The same behaviors and thought patterns that boost women as they launch their careers can block their paths to higher levels of success. Are you sabotaging yourself?
Best-selling authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith guide women toward big-impact career changes. Helgesen, the author of significant work about women’s role in organizations, including The Female Advantage and The Female Vision, and Goldsmith, standard-setting executive coach and author of Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, contend that women require different advice to realize their ambitions than men. Accordingly, they offer enriching analysis and counsel.
The authors warn that many women struggle to reach their full career potential because negative habits hold them back. While both genders may struggle with self-sabotaging, career-crashing habits, women have different self-limiting behaviors than men. Systematic external obstacles – workplace sexism and unconscious bias – hamper women’s careers, but some barriers are internal.
The trick to maximizing your talents and opportunities is not becoming a less thoughtful and giving person, but rather being purposeful and intentional about your choices while also addressing the behaviors that keep you stuck.Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
Men tie success to wealth and status, while women tend to have more holistic priorities, such as quality of life and doing work with impact. Women may feel a stronger need for work-life balance and flexible hours. The authors warn that companies which want to retain talented women should offer packages that fit their goals.
Women who feel stuck in a work rut may believe various obstacles are in their way, and that people underestimate them and don’t see their efforts. But, to get “unstuck,” the authors suggest first reflecting on how you may be sabotaging yourself. Are you trying too hard to please or clinging to self-limiting beliefs, such as a fear of public speaking? You can change such limits. They’re not innate. Delve into the reason behind a bad habit so you can drop it and forge a new path. Helgesen and Goldsmith urge you to discard a whole pack of self-limiting beliefs, including: ambition is bad; you’re not a good person if you disappoint others; and being a strong female role model matters more than fulfilling your needs.
Younger women often deliver great work, but fail to take credit. They worry that claiming ownership may seem obnoxious. This fear is binary thinking. Nobody is either completely humble or totally self-aggrandizing – behavior falls on a spectrum. The moral superiority you may feel when you don’t correct someone who is stealing your credit will not boost your career. If you don’t value your work, no one else will.
To be good team players, women self-sabotage by giving others credit for their work. They mistakenly assume others will do the same for them. Instead, promote yourself. Helgesen and Goldsmith advise you to have your “elevator speech” ready, so you can briefly communicate your job’s demands, your goals and why you’re the right person for that project or promotion.
Four Kinds of Power
Despite what many women believe, expertise alone won’t make you successful. As Anna Fels, author of Necessary Dreams, explains, you need mastery and recognition. Helgesen and Goldsmith caution that if you’re a diligent, self-effacing perfectionist, your bosses may keep you in a subordinate role – for their convenience. Show more scope and power. Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Ted Jenkins identifies four kinds of power in organizations; expertise is only one. The others are the social power of your network, the power of charisma and the power of your position. Wield all four.
Women are often very good at building relationships, yet, they hesitate to leverage their connections to help their careers. Leverage is different from relationship building in that it is reciprocal, tactical and strategic. When women start a new job, they tend to focus on mastering its skills before they start building relationships. Men enlist allies first. That works better. To amass more allies – people who want to see you succeed – reach out to others. Your network, the authors remind you, creates your personal brand.
A willingness to trade favors and form alliances is the lifeblood of a successful career. So you’ll want to get comfortable reaching out at the first opportunity.Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
Don’t sacrifice your ambitions to serve the team or feel guilty about putting your needs first. Loyalty can prevent you from pursuing your dreams. People with healthy self-interest, Helgesen and Goldsmith assure you, seek jobs that use all their skills and help them create fulfilling lives.
Perfectionism and Over-Pleasing
Society rewards women for being helpful, agreeable and nurturing. Conversely, professional women, particularly minority women, face increased pressure to be super-achievers, not to mention supermoms and super wives. Helgesen and Goldsmith encourage you to free yourself from that guilt, prioritize your needs and appreciate your abilities. Accept that you’re human and will make mistakes.
The disease to please can undermine your ability to make clear decisions because you’re always trying to split the difference among competing needs in hopes of creating consensus or avoiding giving offense.Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
Perfectionism will stress you out, disappoint you, alienate your team and bog you down in details while the big picture flies over your head. Perfectionists can’t delegate, prioritize or handle risk. The authors wisely advise dropping that quest for perfection before it harms you.
Claim Your Impact (Carefully)
Helgesen and Goldsmith detail contradictory traps women must avoid: people criticize women both for minimizing their impact and, conversely, for being too expressive and emotional. Don’t be deferential or use self-weakening words, such as “only” and “just.” Don’t minimize your contributions. Say “I” instead of “we” when you deserve credit. Claim your space at work by being fully present at meetings and nursing your priorities, not everyone else’s.
Women Think Differently
Women and men tend to think of the past in nonconstructive – but different – ways. Helgesen and Goldsmith contend that men seek people to blame and get angry when things go wrong. Women ruminate and blame themselves. Such fretful thinking increases negative emotions and impedes problem-solving.
The problem with judgment is that it gets in your way, sucks up your time and makes positive change more difficult.Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
The authors provide helpful strategies for changing bad habits incrementally: Look for bad habits that trigger one another and break the habit cluster. Listen to feedback. Be open about your goals. Consider peer coaching. Cultivate self-acceptance and stop judging yourself – and others – harshly.
Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith have a well-earned reputation for their coverage of women in the workplace. The authors combine astute psychological and social insight with hard-nosed effective tactics for success. They begin, admirably, by recognizing that emotional vulnerability and the natural reflex to preempt others’ negative assessments can hold women back. The authors then address these forces with compassion. Women who work so hard they don’t have time to consider their own emotional processes will welcome and honor the authors’ advice. Helgesen and Goldsmith offer superb, actionable counsel. Men who heed them will benefit also, and the result could be a more equitable, productive work environment.