In their book How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job, authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith put forward that women face very different and specific challenges than men in advancing their careers. This, they assert, is because there are a number of habits that successful women use to help them achieve success, but these same habits eventually impede future advancement.
While the authors identify twelve habits that get in the way of women’s success, I would like to focus on five of them and provide some tips to help shed them.
- Reluctance to claim your achievements. Humility can be admirable, but it won’t advance your career. Avoid the habit of minimizing. This can relate to everything from downplaying the size and importance of the project you’re leading to how you helped boost efficiency in your department. Leaders don’t get to be leaders by downplaying their achievements and impact on the organization.
Leaders are comfortable with being visible and noticed. Healthy humility does not mean you remain quiet about your accomplishments. Instead consider presenting strong facts about your accomplishments, how you thought out of the box and how you helped the organization move forward with pro-active solutions. Highlight your contributions and that of others, it will make you shine as a leader, and when the opportunity for advancement arises, your skills and achievements will already be understood. As the authors state “Speaking up about what you contribute and detailing why you’re qualified does not make you self-centered or self-serving. It sends a signal that you’re ready to rise.”
If there are failures, see them as part of the course. We have to fail to succeed. Make sure you can comfortably talk about the lessons learned and how you and your colleagues grew from the experience.
- Overvaluing expertise. “If your goal is to move to a higher level, your expertise is not going to get you there,” say the authors. In fact, being great at your job could keep you stuck in it! Instead, do your job well enough while broadening your understanding of the business. Make it a point to learn about other areas of the business and their relationship to each other.
Once you have advanced, avoid the tendency women have to “keep their heads down” until they’ve mastered the details. Men do the opposite and quickly start connecting with those who can help them succeed. The result is more support, better positioning, greater visibility, and less isolation. Leverage everyone’s knowledge and become comfortable with having a higher-level perspective of problems.
- Avoid the perfection trap. Those who value expertise often also get bogged down in the quagmire of perfection. Delivering perfection may once have made you shine, but it can also hinder decision making and productivity. As well, “Learning every detail to perfection uses up a lot of bandwidth, leaving you little time to develop the broad knowledge and the relationships you need to move ahead,” say the authors. Today’s speed of business doesn’t often allow leaders the luxury of perfection. Ask yourself “Is this good enough?” and if it is, go with it.
- Putting your job before your career. A demanding job may leave you little time to search for your next great role, learn new skills, or even realize you are currently plateauing. Even if your love your job and feel a sense of loyalty to your employer, don’t sacrifice your future. As the authors put it, “The desire to be loyal can lead you to neglect your future, sacrifice your ambitions, and sell your talent and potential short. Others may benefit, but you do not.” Regularly assess where you are and where you want to be, then take steps to get there. Once you have 60% of the knowledge necessary for the next promotion, start selling yourself. Men are much more comfortable with learning and developing their skills while on the job. If you wait until you have 80 to 90% of the knowledge to get to a promotion, you are likely already over qualified for the job.
- The disease to please. Being nice is never as important as delivering results for your organization and for yourself. Nor is providing an occasional favour the same as being taken advantage of, so recognize the difference and say “no” when you need to. As well, accept that advancing through the ranks will almost certainly require making tough decisions that not everyone will like. You are bound to create a bit of resentment, it just comes with the territory. Focus on being kind, respectful, collaborative, and empathic while keeping your eye on the business’ needs. Quiet the voice that tells you people will not like you if you do XYZ…. instead, ask yourself if people will respect you for the way you conduct yourself?
Do you recognize any of these habits in yourself? If so, starting today, work to eliminate them from your life and take charge of your future! An executive coach can help you find ways to do this if you cannot do it alone.