In a recent survey of working adults conducted by Accenture, 68 percent of the women thought it took hard work and long hours to advance in a company. The result often leaves women feeling burned out, and in some cases, they don't even choose to move up the ladder. Yet the study also found that even though many women are dissatisfied with their jobs, they aren't planning to leave the company any time soon.
In reality, people don't advance into top positions just because they work harder and give up their lives for the company. If you focus on these traits, you will be more resentful than successful.
I do live 360 interviews for my executive clients. The interviews center on these two questions: "What does my client do well as a leader" and "What could she do differently to increase her value as a leader in this organization?" No one says my clients should work harder. Most often the suggestions for improvement include:
- Increase your visibility by sharing your ideas and unique perspective more often.
- Build your key relationships by letting stakeholders and senior leaders know how you can help them.
In other words, show the world what you know. This makes you indispensable. This gives you leverage for choosing your career path.
The problem is that most women don't like to self-promote. As a result, they don't even know what makes them special. Another comment I frequently hear in my leadership interviews is, "She is valued more by senior management than she values herself."
In my own career, I survived many layoffs and zig zagged up the corporate ladder through a number of high-tech companies, taking on greater and more interesting challenges each time I moved. I learned early on that self-promotion is not bragging. Flaunting my unique core talents helped management determine how best to use me. This keenly positioned me to use my strengths to help the company grow.
When I ask my female executive clients to identify what they contribute beyond their skills and knowledge, they act as if I'm speaking another language. They are able to tell me what they have accomplished, but they struggle articulating what traits they possess that helped drive their success. These women hold top leadership positions. They possess special and critical traits that qualified them for their roles. Yet they become totally helpless when I ask them to tell me what makes them special.
On the other hand, the men evaluating these women have no trouble defining what makes these women special. Often these traits are similar for women, as if there are specific things women leaders excel at. I have read studies that attempt to prove that women are better at some leadership competencies than men. I have read other studies that debunk this theory. Therefore, my summation is simply observational, but you might find you possess these talents as well. From my experiences, women stand out for:
- Bringing a more comprehensive and long-term perspective to the table
- Providing a deep sense of how systems and people interconnect in the organization
- Speaking up and confronting difficult situations (yes, strong, smart women tend to confront issues head-on more readily than men)
- Dealing well with ambiguity
- Embracing the value of diverse people and ideas
- Reading non-verbal and emotional cues
Do any of these traits characterize your contributions? What else do you call forth that helps you move forward at work and in your life? What can you develop that will make you stand out? In my last post, I explored how fostering a global perspective will give you a key competitive advantage in the workplace. What do you have a passion for that could put you on the short list for stimulating projects and advancement? What would make you indispensable?
If you aren't sure, here is an exercise to help you articulate your worth to your organization: Describe a peak experience where you felt fully alive and excited about your work. This could be while you were working on something, or at the end of a project or challenging situation. What five things did you contribute to creating this peak experience beyond your work knowledge and skills (personal strengths, gifts, talents, emotions, attitudes, values, unique sense or perspective)?
If you still struggle with filling out your list, keep a success journal. Whenever you do something well, ask yourself what special insight, values or traits you conjured forth to get the results. When someone tells you, "You did a great job," don't just say, "It was nothing." Ask them what specifically they thought you did. Let others help you identify your special contributions.
Do you want to take control of your career? Discover what makes you stand out and be proud of yourself for being a show off.
Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., president of Covisioning and author of "Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction," works with companies and individuals to implement leadership practices that are both effective and fulfilling. Read more at www.outsmartyourbrain.com.
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