Over the past several years, I have consulted with dozens of women leaders who want to excel in the executive ranks. Many have already made it to the S. V.P. level, and some to E.V.P. or even CEO. Others are Directors wanting to move to the V.P. level. Typically, the person hiring me states that the individual has received feedback that she needs to improve her executive presence. Sometimes, the request is for assistance in improving influence skills. Other times, the assignment is more general as in, "we feel she is a high potential and needs some help in moving to the next level." Sometimes, the request is for a C-level female executive who needs to improve her emotional intelligence.
As a The Tangle Doctor ™ who untangles tricky leadership challenges, I work at the individual, team, and organizational system level. In my work with female executives, once I have conducted an extensive assessment, earned trust, and really dug in to the situation, I develop an action-oriented roadmap. In my work over the past several years, I have discovered some common themes. I call these brain knots because once we discover the crossed wiring, we know which threads to pull to get these ambitious women back on track. This blogpost will cover three of the most common. These are not the exclusive domain of women executives.
Unless I am Perfect, I Can't Do It
Early in my career, I felt that if I just collected enough information and experience, and knew how to do everything perfectly, I would advance to the next level. I remember my utter shock when a really young guy, armed with an MBA and two years of experience, went out on his own and charged more a day than I was making in a month! That was a wake-up call. Being perfect was no guarantee of success. In fact, I learned that it could seriously get in my way.
Some of my clients, all of whom are high-achieving and ambitious, are perfectionists. Perfectionists set very high standards for themselves and their self-esteem is dependent on meeting those standards. Many times, as the coaching process evolves, it becomes clear how self-defeating this behavior can be. Reframing success, and finding evidence of past success and the ability to learn, are strategies for untangling this particular brain knot.
I'm an Imposter
Studies of high achieving women suggest that there are some who feel that they are imposters, on the verge of being found out as not smart and/or not competent. Some researchers suggest that the roots of the imposter syndrome occur in childhood. Perhaps the young woman had a sibling or cousin who was "the smart one." That was the case with me. I had a sister who was "the smart one," and I was the "pretty one." Even though I got straight A's, I felt an intense competition. It took lots of self-work to acknowledge I was also smart!
Researchers also suggest that a young child who is given ongoing, indiscriminate, positive praise from family, and then encounters some challenges and obstacles, may also begin to doubt herself and question her competence.
In this case, I provide my clients with reflective assignments to gather evidence of competence. We also look for ways to reframe the self-view so that it is not so crippling.
I Have Competing Commitments (and don't know it)
Often, in the coaching process, a female executive asserts that she wants to do x, and in reality does y. I have found that guiding my client through a competing commitments process is transformational. For instance, I had a client who said she wanted to be perceived as more powerful. However, she was also committed to playing it safe and not taking risks. By exploring her competing commitment, and the scary assumptions behind it, she was able to take the steps she needed to in order to take some bold risks.
I have discovered other brain knots and will share those in subsequent posts. Let me know what brain knots you want to hear more about!
What brain knots are sabotaging your career? Explore how you can achieve your leadership aspirations. Contact me for a complimentary telephone consultation.