I have been an executive coach since 2006, and have worked with hundreds of professional women in both one on one coaching relationships as well as group settings for workshops and presentations. The information that women share with me is invaluable. It helps me to recognize their ongoing challenges and design programs to assist them to realize their ambitions and goals. It gives me the knowledge to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s currently happening for women in the workplace.
For the most part, women enter the workforce with ambition and optimism. We are better educated than our male counterparts yet do not achieve equal compensation or leadership positions. The women I speak with are frustrated with the lack of recognition for their hard work and talent. They understand the importance of “leaning in” but still face gender bias. They also admit to holding themselves back in many ways from realizing their full leadership potential.
Here is what I have learned from listening to women.
- We don’t understand how we contribute to the success of our organizations. We don’t know our value proposition. This lack of understanding about our unique talent and how we achieve results holds us back from leaning in, speaking up, and offering our opinions. It impacts our ability to self-promote authentically. It affects how others perceive us in the workplace, our executive presence, which is essential for leadership. Because we don’t understand how our work positively impacts business outcomes, we hesitate to ask for more compensation; more responsibility and the resources we need to be successful.
- We still don’t know what we want to do when we grow up. The absence of a career goal is a barrier to our success. Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” To move our careers forward, we need to think more strategically. The workplace today requires that we be proactive and intentional in order to navigate the workplace, make decisions, and evaluate opportunities.
- We still believe our hard work and talent will get us ahead. We have distaste for workplace politics, and can’t see how political skill and savvy can benefit our advancement. We ignore the politics and, therefore, we don’t understand the way decisions are made and who in our organization has the power and influence. As a result, we don’t have the information necessary, to better position ourselves for advancement, and we are still surprised when we are passed over for promotions.
- For the most part, we are great at building relationships, yet we don’t network strategically for our professional development. We like to stay in our comfort zone and network with people we like rather than identify who we need to know to move our careers forward. We find it challenging to approach new people. As a consequence, we lack the visibility and credibility we need across the organization.
I am sitting in my office this morning writing this post. I look out the window and it’s chilly, yes, but also beautiful. Ducks are swimming in the river behind my house. A stately heron balances on one leg waiting patiently for his next meal to swim by. A mink hustles along the shore and runs into its nest beneath a log.
How can I not be grateful for my life and for the wonders of nature? I know there are many blogs/articles about being thankful and grateful this week, but how many of us really do take the time to reflect on the beauty of our surroundings and the warmth and connection we have with our family and friends?
I couldn’t help but notice that Christmas music was playing on the radio when I got up early this morning to go to spin class. People are already rushing around shopping malls and stressed about the holidays.
It is my hope that all of you can take a minute or two to enjoy your life and all that your life has to offer. It is these moments of quiet reflection that fuel us to be our best selves in everything we do.
I want to thank all of you who read my newsletters and blogs; those of you who are my clients, for your ongoing support. Please know that I am very appreciative and invested in the success of each of you!
Let the battle begin. The fight is between your internal dialogue of failure and your power pose. You assume the position; feet apart, arms stretched above you in a victory pose. Your body language shows everyone that you are confident and powerful. Your inner voice is telling you that people will see through this. You are not powerful or confident. The voice gets louder and it’s challenging to silence it. Who wins? The power pose or the inner voice?
Let’s look at the two opponents; the power pose and the imposter syndrome.
Amy Cuddy gave an inspirational keynote address last week at the HBA Conference in Boston. Her research at Harvard Business School confirms that our body language communicates information to others that shapes their perceptions of us. It also communicates information to us that shapes our own self-concept. We can construct how powerful we feel by assuming expansive body poses.
In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance”, Cuddy shows that simply holding one’s body in expansive, “high-power” poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance in the animal and human worlds) and lower levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone that can, over time, cause impaired immune functioning, hypertension, and memory loss). These power poses led to an increased sense of power and risk tolerance.
In other words, Cuddy states that we can fake confidence and power by using expansive body language to change our body chemistry and our feelings. But is this enough to quell the inner voices that constantly tell us that we aren’t good enough?
Our body language can jump start our confidence. But how does that “fake” confidence measure up to the strong inner voices we constantly hear? “I’m a loser. I will never get ahead. I don’t deserve a promotion. People will find out someday that I am not that smart.” This internal dialogue is often referred to as the Imposter Syndrome.
According to Wikipedia, the definition is as follows,
The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
When I talk about the importance of self-promotion for women, I get a lot of head nods. Intellectually, everyone seems to get it. We have all read the research that validates the necessity of promoting oneself in order to establish the credibility and visibility required in the workplace today for advancement. We get it but we don’t do it. At least we don’t do it very effectively.
It’s hard to talk about oneself without feeling like we’re bragging. We have been so conditioned to take the back seat and wait to be recognized. So we often have this inner argument about how to proceed with authentic self-promotion. We know we should do more of it. We know we should be better at it. But at the same time, it’s much more comfortable to stay focused on doing our work.
I’ve often discussed in this blog that once you understand your value proposition and how you contribute to the organization, self-promotion takes on a different purpose. You are letting others know of your accomplishments and your value proposition and offering to help in ways that benefit the organization. Self-promotion is a leadership skill. It is your responsibility to talk about what you and your team have achieved, not only for your own benefit, but for the team and the company. It’s how you create influence. It’s how you sell your ideas across the organization.
Taking the time to actively and strategically spread the word about the work you and your team have accomplished is critical for your career success. It is necessary in order to establish your leadership potential across the organization. The only way this is going to happen is if you put time aside each week to meet with key people in your department and in different business units. Let them know what you’re working on. Ask them what challenges they have and offer to help. What possible solutions might you have that have worked in similar situations? This helps you and your team and helps the organization move its initiatives forward.
Shift your mindset that self-promotion is all about YOU. Yes, you benefit. But so does your team and your company. In its absence, the organization cannot build on your success. They can’t use your ideas to further their initiatives. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. How did you and your team make that project successful? What types of solutions did you develop? What was your thought process?
Self-promotion is a leadership skill and when you promote yourself and your team across the organization, everyone wins including the organization.
Personally, I hate wearing them. I do confess, however, that when I want to emphasize my power and executive presence, I choose to wear high heels. I guess I buy into the myth that the increased height that wearing high heels affords me enhances not only my stature but my status.
Sheryl Sandberg posed for the cover of Time in her stilettos. Marissa Meyer wore her signature high heels for her profile in Vogue. It would seem to the observer that high powered women wear stylish high heels and aren’t afraid to show off their femininity.
An article in the New York Times last year commented on this growing trend for women in tech to be fashionable. The question is, however, do women in tech or any other male dominated industry appear less capable if they focus on fashion?
“Silicon Valley has long been known for semiconductors and social networks, not stilettos and socialites. But in a place where the most highly prized style is to appear to ignore style altogether and the hottest accessory is the newest phone, a growing group of women is bucking convention not only by being women in a male-dominated industry, but also by unabashedly embracing fashion.”
There has been a growing trend toward “feminine feminism”.
“I was researching an article for The New York Times, and I flew out to California to attend a women’s conference. And I walked into a room of 50 of some of the most high-powered women in the U.S. And I noticed, immediately, that they defied all the stereotypes – the age-old stereotypes of high-powered women in the workforce. When I worked in consulting – management consulting and finance – there was one way to dress, and there was one model for success. And that was really the male way. And you found women dressing in the sort of female equivalent of the male suits. It was the blue and gray pinstripe suits, or black with the big shoulder pads. It was the 80s power suit. And typically, women would cut their hair. They were trying to do anything to mask their femininity – because, again, they were trying to blend in with men, and not accentuate any part of their sort of womanhood. There was only one model for success. And it was all men in positions of power – and, if you wanted to blend in, and you wanted these men to have the experience of your mind – you couldn’t be wearing bright colors and talking about your shoes. “
Have you noticed? There has been a lot of buzz about introverts lately, and the more we learn about introverts, the more we understand the power of introverts to lead and influence others. There is no doubt that the workplace tends to be biased toward those who are more charismatic and outgoing. However, introverts can also be highly effective influencers when they lean back and use their natural strengths.
Jennifer Kahnweiler, is an expert on the subject of introverts. Her book, Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, helps us to understand the qualities that introverts possess, and how they can leverage these strengths to be successful.
What’s the difference between being shy and being introverted?
Shy is typically associated with more psychological or social anxiety. So one can be shy and introverted, but they don’t necessarily go together. Introversion is really how you’re hardwired – it’s not good, it’s not bad, there’s no judgment there. It’s just a temperament. And so, people oftentimes mix them up. The main differentiator I share with people is based on what Carl Jung said many years ago, it’s where you get your energy. If you’re somebody who’s more in your head, if you’re really energized by what’s going on inside yourself than you are on the outside world, then you typically tend to be more introverted. An extrovert gets charged up and gets energized by other people, by being out, by stimuli outside of themselves. And it’s not either/or. You can have both.
What are the natural strengths introverts have that allow them to lean back and influence others?
Influencers make a difference by challenging the status quo and by provoking new ways of thinking, effecting change, and inspiring others to move forward. Quiet Influencers begin their influencing journey where they think and recharge best: in quiet. Quiet Time provides energy, increases self awareness, and spurs creativity.
Next comes Preparation. Through creating a strategy and asking questions, they become more comfortable and confident in their efforts to influence others. They may tap into their innate strength in Engaged Listening to build rapport and mutual understanding. Or they may choose Focused Conversations which are purposed driven dialogues in which they problem solve and work through conflicts with others. They may use their natural strength of Writing where they articulate authentic, well developed positions to make a difference with others. Finally, Quiet Influencers consider how Thoughtful Social Media Platforms can advance their cause.
Introverts are more apt to lean back and stimulate and inspire others. They hold back and let others take the stage. Does this make them better leaders?