“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
~ Rosalynn Carter
Client Melanie Asks:
I’m having a real challenge understanding what’s next for me at my company. I’ve been a department manager for five years. I get impeccable performance reviews and consistent kudos from my boss, my peers and my subordinates. I know I’m a good leader. But every manager above me is male. I feel I’ve gone as far as I can go here. Is the glass ceiling for real? Is male leadership ability really superior to female?
Coach Joel Answers:
Your question is certainly a legitimate one. Dozens of leading business publications, including Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Harvard Business Review have done recent studies and articles on male vs. female leadership ability. Here’s what they’ve all concluded: in the top 16 leadership competencies, women outscore men in all but one. In two of the top characteristics (takes initiative, and drives for results), women outrank men by the highest degree of any factor tested—and these particular characteristics have long been thought of as male strengths.
According to the HBR study, a major reason women aren’t moving up as far and as fast as they should is that they don’t self-promote. So here’s a three-point action plan that I would recommend you put in place immediately.
You may think you’re well known in the company and that your skills and accomplishments are recognized. But you need more than that. You need to be memorable. This may mean taking on a cause or a project that is languishing and turning it into a winner. It could mean coming up with a high-impact promotional campaign or a can’t-lose money saving strategy.
Increase your visibility.
You can do this in a number of ways. Start by speaking up in meetings, not only to discuss your own projects and ideas but also to acknowledge your team’s efforts or ideas presented by your peers. Volunteer to make presentations or speak at company meetings where top executives will be present. Take on high-visibility projects, assuming the responsibilities of the job you want to have. Network at business events, both inside and outside the company, as often as you can.
You need people who will speak on your behalf. Look for unexpected sources rather than relying on your immediate boss to do this. Speak to clients, customers, and vendors about your work. Look for allies in other departments or business units. If a client or customer compliments your work, say “Would you mind dropping my CEO an email about that?”
Will you get the promotion you feel you deserve? Will you break through into top management? Will you find the work/life balance you need and deserve? Another factor revealed in the HBR study is that men in senior management positions still tend to hire other men. While that may be true, choose to focus instead on the fact, supported by scientific data, that when it comes to male vs. female leadership ability, women are the true leaders. Your leadership skills may be rewarded in your current company and they may not. But they will be rewarded—count on it!
If your head is bumping up against a glass ceiling in your company, contact Joel for some glass-shattering ideas.