"We need to be deliberate with how we spend our time," Warrior said. "I take a digital detox every Saturday, and take complete time off from being connected. I try not to check email or voicemail."

Doing so, Warrior says, allows her to paint, write poetry or take a walk — time spent allowing her creativity to be nurtured.

Warrior recently joined Gap Inc. CFO Sabrina Simmons for a chat with hundreds of Gap Inc. employees to discuss the role of women, leadership, careers and — of course — fashion, in honor of Women's History Month.

During the frank and friendly conversation, Warrior explained that her successful career path from engineer to tech executive almost never happened. During her first week of college, in a new city in her home country of India, Warrior was one of only five women in a physics class of 250 students. She didn't speak the local language. She was, at 17, homesick and unsure of herself.

"I called my dad and told him I wanted to come home," Warrior said. "Instead, he told me, 'You've chosen the path. Now it's up to you to make the journey interesting. Make it exciting.'"

That advice has stayed with Warrior as she's moved through her career, allowing her to stick with her choices and see them through to success.

Other advice Warrior gave to the room: Be confident in your work and be known as an expert in something. Rather than focus on your next job, be a star at what you're doing now. Then, when the next opportunity comes up, go for it. Don't hold back.

She noted using a 70/30 rule when accepting new roles and positions — "you should know 70 percent of how to do the job , and 30 percent should be new" — allowing yourself to be challenged and to ask questions.

"Being a leader requires different skills" than being an individual contributor or a manager, she noted of one early ah-ha moment. "Being a leader is not always being the one with the answers, but asking the right questions. How do you get other people motivated and energized, so they can find the answer?"

She strongly advocates for people to come to the table with a point of view, but noted that inspiring leaders have other people that help inform or shape their viewpoint.

"It's OK to have a point of view and to put it out there," Warrior said, but her personal motto is to be both "bold and humble."

Mottos and advice aside, Gap Inc. employees couldn't let Warrior go without talking fashion. So she happily addressed the question: As a board member for a fashion company, what's your approach to your personal style?

"I don't think I have a formula, and I don't have a uniform," Warrior said. "To me, the way you dress conveys who you are as a person. I want to be seen as an authentic leader, as approachable. I choose my style based on that."

"And I love high heels."