I was recommended this book during a book club meeting a few months ago and promptly ordered it. Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (‘What got you here won’t get you there’ fame) share their insights on why women really struggle to rise through the ranks in the form of twelve ‘habits’. The suggestion is not that we all suffer from all of these, but that one or two may resonate more than others, and there are clear steps to identify what exactly you can do about it. I know for me there were a few ‘aha’ moments. Firstly, I share what the habits are that get in our way, then I will outline within each of the habits what it means. Lastly, I will cover some specific steps to take to break those habits.
The 12 habits that hold women back in their careers:
- Reluctance to claim your achievements
- Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions
- Overvaluing expertise
- Just building rather than building and leveraging relationships
- Failing to enlist allies from day 1
- Putting your job before your career
- The perfection Trap
- The disease to please
- Too emotional
- Letting your radar distract you
1. Reluctance to claim your achievements
As women, we tend to downplay our own achievements, or talk about what ‘we’ the team achieved instead of really recognising the role we played in what our organisations have achieved. In an effort to avoid taking credit for something we feel we didn’t personally do, we tend forget or neglect to mention the contribution that we did make.
2. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions
This is tied in with habit 1, in that we expect people to recognise our achievements WITHOUT ACTUALLY TELLING THEM WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED‼ Let me be clear here, you are not going to be recognised for something if no one knows you have done it. If you have contributed in some way, or feel you need to be recognised in some way, then you need to tell someone what you did.
3. Overvaluing Expertise
There are three core reasons why being an ‘expert’ in your field is not good for your career. Becoming an expert uses a lot of bandwidth. It also shows you’re perfect for the job you already have. And it may make you indispensable to your boss to the point that they don’t want to lose you.
4. Just building rather than building and leveraging relationships
This is certainly a habit I can really relate to! Women typically are fantastic relationship builders. But equally we don’t want to come across as sleazy or like we’re ‘using’ people, so we don’t utilise those relationships to their full effect – we don’t ask for referrals, introductions etc. Simply asking for what you want is a great way of further building the relationship, but you also need to be really clear about what you can offer the other person. I am learning.
Side note: Marshall only works with clients who are willing to openly discuss the fact that they have a coach. Today, smart CEOs are happy to have a coach and willing to talk about it
5. Failing to enlist allies from day 1
When we first undertake a new job or promotion, women tend to focus on learning the ropes, and becoming an expert in that role. However, as we reach more senior ranks within an organisation, it becomes more important to be able to deliver results through others, and therefore the critical skill at this level is to build better relationships – with your team, and with colleagues who can help you get your job done. Focus on building networks – internally with senior leaders, externally to promote your organisation. The world needs ambitious women.
6. Putting your job before your career
Women can become very loyal to the specific role they are in, but this has some downsides. Being in the same role too long signals that you want to stay there. We can get stuck at that level when we neglect our future or fail to see the bigger picture of our career (rather than just your job). Ultimately, we sacrifice our ambitions. We should see the job as a stepping stone to the next opportunity – most jobs are!
7. The perfection Trap
Women are undermined by their tendency to give themselves a hard time (perfectionism). This isn’t helped by the fact that women at senior levels are rewarded for being precise. Perfectionists set high standards for themselves and others and can result in appearing judgmental and over-controlling, driving feelings of resentment within the team. Perfectionists often lack skills to prioritise and delegate. We should take more risks!
8. The disease to please
People pleasers fear that they’ll be gossiped about, so they try to please everyone to avoid this. They want to feel indispensable. Knowing that you can’t please absolutely everyone, that people will talk about you regardless, and trying to be liked by everyone is a sure-fire way to burn yourself out.
Minimising means making yourself smaller, diminishing your viewpoints, justifying – “just” “tiny” “quick” – using “we” instead of I (similar to not claiming your accomplishments). It’s important to “be present” and show empathy.
10. Too emotional
Women use emotion for motivation, but can be perceived as “too emotional”. It’s important to tap into our intuition and then convey it in an assertive, confident, and authoritative way. Sometimes there is too much disclosure – to be authentic or to build relationships – we speak openly about your problems and weaknesses. But we also need to find the boundary between full authenticity and professionalism.
Women ruminate more than men do. We need to start viewing self-talk as a form of abuse. When we ruminate, we stay stuck in the problem, we tend to self-blame. It’s important to interrupt and distract the pattern of rumination by becoming aware of it.
12. Letting you radar distract you
Women tend to have broad spectrum notice – we notice a lot of things going on around us. It then becomes difficult to filter out unhelpful distractions. We need to reframe how we look at the world, and focus on the ability to bring a wider context, but also be clearer about what is helpful and what is not.
Breaking the habits
- One step – pick one thing to work on
- Set intention – be really clear about what you are trying to achieve
- Create a purpose statement
- Get some outside help for accountability
- Make sure it is specific and time bound
- Listen to feedback
- Say ‘thank you’ (end conversation) rather than talking yourself down
- Follow up
- Tell people about the change you’re making – another form of accountability
- Stay judgement free
- Feedforward – how can we plan for the future?
- “oh well” I messed up – rather than ruminating, take it as an opportunity to learn
- Create a ‘To don’t’ list
Remember the habits are not all bad, just no longer serving you. They got you to where you are.