Allan Leighton, 53, who made his name at supermarket group ASDA and turned round the loss-making Royal Mail, gives this advice:
Post-40, you have a lot to offer. You’re probably more flexible now your children are older, more worldly and mature, which isn’t the same as old. And if you’re going back into the workplace after a break or changing career, chances are you’ll have picked something to do that you’re really interested in, so you’ll be good at it.
1. Stay informed
Be up to date with news, opinion and who’s who. Read the papers and listen to Radio 4’s Today programme. It’s a great way of keeping abreast with what’s going on.
2. Keep physically fit
Mental and physical fitness go hand in hand. Being in shape makes you feel stronger and more confident. Plus exercise is a great stress-buster.
3. Learn to network
This may mean using social events to talk to new people. So much of business is who as much as what you know. You could also pick conferences that you’re interested in and make sure you go to them. Use these events as an opportunity to network. Pass your card round, ask questions, listen to other people’s ideas, tell them about your plans.
4. Look the part
Be aware of the way you look, speak and present yourself, but also be reassured that companies these days are more interested in your brains than your looks.
5. Learn a new skill
Try something to go alongside your work skill, such as ballroom dancing or salsa. They’re excellent disciplines and will keep you mentally agile. If you can learn to ballroom dance, putting all those skills together, you can do anything!
6. Value yourself
In some ways, you’re more valuable to a company now than you were at 22 or 23. You’ve probably more mature, loyal and will be off sick less. If you’re starting out on your own, the chances are you’ve picked something you’re really interested in and you’re more likely to make it work.
7. Be confident, not cocky
People often think you need to be chatty and extrovert, but confidence often comes across as being very calm instead. Really successful female bosses exude an inner calm, as well as an innate toughness. Plus these bosses all have the softness that women bring to the business environment, which is such a huge asset.
8. Be Internet savvy
Don’t be intimidated! Keep up to date with new technology and especially methods of communication, such as texting, MySpace and YouTube. They’re great ways of networking and make you look current. Setting up your own blog is easier than you think too.
9 If you’re setting up your own business
Start small, suck it and see. I’ve seen so many people open a shop, for instance, who go from small to big too quickly and get themselves in trouble. Also, do your research first. It can be done in one very intense week, but make sure you do it.
10. Don’t try to be something you’re not
You won’t be able to sustain that for very long and you won’t enjoy it. Above all else, be yourself.
Allan’s book On Leadership: Practical Wisdom From The People Who Know is published by Random House Business Books, priced at £20. All royalties will be donated to Breast Cancer Care.