Women in Leadership Roles:
Are They Perceived Differently?

Female Leader

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”

~ Malcolm S. Forbes ~

Client Ellen Asks: I’m a woman in a leadership role, and I have a question about perceptions. It seems that women are judged differently than men for the exact same actions. Where a man might be seen as authoritative, a woman acting the same way might be seen as bossy. How do ensure that I am projecting the image I desire as a female business leader?

Coach Joel Answers: I’ve often written about the importance of proactively shaping the perceptions others have of you. This is a key strategy to standing out, getting credit for your work and, ultimately, getting ahead.

But what if you’re a woman?

Do any of these comments sound familiar?

  • “I feel inferior to some of the men at my office, even though we have the same titles.”
  • “Most of the meetings I go to have few women and I feel alone and intimidated.”
  • “When I’m in meetings with men, what I say seems less important.”
  • “When I speak up at the same time as a male colleague, my boss always wants to hear what he has to say first.”
  • “When I bring up concerns about details, my male colleagues accuse me of ‘not seeing the big picture.’ So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.”

I’ve heard these same concerns from a number of clients. These are smart, articulate, highly motivated women in leadership roles at blue chip companies. They feel their gender hinders their ability to shape their image. One woman summed up her frustration by telling me, “I feel like the deck is stacked against me. The rules for men are different. If a man speaks up or challenges someone, he viewed in positive terms as being aggressive or competitive. Yet if a woman does the same thing, she’s called a b—-.'”

Naturally, this isn’t the case with all women and work situations. But if you share some of these concerns or frustrations, here’s what I advise my clients:

Don’t feel guilty about being assertive.

There’s nothing disrespectful or “unfeminine” about being assertive and forcefully expressing your point of view. The best decisions are made when everyone contributes their ideas. You shortchange your company, your customers and yourself by remaining silent or intimidated by “what others will think.” Someone once said, “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” It’s time to stop apologizing.

What have you got to lose?

If you’re afraid to speak up, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?” Chances are, you’ll find your fears or reservations aren’t justified and the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

Is it a gender issue or a confidence issue?

When consulting with female clients in depth about this, we’ve often discovered that the real problem isn’t with “them,” it’s with “you.” They were using gender as an excuse. They tended not to speak up at all meetings, not just those with men. They realized they needed to develop a strategy to build their self-confidence. This might involve reading self-help books or attending an assertiveness training class.

Learn from successful role models or mentors.

Seek advice and inspiration from successful women in your organization. Watch them in action, use them as sounding boards, learn how they use or bend the so-called “rules” to get ahead.

Talk to your boss.

During your next performance review, tell him (or her) you want to work at being more assertive and more comfortable at speaking up in groups. Ask for his advice and seek out feedback following meetings: “How did I do?” “Did I come across as too aggressive or confrontational?” “What should I have done differently?”

But what if it really is a gender issue?

My advice is: you can’t change them (the men in your office), you can only change yourself. Pick your fights and avoid fueling their negative stereotypes. In other words, don’t be overly emotional, focus on facts and not personalities, etc. If you continue to be frustrated, look for work someplace else. “Don’t compromise yourself,” the legendary singer Janis Joplin once said. “You’re all you’ve got.”

Don’t let your gender be an excuse. Joel has successfully coached many women, and he can help you reach your full potential too. Click here to learn more about leadership coaching for women.

Talkback: Are you a woman in a leadership position? Have you found that you are perceived differently than the men in your company?

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Share Your Achievements to Get Recognition at Work

Man with megaphone

“It is important that you recognize your progress and take pride in your accomplishments. Share your achievements with others. Brag a little. The recognition and support of those around you is nurturing.”

~ Rosemarie Rossetti ~

Client Matt Asks: I never seem to get the recognition I deserve for my work, but I’m afraid to say anything because it might seem like I’m bragging. Is it appropriate to mention my accomplishments to others at work?

Coach Joel Answers: You know you’re good at what you do and deserve to get more recognition, increased responsibility and a probably even a promotion. But does anyone else know?

Many employees are passed by or completely overlooked simply because senior management doesn’t know how valuable they are.

In a Newsweek article, Sharon Allen, Chairman of the board, Deloitte &Touche USA, said: “Take responsibility for your own career. Don’t assume that others are aware of the good work you’re doing. When I was a young accountant, I was unhappy about not getting a promotion. I went to my supervisor and told him all of these things that I thought I should be given credit for and he said, ‘Well, gee, I didn’t know that you had done all of these things.’ It was a real wakeup call. You don’t have to be a bragger, but I think it’s very important that we make people aware of our accomplishments…”

Your accomplishments are the currency you use to calculate your value to the company. When tracking accomplishments, focus on:

  • Business results.
  • The value you’ve provided to the company.
  • Fact-based, concrete details.
  • The specific feedback you receive from others.
  • Quantifiable data is especially persuasive because it measures the impact of your accomplishments.

Not only does tracking your accomplishments create concrete examples of your value, the tracking process itself will give you confidence. As you become aware of your progress, you will be more comfortable telling others, in specific terms, how you provide value to the company.

Like Ms. Allen says, you don’t have to be a bragger. Take advantage of opportunities to communicate your accomplishments. If others don’t hear about them from you, they can only operate from perception and second-hand information.

If you’re unsure about how much self-promotion is too much, Joel’s coaching program will provide you with a customized action plan to help you leapfrog your way to the top of the career ladder. Click here for more information.

Talkback: Do you get the recognition you deserve at work? What can you do to ensure that you get credit for your accomplishments?

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Conducting a Job Search?
Having a Plan is Critical

Recruitment and employment issues

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

~ Arthur Ashe ~

Client Garrett Asks: I’m considering a career change, but it’s been a while since I’ve had to look for a job. Is there anything I need to be aware of before I start my job search?   Coach Joel Answers: Whether you are unemployed or employed and looking for a job, you need to be prepared before the job search even begins. When you start your job search with a plan, your strategy, daily game plan and overall focus help you find the right job more quickly. Don’t be like most people who start a job search by immediately applying for jobs, sending out updated resumes and telling people the 4-5 jobs they want without any thought process before they jump in.

1. Prepare for a long job search.
On average candidates take about six to nine months to find a job. Even though you might have excellent experience, a solid track record and well-known companies you’ve worked for, the job search period will be longer than you expect. It’s vital that you are prepared for this extended amount of time. Even the most qualified can take up to a year.

2. Be financially prepared.
Make sure you have enough finances to cover the length of your job search. Save as much money as you can, cut expenses and create and stick to a budget.

3. Confront fear and self-doubt.
Even before you start your job search, it’s common for many to feel fear and self-doubt. Fears around not being able to find a job, it taking too long, doubting your confidence, becoming needy to find a job and questioning your overall worthiness.

4. Dedicate plenty of time to the job search.
The more time you spend daily, the less time the job search will take. However, most people resist making the required commitment. The minimum amount of time to commit should be 20-25 hours a week and, if you aren’t working, the maximum amount should be 40 hours a week. If you are working, expect to spend 4-6 hours a week and the maximum will be 20-25 hours a week.

5. Create a daily schedule.
Schedule and make time for the most important things related to your job search. Block out chucks of time to avoid distractions. For example, you might designate 9-11:30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for you to work on the most important things that need to get done related to executing your job search plan.

6. Get organized.
Create a document (e.g. Excel spreadsheet)to track the names, numbers, emails and vital information about your contacts as you move forward in your job search. This organized document will be vital as you follow-up with people you contacted in the past and need to recall their key information.

7. Evaluate job locations.
Ask yourself questions about the location of your next job. Are you willing to live in other locations? If so, where do you want to live? Once you have accomplished all of the above, you are now ready to target the exact role, industry and job you most want. This involves creating your resume, networking, interviewing and salary negotiation.

Follow the advice in Joel’s Job Searching book and get your next job quickly. Click here to buy the book

Talkback: Have you conducted a job search lately? What tips do you have for others who are planning to change careers?

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Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice

overcoming feelings of inadequacy

“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”

~ Anna Freud ~

When Your Inner Voice Keeps Telling You “No”

Client Suzanna Asks: Sometimes I think I am my own worst critic. I constantly catch myself thinking, “That wasn’t good enough” or “You really screwed up this time.” How can I turn this around?

Coach Joel Answers: Self-evaluation can be a positive experience. It helps us learn, correct our mistakes and improve our performance, as well as the perceptions others have of us.

According to psychologist Terry Paulson, it’s estimated that a typical person makes 300 to 400 self-evaluations every day.

That’s a lot of opportunities for self-improvement.

But here’s the rub.

Dr. Paulson says that, for most people, 80% of these self-evaluations are negative!

It’s almost impossible to maintain a positive attitude at work when your inner voice is constantly hammering you for “messing up.” After awhile, self-doubt erodes your confidence and you’ll be tempted to avoid speaking up or taking risks. Instead, you decide to keep a low profile.

Employees with low profiles are less likely to get promoted or assigned key, career enhancing projects. And, when the economy heads south, they are more likely to be laid off.

That’s why it’s important to challenge your critical inner voice.

Here are a few ways to do it:

1. Keep Your Antenna Up.
Be aware when your inner voice is saying “no.” Ask yourself, “Why?” Try to discover the “real” reason you’re being self-critical.

2. Conduct an Impromptu Risk Assessment.
If there is risk involved, ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Clearly, your instincts might be right and your inner voice is trying to keep you from making a horrendous mistake. But, if the nay saying becomes habitual, the real risks may not be as great as you think.

3. Rely on a Mentor or Trusted Colleague.
If you’re not sure that your inner criticism is justified, get a second opinion from a mentor or someone you trust. For example, let’s say you wanted to speak up at a meeting, but your “gut instinct” told you “no.” So you remained silent. Ask your mentor, “I wanted to tell the department head that I thought his idea would hurt customer service, but I was afraid to. Was I right? What would you have done?”

4. Celebrate Your Successes.
Some self-criticism is justified, but can you possibly be wrong (as the statistics suggest) 80 percent of the time? Celebrate those instances when you challenge your inner voice and something positive results.

5. Learn From Your Mistakes.
Obviously, you’re bound to make mistakes when you take risks. Instead of bashing yourself about what went wrong, concentrate on what you learned from the experience and how you’ll handle similar situations in the future.

6. End Each Day on a Winning Note.
Dr. Paulson suggests concluding each day by “catching yourself being effective.” He also says to “use your calendar to record one success. You may be winning and not know it if you’re not keeping score!”

When you can minimize the self-criticism, you can be more confident in who you are and what you are capable of doing. With this confidence you’ll trust yourself more and have the conviction to believe in your ideas. You’ll speak up no matter someone’s title, superiority or influence.

If your inner voice is holding you back from doing the things you know you need to do to get ahead, Joel’s career advancement coaching program may be the answer for you. Click here for more information.

Talkback: Is your inner voice overly critical? How do you overcome the negativity and remain confident in your abilities?

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The Five Pillars of Innovation

Learn From Mistakes Move Forward People Climbing Gears

“There is no good idea that cannot be improved on.”

~ Michael Eisner ~

Client Miles Asks: Innovation is vital to our company’s success, but creativity is extremely difficult to regulate or control. How do we encourage innovation and avoid stifling creativity?

Coach Joel Answers: Today’s corporations face a harsh reality: innovate or die. Executives’ responses to this imperative have varied widely—ranging from instituting mandatory innovation training workshops to flat out requiring employees to innovate in designated areas.  Unfortunately, some companies try to reduce innovation to prescriptive formulas.

Take Kodak. After decades of success, non-engineering executives took control of R&D priorities and shoveled almost 95% of the company’s resources into existing core products. The result? Kodak went bankrupt.

To avoid Kodak’s fate, executives should consider following these five pillars of innovation leadership:

1. Innovation takes time. Leaders who expect immediate results from their chief innovators will be disappointed. Engineers, researchers, and others need time away from routine duties—and a lot of it. Google is a great example. They provide their employees with “20% time” to pursue their interests.  Gmail was one employee’s 20% project.

2. Employees need space to socialize and think.  Innovation often happens when we least expect it. Recent research has shown that “psychological distance” fuels the creative process. Employees need time to think on their own, bounce ideas off others in informal settings, and relax away from a cubical or office.

3. Companies must look beyond core products.Many corporations are like Kodak: They devote 95% of R&D funds to core products. HP used to be one such company, but they learned their lesson. Now, HP dedicates 70% of funds to existing products, 20% to adjacencies, and 10% to completely new products, which has led to innovations in the cloud computing sector.

4. People learn from failure. Some companies are too quick to punish employees who don’t deliver blockbuster results. In reality, failure can be a rich learning opportunity. Silicon Valley recognizes this lesson: Venture capitalists there aren’t afraid to invest in startups led by previously failed entrepreneurs.

5. Innovation thrives on a culture of achievement. Leaders at companies like IBM, Apple and Google have developed a culture of achievement by recognizing excellence, encouraging employees to own their accomplishments, recruiting ambitious young talent, and allowing employees to function in a relatively flat hierarchy.

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Talkback: Is innovation important in your industry? How does your company encourage new ideas and advances in product development?

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