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CEO Dilemma (Part 3)

A few months ago, while facilitating an executive team meeting about the vision for the foundation, I noticed something interesting. We were discussing content that would go on the website. Because this foundation is innovative in its field and breaking new ground, I was encouraging the use of wording that identifies the organization as being a leader in its sector. The CEO resisted the idea and so did most of her executive team. Why? Because, as the CEO articulated, we prefer that others say that about the work we do, not that we say it about ourselves.


How interesting! At the time, I was in the middle of reading How Women Rise by Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgessen. One of the interpersonal habits the authors identify that hold women leaders back is: Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions.


As this was an all-female ET, including the CEO, I was excited that they had just modeled one of the habits. What good timing on their part!


To their credit, they were very patient as I explained habits and behaviors that hold women back, and in particular the one that they had just employed. That lead to some lively discussion and, eventually, to the CEO making the decision to state on the website that this foundation was indeed an innovation leader in its sector.


There is no doubt that there are challenges to women in leadership in any sector in most countries (all countries?) We know those challenges well, and talk about them, and support the inclusion of women in leadership. These are external things that women manage every day in order to succeed.


And then there are the internal things that we bring to the table. We need to look at what we have control over and focus on those things. For this article, I want to emphasize putting effort into the stuff that we do - our own habits and traits - that are getting in the way of rising, both for ourselves as individuals and for our organizations. These are the things that we have the most control over, the most ability to influence and change. Self-knowledge about what we are doing that is getting us stuck will put the most fuel in our jet to launch us (and others) toward success.


What does it matter if you, the CEO, is stuck? Because your stuckness, I firmly believe, contributes to the stuckness of the organization. We know that CEOs behavior and habits set the tone for the organizations that they lead. The CEO I mentioned earlier was holding back her foundation by not owning and naming their leadership in the world.


A C-Suite executive I know recently realized that another of the habits - Failing to enlist allies from day one - had come back to bite her in the butt. This smart, seasoned, and competent individual had focused on doing well in her job and not on asking herself “who do I need to make this job a success?” She was not only stuck but in danger of going backwards in her career. Her peers were unhappy with her, as were board members, and some of her direct reports. With effort and courage she adjusted, and now makes a point of collaborating with others overtly from the beginning of a new venture. At a recent board meeting, she was acknowledged by others as now being a top notch collaborator.


Helfesen and Goldsmith outline 12 habits that hold women (and men) back. When you read them, make a note of the habits that are most like you and another note about the ones of which you are unsure. For the habits that are most like you, what is one thing you will do to change that habit? And for the uncertain ones, decide who you can ask for feedback and then ask them for input.


If none of these resonate for you, take the list to a trusted friend or colleague and get their input. I will go out on a limb here and guarantee that some of these are your habits.


Here are the 12 Habits That Hold Women Back:


  1. Reluctance to claim your achievements: routinely over-assigning credit for your successes to your team, your partners, or your boss/others because you fear being perceived as a showboat or a self-promoting jerk

  2. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions: declining to take responsibility for getting noticed by failing to communicate what you are doing or the value of what you contribute

  3. Overvaluing expertise: focusing too much attention on mastering the skills your job requires rather than also building the connections and visibility that will help you move forward

  4. Building rather than leveraging relationships: devoting effort to building a broad network of connections but then declining to use that network strategically so that you, as well as others, benefit

  5. Failing to enlist allies from day one: avoiding asking for help until you’ve done your all your homework and thoroughly know the parameters of your job rather than starting with the question “who do I need to make this job a success?”

  6. Putting your job before your career: allowing your desire to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to your boss/board/organization or your team to prevent you from pursuing opportunities that will position you for the future

  7. The perfection trap: believing that anything short of a flawless performance constitutes failure, which can make you reluctant to take measured risks while also creating unreasonable stress for you and for people around you

  8. The disease to please: being so fearful of disappointing others that you fail to hold them accountable, assert your own boundaries, and say no when it serves your best interests

  9. Minimizing: routinely using words and body language that diminish your presence and your capacity to be present, thus undermining your ability to hold your space

  10. Too much: offering too much information, too much disclosure, too many words or too much background rather than being crisp and concise in your communications

  11. Ruminating: expending too much energy thinking about the past, dissecting your mistakes, blaming yourself, and turning regret inward rather than moving on

  12. Letting your radar distract you: being so highly attuned to the environment and to other people’s responses that you that fail to filter out unhelpful distractions, which scatters your attention and undermines your ability to be present


Now that you’ve read the list and made your self-evaluation, what will you do? What will be your first step? Let me know how you rise.

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