GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY: Five Behaviors Standing Between Women Leaders & Greater Success
I call them Career Limiting Behaviors. These are the behaviors that get in the way of being named to lead the next big initiative, finally hitting a target salary number or landing the next big promotion. My experience working with emerging and existing leaders has taught me that men and women both have barriers that stand between them and success. However, exactly what stands in the way can offer differ for women.
My personal and professional experienced-informed conclusion is inline with a wealth of recent research (here, here, here) and leadership books that often reach the same conclusion: Men and women all face barriers to success in the workplace. Many barriers are due to the (often unconscious) behaviors of these leaders. Some barriers cut across all genders, some are more specific to men and some are more prevalent with women.
Through my research and work with women leaders, I have identified the five behaviors I believe are the most pervasive and pernicious with women leaders. Over the next few weeks, I will dive into each of these habits in more detail, sharing experiences and research that can help women identify if they are dwelling in one (or more) of these common behaviors. I will also offer advice on how to move through each to develop new, healthier replacement behaviors.
BEHAVIOR ONE - Avoiding Advocating for What You Need
Need more flexibility in your schedule? Need to be fairly compensated for your increased workload? Need access to a breastfeeding room that is more than a utility closet that is missing a lock? Blame it on nature or nurture, but most women are lousy at being strong self-advocates.
Far too many women fall into the magical thinking trap that management should just know what they need (a close relative of Habit #3 below). Many others are convinced that they will suffer workplace repercussions if they ask for what they want by being "pushy." (To be fair, there is decent evidence that women who self-advocate in specific ways can suffer a backlash. There is an art to self-advocacy.)
Why is self-advocacy important? Only you know what you need. And, in today's business world, the squeaky wheel is most likely to get the oil. Sure there can be repercussions if you turn into a Demanding Debbie, but performed well, self-advocacy can be a powerful tool to get the resources, pay and title you deserve.
BEHAVIOR TWO - Failure to Build Networks You Actually Use
You have probably heard the saying “Your network is your net worth.” In this case, it is not only about how many people you know, but also the rank and influence of those within your network. And your “network” should contain more than just your current peers and people you meet at your last networking event. A valuable network should contain people from all walks of your life, including leaders you need to know to move ahead.
However, simply building a network is not enough. You must be able to lean in and leverage your connections when needed. Some women struggle with building a strong network because it can feel forced or an unnecessary waste of time in your current busy moment (a short-sighted mistake if you plan to work for any amount of time). Other women are great at connecting with people on LinkedIn, but struggle with reaching out to connecting for support, counsel or assistance when it counts.
Why is building and then using your network important? Let’s review: You network is your net worth. Building a network of key influencers both inside your current organization and within your broader community and industry is key to moving ahead. And, building and maintaining is only valuable if you are willing to actually leverage your network to get ahead.
BEHAVIOR THREE – Eschewing Self-Promotion
In most cases, women are outstanding at celebrating the accomplishments of the group, but usually pretty lousy at self-promotion. When given a compliment, instead of simply saying thank you, they may note “it was a group effort” or dismiss the spotlight with a simple “we all worked hard.” As the recently published How Women Rise points out, some women shy away from claiming their accomplishments because it feels braggadocios or tacky.
One of the most common reasons my client's cite for not promoting their work is that they believe that they should not have to promote their work – rather, their boss and peers should “notice” without provocation. This line of magical thinking can be especially complex because it can lead to feelings of anger and resentment when others do not notice or publicly recognize the outstanding efforts of a typically consistently high-performing employee.
Why is self-promotion important? Quite simply: If you don't tell your story, then who will? And, in many cases, men don’t fall into this trap and are proudly (and unusually justifiably) promoting their various accomplishments. If you want to compete with men, you need to level the playing field by talking about your awesomeness too. (By the way - there are ways to promote your skills and accomplishments without alienating the office or coming across as a total jerk.)
BEHAVIOR FOUR – Falling into the Pleasing Trap
For the vast majority of human beings, it feels good to be liked. While most of us grow out of the eighth-grade daydreams of being part of the popular crowd, the basic desire to be liked and accepted by our peer group remains strong. Where it can get in the way is when existing and emerging women leaders go beyond simply considering the impact of their decisions on others and end up hindering their own success by trying to make everyone happy (an impossible task, by the way).
The desire to please can lead to a range of crippling behaviors from over-commitment to self-censorship to perfectionism. Stopping the pleasing cycle from inhibiting your success starts by saying “no” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of possible disappointment.
Why stop trying to please everyone? First and foremost, its simply exhausting. It can feel good when everyone thinks you are awesome. That said, if you are going to be a leader, you are going to have to say no to projects that don’t benefit your career and have tough (respectful) dialogue with those around you.
BEHAVIOR FIVE – Losing Your Personal Equilibrium
We can spend hours debating the value of the terms "work/life balance" or "work/life integration." Here is where I come down in the discussion: There are a finite number of hours in a day. And, if you are a working woman, you have to get work done and live your life in those 24 hours. Are there days when all elements will be in balance. Yes, if you work at it. Will most days be a challenge to keep all the balls in the air? Most certainly.
The career limiting behavior comes into play when we try to do it all and don't acknowledge that we - as human beings - are a finite resource. Imagine your day as a pie chart. You have a wedge for sleeping, a different wedge for eating and other wedges for work, exercise, travel, family, laundry, cooking, shopping, friends, wine drinking and more. When any one wedge increases, another wedge must decrease. There is only so much pie.
Each day you get another chance to divide up the pie. There are steps you can take to ensure that you can find your own unique equilibrium between all the pieces. The first step is to stop comparing your life to anyone else and decide what is best for you. Acknowledging that life is a series of active choices we make is step two. There are other steps too - but you have to read the blog to learn more.
Why find your personal equilibrium? Because without it, you can easily slip into bad habits that slowly erode your self-care or lead you to live a life that is not aligned with your core values. If not managed, a poor work/life balance/integration/equilibrium can lead to a host of health issues, damaged relationships and a host of other challenges.
Recognizing these behaviors in ourselves is the first step. From there, we can begin to shed the behaviors of the past and create new behaviors that will positively impact our future.
Stay tuned for more information, stories and advice about each of these behaviors on my blog. Reach out if you want to find out how to pivot from these (and other) career limiting behaviors.
Need help with any of the behaviors here? Are you seeing trends that are holding you back from being your best, most successful self? YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Reach out. I work with existing and emerging women leaders, their teams and the companies that employ them to help leaders THRIVE and find their own ideal balance/integration of work and life.