Kathleen O'Reilly leads 10,000 people in a business that prides itself on strategic consulting, but ask her for advice on how women can advance and O'Reilly, senior managing director of Accenture's Northeast U.S. region, balks. It's the same advice for anyone who wants to lead, O'Reilly said during our Executive Q&A interview published in Sunday's Inquirer.

People need to "be courageous in putting their ideas and their thoughts out there," she said. "Be courageous and be willing to reinvent yourself. Learn something new. Step into a new arena. That's something I've always been willing to do, and it's worked for me: Take what you got, but then put yourself out there. I think that being courageous is an important part of creativity.

"It's important to have something to say," she continued. "You need to constantly be learning, constantly building your base of knowledge, constantly be listening, bringing in new ideas. You're never finished. Don't sit back. Don't sit back and say, `Well, I've got my base of learning. I've got my education,' and that sort of thing. Whatever is going to make you most relevant, most able to contribute, most able to make a difference probably requires you adding something to your understanding. You need openness to learning."

What about things to avoid?

My don'ts — and again, these are not unique to women — one thing not to do is to self-limit. In other words, don't think that something is not possible. I don't mean just at work. You've got your family, and you've got the demands of the extended family. Sometimes, I think that it's easy for individuals to see limits where there aren't. They're in their own head, rather than reality. Ask. That's a to-do, Make sure you're asking for the support. The flip side of that is don't self-limit. Don't assume.

Don’t assume you won’t be able to make it happen, right?

Don't assume you can't do it. Don't assume you can't ask. People make those assumptions. All you need to do is ask. I think self-limiting behavior and self-limiting thinking is certainly something I would stay away from. The other thing I would say [to avoid] is too many negatives. Don't not listen. In other words, you need to listen. Listen to feedback. Don't operate in a solo world. I'm a big believer in mentors and sponsors. I know people talk about that all the time, but it's pretty critical to make sure that you've got people who are showing you a new perspective, who are pushing you a bit, telling you things you don't want to hear, pulling you where maybe you weren't sure you could go. That's the way to move.