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The Rising

“…your definition of rising is always going to be personal, individual to you. But one of the biggest impediments to rising is also personal and individual: being blind to the behaviors and habits that keep you stuck.”
― Sally Helgesen, in How Women Rise

I asked a friend who sits on the leadership team at a public company what questions she sits with around her experience as a woman in leadership.

“Lots of women climb the ladder by being exceptional doers, but if you’re a good doer you can get trapped in being a super-valued-doer without being seen as a candidate for leadership,” she said. “I see many orgs where one layer down from the top is full of women. How do we deal with that?”

Her response reminded me of Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith’s book How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job.

Sally Helgesen is a women’s leadership expert who has written many books over the past few decades on women and leadership. She helps us see that there’s a way of leading that women have naturally, one that is contrary to a more dominant model (a model that, I’m glad to note, is being challenged now in many ways). What Sally noticed is that women leaders have a different perception, or way of being and seeing, which can make for a markedly different leadership style (read more in her book The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership).

This leadership style isn’t limited to those who identify as women. Often other leaders identify with what Sally writes about as it is more fitting to who they are and how they like to be with others, which is so different from the now-challenged dominant model that reigned in boardrooms, executive offices, and management for so long.

In our working lives and leadership roles, while there are biases and glass ceilings that women can’t seem to get free from, there are also ways in which we can get stuck in our rut in our roles without advancing in the ways that we might like. In How Women Rise, Sally outlines the tendencies and habits that keep us stuck. These include reluctance to claim achievements, expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions, overvaluing expertise, the perfection trap, the disease to please, minimizing, ruminating, and a good handful of others.

Do any of these seem familiar? Many of these patterns can have deep roots. Ultimately, these patterns can keep us stuck in the role of “doer” versus the role of “leader.” Without checking in on ourselves regarding these habits, we may find ourselves passed by in our career trajectory and wondering why.

The key question to ask yourself when you identify any of these habits in yourself is: What does having that do for me? How is this way of showing up in the world serving me?

It’s a good question to ask yourself regarding your stuck places, no matter how you identify. “Past experiences may shape your behavior, but they need not determine it,” Sally writes. “You have the power to become more precise, more intentional, more present, more assertive, more autonomous, more at ease exercising authority, more confident setting boundaries, and a more effective advocate for yourself.”

Sally’s case studies and research offers us models of what leadership can become when guided by feminine principles. In her studies, women have profound values for interconnection and responsibility, have an ecological view, focus on the long term, and have a talent for building up strength by building up others. When these values are put into leadership practice, you can see how a different sensibility emerges.

She poses questions for all of us:

  • How can we sacrifice and give care, without losing our personal identity?
  • How can we move beyond the ability to affect our environment solely by the exercise of discipline, struggle, and will?
  • How can we work hard at something without getting caught up in an unceasing competitive struggle?
  • How can we see beyond dichotomies–ends and means, efficiency and humanity, logic and intuition?
  • How can we focus more on the interconnections that bind all human beings and relate events to one another?
  • How can we take the long view, to see how the present relates to the future?
  • How can we attract and galvanize positive energy for change by identifying places where growth can occur for individuals and institutions, or social groups–and then fostering that growth?

The opportunity in our own growth as humans and leaders is towards the actualization of who we are, finding our true path in life, and our true voice. How do your own talents and experiences make you uniquely suited to the task you have chosen to do in your life? What is it that makes your leadership style yours?


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