Let it go: The number 1 career-buster for women
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Sally Helgesen
intentional about what you want to accomplish is essential for anyone seeking leadership,
but in my experience it can play out differently for women than for men.
Being intentional means knowing what
to embrace and what to let go of as you move to a higher level and assume more
responsibility ― in your job and in the world. In other words, improving
your leadership capacity requires mastering certain skills, but also requires
knowing what to let go of. And it’s in
the "letting go” part of the equation where I see gender differences emerge.
A couple of years ago, Marshall Goldsmith published an enormously
helpful book: What
Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More
Successful. Drawing on decades
of experience coaching some of America’s most high profile executives, Marshall
identifies common behaviors that keep high achievers stuck and shows how, by
letting go of these behaviors, accomplished people can break through barriers
and move to the next level.
Typical detrimental behaviors Marshall cites include needing to win at all
costs; telling the world how smart you are; constantly contradicting others by starting
sentences with "No,” "But” or "However;” claiming credit you do not deserve; hoarding information; passing judgment on others; speaking when angry; and failing
to give others proper recognition.
Don’t be perfect —
and don’t be shy
I’ve seen other behaviors that are much more likely to keep women from getting
ahead. Yes, there are women who speak when angry, pass judgment on others and
obsessively make the point that they are right. But in my experience these "it’s
all about me” behaviors are not the
primary habits that hold women back.
I’m more likely to find women who are reluctant to claim their achievements, make
sure their contributions get recognized or enlist allies who can help them
develop a higher profile in an organization. I find women who keep their heads
down and try to become experts in whatever they are doing before they start developing
the kinds of connections that would make their own work easier and bring
greater visibility to their efforts.
In other words, I see women who need to let go of hiding their light under a
bushel. Rather than claiming too much credit, they claim too little, expecting or
just hoping that if they do great work it will –– somehow –– get noticed.
of talking about how great they are, the women I see in organizations are more
likely to expend their energy actually trying to be perfect.
This is not just observation, it is a data point. For example, I once surveyed senior
female partners in a range of partnership firms: law, accounting, consulting
and investment banking. When I asked them what the female associates who worked
for them were best at, the answer was almost unanimous: "The women are great at
doing Grade A work. They cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. They are super-reliable
and very conscientious.” When I asked these partners what the women associates
were worst at, their answer was again almost unanimous: "They are worst at
letting people know about the quality of their work.”
this resonate with you?
so, you can benefit by thinking about how you might begin to let go of these career-busting
behaviors. You can start by declaring your firm intention to do so. Then you
need to develop a plan. You might enlist a trusted friend as a peer coach, telling
her that you need to work on a specific behavior and asking her to hold you
accountable for taking regular action to change behaviors that are holding you
back. You could schedule a weekly phone call with her to report your progress
and your setbacks. A simple commitment
can pay huge dividends whenever we’re trying to change a behavior, but it’s
especially powerful when we need to let something go.
Sally Helgesen is the author of The Female Vision and The Female
Advantage as well as a speaker and a
leadership development consultant. She can be reached at
Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and
do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or
its Officers, Board members and sponsors.