06/30/2011 11:24 am ET | Updated Aug 30, 2011

Three Ways Women Can Better Manage Their Careers

I love working with women, but I am sad that in most cases, the companies they work for only half-heartedly support women's programs. Leaders cheer on the women who lead and participate in them, but the programs remain underfunded and have done little to effect real corporate change. Generally, they fulfill a line item that says, "Do something for women."

Without analyzing and working to change the belief systems, assumptions and behavior that have an impact on the opportunities for women, there is little change in the long run.

If the programs have little effect on the continuing lack of gender parity and female representation at the top levels, what can you do if you don't want to work somewhere else right now?

Short of starting a revolution, you can do three things for yourself: 1) manage sideways, 2) manage up, and 3) manage your career beyond your job.

Manage sideways
Patrick Lencioni, author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says, "...managing the team you belong to should be your first priority." There is power in peer respect and credibility. Your peers will either bolster or hinder your attempts to move forward.

If you enjoy being a star performer, you might overshadow those around you. Shine a light on them, too by showing a sincere interest in the projects your peers are involved in. Look for ways to help them solve their most pressing issues. Become an advocate for their needs; this makes you a valuable ally. Don't just listen to them more in meetings. Set up individual meetings to better understand their goals and issues. Hopefully, these meetings would also serve to rebuild any trust you may have broken in the past.

Be relationship-focused as well as results-focused in your conversations. Ask your peers for their feedback as well, including their evaluation of your leadership presence.

Manage Up
Many women think they should be noticed for their good work. No matter how hard you work, you still need to actively create positive visibility with your boss and the management team above.

Positive is a key word. If you are angry with management for their lack of recognition, you have to adjust your attitude from irritation to feeling determined, even passionate about helping the company to excel. Use your "I'll show you" energy to become a visible leader of change. You don't want to be seen as a Rebel. You want to be seen as a committed Visionary who gets results.

Move from a problem-finding to problem-solving mindset. Inspire others to participate by making new projects fun look fun and innovative. When senior leaders see how well you can orchestrate creative solutions that get results, you will get the recognition you crave.

Make sure you include your boss in your plans. If you spot an organizational problem that you can fix, ask your boss, "Would you support my efforts in creating wider visibility in the organization?" Your boss might have a perspective that you missed in your planning.

Don't forget that the best way to connect with your boss is to discover a solution to one of his or her problems. This might take some sleuthing and focused listening to discover what is keeping your manager up at night. Be a trusted resource and your boss might seek your ideas more often.

Manage Your Career
Don't just do your current job well. Develop an eye for projects that will have a significant impact on productivity in the future. This will give you political power whether you want to move up the ladder or not.

Most high-achievers see things from a tactical perspective, meaning you focus on how to do your work better or on how your direct reports can be more productive. Although you are proactive about improvements, you may not see what hot issues are emerging.

In addition, evaluate your work from a strategic perspective. This means stepping back and researching what issues will need to be addressed six to twelve months from now based on changes going on in your company, industry, marketplace, or the world.

Claire Shipman and Katty Kay described this focus in their book, Womenomics, as finding the high-profile, high-reward projects that are just starting to grab everyone's attention. "If you are ahead of the curve on buzz, it also gives you a chance to leap on those areas early on and claim them as yours."

Listen to what the executives are talking about, read the industry newsletters, tap into bloggers who write about your industry, join discussion groups on social media platforms and then do Internet searches on topics that keep coming up. Then determine what you can wrap your passion and energy around.

When you discover a new idea or solution, organize tiny pilots for your ideas to test your theories. Once you are sure you have found some unique solutions, find champions on the leadership team for your projects.

Champions are executives who will plead your case when you are ready to propose your new idea. Look for an executive who has a reputation for supporting fresh ideas. Also, look for someone who will benefit from what you want to try by demonstrating how your ideas will increase your champion's productivity or image of success in the company.

Don't keep your boss in the dark. Let your boss know early on that you have sought a mentor in the organization.

Regardless of how women are viewed overall in your organization, you are valuable resource. Be creative with your solutions and create raving fans in your organization. If you do this, you can choose whatever direction you want to take.

Adapted from Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.

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