WOMEN
07/31/2013 10:15 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

8 Success Secrets From Female Leaders

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What does it mean to be a successful woman? For years, men have set the parameters of success, generally measuring it in terms of status or money -- title, salary, net worth -- to determine how they measure up. But as women increasingly take their seats at the table, they are helping broaden that definition of success.

And who can better define a female-friendly version of success than the women who have reached the tops of their fields? We looked at the experts and uncovered the success secrets of eight inspirational and accomplished women:

1. Oprah Winfrey, Talk Show Host (The Oprah Winfrey Show), Queen Of A Media Empire

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Oprah is a woman so successful that mentioning her last name in casual conversation is unnecessary. Oprah has spoken about the secret to success before, writing on her own website, Oprah.com, that:

What I know for sure is that if you want to have success, you can't make success your goal. As my friend Wintley Phipps, the gospel singer and minister, once told me, the key is not to worry about being successful but to instead work toward being significant -- and the success will naturally follow.

But Oprah has another trick for success as well: she meditates. Winfrey said of one specific experience with meditation:

I walked away feeling fuller than when I'd come in. Full of hope, a sense of contentment, and deep joy. Knowing for sure that even in the daily craziness that bombards us from every direction, there is -- still -- the constancy of stillness. Only from that space can you create your best work and your best life.

2. Kay Koplovitz, The First Female CEO Of A Television Network

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Kay Koplovitz is a legend in the television industry. Not only was she the first female CEO of any television network, but she is responsible for convincing cable operators that consumers would pay for sports programming. She is also the founder of the USA Network, the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Networks International. So how did this living legend achieve such great success? She told The Huffington Post in May of this year:

You really have to put one foot in front of the other and start on your journey. You have to be comfortable that you don't know exactly how you are going to get to the results that you want to see. There is going to be experimentation along the way. And you have to be comfortable that you can think your way through and actually execute your way through to the desired outcome. I expected to be successful. I wanted to be successful.

3. Alexandra Wilkis-Wilson, Co-Founder And CMO Of Gilt Groupe

alexandra wilkis wilson

Sometimes the people the world considers to be high-achieving define success beyond the accomplishments the public sees, and Alexandra Wilkes-Wilson is one such woman. Back in 2011, Wilkes-Wilson told Laura Brown of Harper's Bazaar that:

Success can be defined a number of ways but one way is to really be at peace with yourself, with the decisions you’ve made professionally and personally. For me, I think it’s always hard to establish goals and work towards those goals, whether it’s personal or professional goals ... get as close as you can to them -- if you achieve them, fantastic, if you don’t get as close as you wanted to then learn from that process.

4. Kanya King, Music Industry Entrepreneur, Founder And CEO Of The MOBO Awards

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Taking risks is often paramount to achieving success. That is something that Kanya King, who was recently included on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour Power List, knows something about. She said in the list's accompanying short documentary:

My mother was very risk averse and so any time I wanted to do anything entrepreneurial she would tell me 101 reasons why I shouldn’t do it. And so for a while, I used to listen to her as any good daughter should do, but after a while I realized this is my life, actually, and even though my mother was my biggest role model, her life is not what I aspired to have. So I realized if I wanted to be anywhere and to make a difference, I needed to take risks, sometimes they'd work and sometimes they wouldn't.

5. Heather Rabbatts, Businesswoman, Lawyer, First Female Director Of The Football Association

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Heather Rabbatts, who has changed career paths multiple times over the years, ranging from political to entrepreneurial to her current position in the sports industry, also targets taking risks as the root of her achievements. In the same aforementioned BBC Radio 4 Woman's Power Hour documentary, Rabbatts said:

“I think I’ve always felt that there was something quite exciting about taking risks. And there’s a great saying that you only learn when you are at risk and I’m fascinated by both risk and learning, so that has led me to take jobs that people would think ‘you can’t do that, that’s just impossible.’ No it won’t be.

6. Ursula Burns, Madam Chairman And CEO Of Xerox, The First Female African-American CEO Of A Fortune 500 Company

ursula burns women leaders

But beyond considering what women can personally do to achieve their goals, it's valuable to remember that who we surround ourselves with also impacts our achievements. When Urusla Burns was asked about her secret to success at Catalyst’s annual awards conference earlier this year, she pointed to her husband, who is 20 years her senior. The Wall Street Journal reported that Burns said that when she met her husband, "He had already gone through this ‘growing up’ stuff,” and that when he was ready to retire, she was in the prime of gearing up her career. “So the secret is to marry someone 20 years older,” she quipped to the audience.

7. Arianna Huffington, Chair, President And Editor In Chief Of The Huffington Post Media Group

arianna huffington

Although it seems counterintuitive, the key to success can often be found in failure -- or at least, that's what Arianna Huffington believes. She told Inc. earlier this year:

My mother used to call failure a stepping-stone to success, as opposed to the opposite of success. When you frame failure that way, it changes dramatically what you're willing to do, how you're willing to invent, and the risks you'll take ... In my own life, a key component of whatever successes I've had has been what I've learned from my failures.

8. Joanna Coles, Editor In Chief, Cosmopolitan

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Sometimes, being successful isn't about what you do in the office at all, but rather how you spend your time away from your desk. Joanna Coles insists that taking time off on weekends to reboot is essential to her success. She told the New York Times last November:

I never do any work on a Sunday, unless there’s a crisis. Saturday and Sunday are my days for restocking my brain, and I find if I don’t do that and I work Saturday and Sunday, I get tired. I like having Saturday and Sunday as a punctuation mark at the end of the week.

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