So You’re Successful … Why Do You Feel Stuck?

My wonderful friend and colleague, Sally Helgesen, and I have co-authored a new book called How Women Rise!

Sally, is highly regarded expert in the field of women’s leadership. Having written five books on the subject, including The Female Advantage, Sally speaks to audiences around the world about the issues and challenges of women leaders. Her work has been featured in Fortune, The New York Times, Fast Company, and Business Week.

Now Sally has done me the honor of co-authoring this exceptional new book with me. Make no mistake, Sally is the lead author!

In How Women Rise, we expand on the concept from my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There that there are certain behaviors that hold us back and explored specifically the roadblocks that can hinder women as they try to move up the corporate ladder.

How Women Rise will be published April 10, 2018. Preorder it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million!

Below is a brief blog written by Sally, which will give you an example of what you’ll find is this timely and exciting new book.

So You’re Successful … Why Do You Feel Stuck?
I’ve spent decades working with women leaders all over the world. And there’s one thing that’s as true today as it was a generation ago. Women often start to feel stuck when they’ve reached a certain level of success.

They’ve been working hard for years, getting great feedback and taking on challenging assignments, assuming more responsibility and getting all the details right. But as they seek to rise to the next level – whether it’s a new job, a big promotion, or an entrepreneurial venture – something shifts. The very skills that have always worked for them suddenly seem less effective. Nobody tells them why this is happening or what they should do. The upshot is often that women simply redouble their efforts to do a superb job in the way they’ve always done it.

Why do so many women feel destabilized and frustrated at the very point in their careers when they should be thriving? And why hasn’t anyone told them that, as they move toward their professional goals, they’ll need a new set of tools and habits in order to succeed?

The desire to answer these questions is what led me to partner with my friend, legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, on How Women Rise, which will be published on April 10. In the book, Marshall and I show how unwritten rules and expectations routinely undermine successful women as they move to the next level in their careers.

Both of us are acutely aware that culture and structure continue to play a huge role in holding women back, despite decades of real progress, good intentions, and sacrifice. But our focus in this book is not on what companies need to do differently– which, let’s face it, often lies outside women’s control. Instead, we have trained our sights on what women themselves have the power to change, which is always going to be our own habits and behaviors.

The premise of How Women Rise comes from Marshall’s monster bestseller What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s about the behaviors most likely to get in the way of successful people. And while many of the behaviors in What Got You Here apply to both men and women, certain habits that cause men to stumble rarely apply to women.

For example:

  • Rather than talking endlessly about how great they are, as some successful men do, women tend to underplay their achievements. And then hope or expect people will notice what they contribute.
  • Instead of always needing to be right, women are more likely to be undermined by the desire to please others. Or feel the need to always try to be perfect.
  • And rather than refusing to express regret, women often can’t stop apologizing. Even for things that aren’t their fault!

I see these behaviors everywhere. Whether I’m giving a women’s leadership workshop in Chicago, Atlanta, Singapore, Helsinki, Vienna, Dubai, Melbourne or Kuala Lumpur, the same issues arise. And they crop up at every level and in every age group. They are particularly pronounced at the point in women’s careers when they’re ready to move to a higher position.

To help women be more intentional in addressing this dilemma, I began drawing on What Got You Here Won’t Get You There in my workshops. Marshall’s big “aha” in that book was that that the very behaviors that help people achieve their present positions can hold them back as they advance to the next stage of their careers. This is the chief reason we all cling to behaviors and habits that no longer serve us. We assume they will continue to work in the future.

Marshall and I both recognized that women’s self-sabotaging behaviors were in many cases distinctive from men’s. But why should this be so? Are the differences between men and women innate? And if so, couldn’t calling them out reinforce the kind of stereotyping that continues to plague women?

Not being a scientist, I don’t like to speculate about innate characteristics. But I do know that women’s experiences– in work and in life- are often quite different from men’s. And experiences play a key role in shaping our habits.

For example, research from Catalyst shows that women are likely to be rewarded for their achievements. By contrast, men are likely to be rewarded based on their potential, which of course always lies in the eye of the beholder. This is one reason old boys networks continue to be self-reinforcing. And it means that women always have more prove.

The #MeToo movement demonstrates another way this difference in experience plays out. Sure, men get bullied in the workplace. And often by the same guys who make a habit of harassing women (see @DanaMilbank). But this bullying is far less likely to assume sexual overtones, which devalue and dehumanize our core identity and drive home stark differences in how power is used.

Marshall and I realized that while What Got You Here was incredibly valuable, it didn’t tell the whole story where women are concerned. Which is why we decided to focus the new book on behaviors most likely to keep successful women stuck.

But our purpose in writing How Women Rise was not just to bring these behaviors to awareness. We also wanted to help women build more effective habits. So we show how to break down complex behaviors into discrete specific habits that can be addressed with simple, easily repeated actions. Given time, these habits become automatic.

We also share techniques for enlisting help as you try to shift established behaviors instead of trying to do it all on your own. Engaging other gives you a way to hold yourself accountable, strengthens your support networks and assures that change will be more lasting. We offer practices for letting go of negative self-judgment, which can be a particular plague for women, who can be prone to rumination. And we show how even self-defeating behaviors are rooted in strengths that need to be recognized and valued even as you adapt and grow.

Our goal, our mission, is to empower women by helping them to focus on changing what lies within their control. Both Marshall and I believe– no, we actually know, based on decades of experience– that what we offer can help women create more satisfying, sustainable and rewarding ways of working and living. It can also help them become more effective agents of change in a world sorely in need of what women have to offer.

We are thrilled to be publishing How Women Rise. And we hope you’ll pre-order it now!

* Link for Milbank.


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