In a career, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it without sacrificing what matters most. What you can do is create a roadmap that reduces uncertainty and puts you in control. You gain influence that lets you impact others. You gain confidence to follow your path successfully. You gain the knowhow to manage your career on your terms.
Embracing the authentic leader
As a coach starting out, I networked a lot in the financial services industry. My business school gave me access, plus they seemed to hire more coaches. The major struggles I heard from women in finance were that 1) They had no role models at the top and 2) They didn’t have a seat at the table. As a woman who spent two decades in the Beauty industry, both of these perspectives seemed foreign to me. While the proportion of men does increase the higher you go in Beauty, we have tons of high performing women at the top, and have for years. And second, with 70% or more women in most cosmetics companies, if we don’t have a seat at the table nothing can get done!
This observation drove a big realization: You can only truly lead when you fully embrace who you are. For years I had let the business school crowd define that beauty was “fun” and less serious than finance or consulting. Now I embrace the power in being a woman in cosmetics. We get to make key decisions every day and still be intuitive, curious, empathetic, and sometimes silly — all powerful attributes of successful leaders. Since 2008 I have had the incredible joy of watching hundreds of clients find their own authentic leader and enjoy confidence and calm as they work towards their goals.
Deciding to take the wheel is scary, but staying real through your career is something we all deserve. Here are a few tools I would love for you to try.
- Explore your underlying beliefs – What beliefs do you hold about the things that make you different or imperfect? Write these down. How do those beliefs impact the decisions you make? Are they limiting? Are they empowering? If you can carry a notebook for a week and write as they come up, do it. If you want to do it in one sitting, write at least 20 beliefs and their impact(s).
- Practice being your “whole” self – In my group sessions on leadership, one of the biggest things I hear is that participants can’t get angry at colleagues they really know and trust. Instead they give those colleagues the benefit of the doubt, which completely shifts the outcome of work conflicts. In this spirit, have just one lunch with a colleague instead of at your desk. Get to know each other.
- Surrender to the role – Most of us have a version of ourselves that lives in our head and another one, usually more authentic, that everyone sees. Others see our intelligence, effectiveness and beauty, even when we think they don’t. To check this out, ask a friend or two about the part of yourself they’d like to see more of. And the one they already see more of than you think. You may be surprised to find out that the very thing you are spending so much energy trying to prove is already out there, in plain sight!
Take it from a cosmetics coach — if these exercises resonate, you may be ready to take the plunge! I love this work and help guide people whether they hire me or not. If you or a friend want to learn more about how to take the next step, please reach out.
All my best,
The biggest frustration I hear from my HR business partners is around selling talent development to management and having a seat at the corporate strategy table. Selling talent development and coaching is no easy task. We know it works. Yet the benefits are difficult to measure, and reports that do exist tend to come from within the industry, making some question their validity. With my sales and marketing hat on, I offer you a combination of a few hard numbers, the qualitative impact we can point to, and a rationale that resonates with many of my clients.
Coaching Fills a Void
Today’s organizations are leaner. Technology and globalization have shifted spending away from headcount and we are left with what I call the Snack-well’s effect. By removing the fat, we’ve also lost critical taste and nutrition in the form of organic boss-subordinate talent development. High potential middle managers need skills they are not getting from busy senior leaders. The same senior leaders are needed to focus on complex decision making and communication. They are stretched and are often not at their best, while middle managers are not prepared for succession. Coaching fills a development void. It is a sophisticated form of mentoring that is adapted to today’s complex business environment.
Results Can be Measured
Measuring coaching’s impact points to three leading indicators:
- Leaders get further, faster: Individual and group coaching improve trust, conflict management and collaboration, which have a profound impact on innovation. In today’s world, staying one step ahead is non-negotiable.
- Employees are more engaged: The Gallup organization leads the research on engagement. According to Gallup, workgroups that focus on strengths and employee engagement enjoy up to 29% increased profits.
- Companies retain more talent: The cost of employee turnover depends on level, and is estimated at 40%-150% of annual salary. Delaying an employee’s departure by even two months pays for a coaching engagement. In my experience, employees who are coached stay at organizations several years beyond where they would have without intervention.
Coaching today is a $1B industry in the US, $2.4B worldwide, and grew 20% from 2011-2015. It’s easy to see why. Companies with robust talent development strategies have C-suite employees who are able to focus on top priority tasks and middle managers who get the skills they need to be more effective and properly train towards c-suite positions. Those same companies enjoy improved productivity and profitability.
I hope this post is useful to you. Please feel free to write back with requests for more or other information!
All my best,
I recently started working with a stylist. Leaving corporate life, having two kids, starting a business, reintegrating to corporate life and getting eight years older can leave a girl in need of some guidance. It has been wonderful. Before working with Karen, I found myself spending time and money on things that ended up hanging, unworn, in my closet. Without a vision and the right tools, I was adrift. Now my clothes are aligned with the quality of service I want to deliver, and I feel back on track.
Career management is similar. We think we know what we are doing. How could we not? It’s our life and our career. But like with clothing, we evolve over time. Our needs change and the tools we relied on no longer work. A simple roadmap — vision, milestones and information — can relax you, knowing that you are focused and moving forward.
Vision: Many people feel ready to throw it all away this time of year, but very often wanting a new job is a distraction from the real issue — we want inspiration where we are. What would it look like to feel more inspired at work? What would you do next?
Milestones: What do you need to demonstrate to make your next move? Who are three people you need to connect with and convince that you are the right person?
Information: Information is where I see most clients struggle. They focus on one or two opportunities and don’t see all of the avenues that are actually available. Are you aware of the innovation happening in your industry and which of your skills will be in demand? Are you regularly talking with people at your company and outside of it?
In January we celebrate the new year, but biologically we are in hibernation. My clients really begin to move in spring when nature’s energy wakes us up. Why not use this more passive time to work on your roadmap. You will be ready to move when the time is right.
Lisa was bright, with proven results, and was a leader in trend sighting and innovation. She was also quirky and occasionally silly with clients. Her style didn’t fit in with the culture of her ad agency, which had traditional consumer packaged goods clients. As one of the largest in the industry, Lisa’s firm approached their clients with an authoritative calm that they saw as professional. At the same time, the firm had wanted to win over the fashion forward clients that could improve their prestige – clients who Lisa understood intuitively.
In an environment that didn’t favor her style, Lisa was destabilized. She didn’t see the situation as one of different agendas — one that she could influence with a sound strategy. Instead Lisa doubted herself and let her doubt take over. She held back in client presentations, which left her performances flat and left her managers wondering if she had what it takes. Unable to gain favor, Lisa started resenting her management. To rationalize her feelings Lisa began to see changing her ways as selling out, and eventually started looking for another job.
The Confidence Challenge
Recently a senior executive asked me if there is any way to increase the confidence levels of high-potential women executives. Why do women, intelligent and capable, consistently doubt themselves in ways that men do not, or don’t share out loud? In my ten years as a coach I have worked with hundreds of successful women in corporations, and in Columbia University’s executive education programs. Before becoming a coach, I spent two decades working in large multi-nationals where I experienced challenges to confidence first hand. My personal experience, and my experience coaching others, has convinced me that measurable shifts in confidence levels are possible, and that those shifts lead to business results. In this article I explore why women step back from leading with confidence, and what they and their organizations can do to transform their experience.
Challenge Your Assumptions
Do women really lack confidence? The behavioral norms that define how confidence should look at the office are largely established by men. According to a Gallup Strength Finder study (see bibliography: What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women), women rank higher in relationship building themes, while men rank higher in strategic thinking themes. While both approaches can get superior results, an employee leading with strengths that are not the norm can cause managers to become critical and increase the employee’s doubt. A shift in perception from both manager and female employee can break this dynamic.
As a manager, if you know an employee is capable and has done good work in your team or another one, consider encouraging her and accepting her approach. One exercise I do with clients is to ask, “When do you feel confident?” For some clients just realizing that there are situations and circumstances where they feel solidly confident is an enormous aha moment. Even if it’s outside of work, they can leverage feeling confident to other situations and circumstances.
What would the impact be if these clients’ manager took the same approach? Often just behind a moment of doubt is real performance. Given the chance, talented women can show their colors with ideas and opinions that work. The first step towards growing a woman’s confidence is to undo the assumption that she lacks it, and provide the support to let her talent come through.
Don’t Let Doubt Run the Show
Most people believe that accomplishment and success will fix a lack of confidence. The reality is a strange paradox; no matter how much we accomplish, many of us do not stop being hard on ourselves. In coaching we call that voice of doubt the saboteur. Women can be more vulnerable to it because we have been trained to doubt ourselves. When normal feelings of doubt in new situations pop up, we think it is indicative of a lack of competence. For Lisa, the very normal discomfort of presenting to unfamiliar clients triggered her to think that her experience and point of view were not sufficient to the task.
The good news is that we can manage our saboteurs. The first thing we can do is to fully understand our strengths and the impact of those strengths on colleagues and the organization. This step alone brings most people to a whole new level of wellbeing. Once we have a firm foundation in our strengths and their impact, we can get familiar with our saboteur voices. Knowing our saboteurs and how they operate, we can take action to neutralize them (see bibliography: Positive Intelligence). It is critical to understand how strengths and saboteurs work together. When any of us can interrupt the click and whirr, “You feel scared, so you must be inadequate” message and choose to respond differently, we take back control of the situation.
Be Aware of Bias
Girls, then women, are often under-acknowledged for their actions and input, especially in areas that are not traditionally female. We are spoken over and ignored, while we watch boys and men be acknowledged for their efforts. It’s in a subtle nod that a man gets for his contribution in a meeting, but a woman does not. It’s in the way a man gets credit for ideas when a woman does not (see bibliography: Do Women Lack Ambition?).
I experienced this dynamic first hand participating in a “lost at sea” training exercise where we imagined ourselves stuck on a raft at sea. From a list of 30 pieces of equipment, we had to select the ten that would save us from drowning. Coincidentally I had just read Thor Heyerdhal’s famed book Kontiki, about a six-month crossing of the Pacific on a raft, and was better informed than my teammates about how to survive at sea. After we completed the exercise, the observers gave us feedback on our problem-solving skills. One said, “What I noticed is that Claire had all of the answers, but no one listened until Tom said them.”
Eye-opening. As women many of us are so accustomed to being ignored, we don’t even see it. Imagine the implications. If we operate under the assumption that we are treated the same as men but get different results, we can begin to think that the cause is our lack of experience and talents. This is not a call to action to fight for equality. Nor is it permission to produce inferior results. It is an invitation to not interpret having to try harder as a lack of competence. Giving credit where credit is due helps a woman reclaim her worth, and her confidence.
Find Your Own Voice
At Columbia my colleagues Lynn Russell and Joann Baney have developed a nerve-wracking exercise to teach students to field difficult audience questions. At the end of the exercise we have students rate their performance as a public speaker: on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a bumbling fool and 10 being a polished professional. With astonishing regularity, women who were prepared, maintained poise and kept control of the content, give themselves a 5 or 6. With the same regularity, men who meandered or broke their professional demeanor give themselves a 7 or 8.
After years, one semester a female student responded, “Well, I know I am supposed to give myself a 5 or 6 because I am a woman, so I am going to say that I am an 8 and these are the reasons why.” The class loved it. Later a male student, clearly uncomfortable after realizing that he had done a mediocre job, scanned the class and then gave himself a 7. I realized then that the men are not delusional. It’s that they know that the audience expects them to exude confidence. So they act like it, even when it’s not how they feel.
This is a key to the concept “Fake it till you make it.” By simply talking more confidently about ourselves and our work, we come across that way to others. Consider this. If a manager has to choose between the more prepared person and the person who will represent well in difficult senior meetings, they will almost need to choose the one who will speak more confidently. Like the woman student, you can find a voice that sounds confident. If you don’t, you are losing out.
In the end Lisa found her voice. She developed highly creative, somewhat risky presentations she could own and that gained her favor with the trendier clients. She leveraged her success and confidence to win over other clients as well as her management. It’s now been seven years and she is on her third promotion in the same organization.
Believe that Lasting Change is Possible
Last summer my family went to a planetarium to observe the planets and hear a NASA astrophysicist talk about the latest approaches to studying black holes. I found this mind-bending topic fascinating, and I asked a lot of questions. Afterwards the astrophysicist, a woman, told me that she was impressed — women visitors almost never ask questions. Without knowing it, she gave me a gift. Remembering my experience in the lost at sea exercise, I had a real sense of my own personal growth and in the possibility of transformation. Doubt is part of life. It is not our fault. Letting a lack of confidence run your life or impact a female employee’s long-term performance might be.
Confidence isn’t just a feel-good idea – it is about great leadership. According to the Gallup organization, many companies that use a strengths-based approach enjoy a 29% increase in profits. Companies with a large number of female employees, who are not working to crack the code on women’s confidence, are leaving money on the table.
Miller, Jane and Adkins, Amy. “What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women.” Gallup Business Journal November 30, 2016
Fels, Anna. “Do Women Lack Ambition?” Harvard Business Review April 2004
Chamine, Shirzad, Positive Intelligence. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group LLC, 2012
Happy Holidays! It’s the end of the year and I want to give you the gift of feeling like the girl in this photo. Every year I see people, and work teams, do their annual review by looking at all of the goals they didn’t accomplish in the year and dragging those into the new year. Can’t you just feel the heaviness?
What if instead you could take the best experiences from the current year, and build on those for the year to come:
What went well this year? In particular, what energized me and made me feel confident? Identify the top 10.
What was the impact of those accomplishments? On me, my team, my long-term plans.
How is that impact connected to my strengths and what I do best?
What was a drag? What didn’t go well and when did I lose confidence?
What insights did I/we gain this year?
Beyond accomplishing tasks how did I, or my team, grow? What personal challenges did I/we overcome?
What would 2017 look like if I/we could build on the energy and insights from 2016?
What goals can I/we identify each quarter that would get me/us there?
For tasks that don’t energize me, but I still have to do, how can I make those part of the bigger picture and not beat myself up for not loving them?
Light and fun. I do this exercise every year with clients, and for myself. Just stepping back from the grind to look at all that you’ve done is a wonderful gift to give yourself.
Happy Holidays to everyone, and see you in 2017!
From a coach’s vantage point, I wanted to share what we can learn from last week’s election about interpersonal communication, perspective and strategy.
Management and The “Troops”: Last week we saw “the Establishment” (think Management), challenged by disenfranchised voters (think “Millenials” or internal groups with divergent interests). Managers are under enormous pressure to get things right under very complex circumstances. Groups within an organization focus on their own circumstances. If employees are not happy, then at best they can withdraw their engagement and interest, at worst they can leave. Both come at enormous cost. Some questions to ask are: As a leader, are you communicating your business challenges in ways that resonate with your team? Do you behave in ways that build trust so that they believe the things you tell them? As an employee, do you wait for management to provide the answers or do you take ownership of your career path and your impact on the organization?
The Echo Chamber of the Information Age: Last week we saw that a lot of people thought they were informed but were not. It turns out that Facebook is designed to give us stories similar to what we “like,” and most news sources today are biased to one view or another. That means we think everyone thinks like us and we look for evidence that supports our perspective. Consider the impact on work life. We can get stuck in our own way of thinking and be unwilling to consider others’ ideas. That can reduce empathy, trust, collaboration, and eventually our productivity and ability to innovate.
Resilience: People are resilient. Like in politics, getting our way at work also comes and goes. But when things don’t go your way, do you check out? Or, do you consider it as an opportunity to listen more, be more thoughtful and try harder to find a way forward that considers everyone.
Lately I’ve had wonderful luck using Improv techniques with teams. We learn that when we let go of controlling the discourse and listen with an open mind, it opens the door to seeing the best in others, and ourselves. Give it a try! Whatever happens, you will have a good laugh and that is the best ice-breaker of all.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,
Wheeeee! September felt like getting sucked into a vortex. Then somehow October feels like everyone got started without me. Nowadays we have to roll with the punches of change and keeping moving, even when we feel behind the eight-ball. Many of my clients are in acquisition or re-org mode, where this is especially true. How do you keep your cool, stay effective or even thrive, when change has reached chaos levels?
Be kind to yourself and others: Certainty is a basic human need. Uncertainty can bring out the worst in us. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, acknowledge good intention and forgive yourself for occasionally not being your best.
Revisit your strengths: It’s normal to want to lay low during an acquisition. A better strategy is to remember what you do best and the impact it has. Then, seek out opportunities to use your strengths to help the cause. You will automatically build relationships that can help you down the road.
Have a plan: Like getting life insurance, it’s good to plan for the worst so you can get it off your mind. But remember, even if you don’t stay at your organization, they hired you and you performed because of who you are and what you bring. That stays with you either way.
Listen selectively: The rumor mill can strike fear in the best of us and, importantly, distract us from being productive. Get real information from one or more outside mentors and read the news on what your company and industry are facing.
Take extra time for self-care: It’s counterintuitive, but when we feel like things are not moving forward or fast enough, we are often the most depleted. Make sure you are doing your exercise, meditating if that’s what you do, eating well and seeing friends.
It is possible to build something even in chaos. Take it one step at a time.
As CEO of a (very small) business, I now understand the incredible challenges associated with having to allocate limited resources and communicate effectively to my colleagues and clients. It’s a lot. Sometimes I blush when I think of how hard I was on some of my managers. I assumed they should know everything and became impetuous when they weren’t “there for me.”
From this new perspective I offer you my best advice to managing your boss: It’s hard up there! He or she doesn’t always know what to do. Choosing between options can be like trying to figure out which of two little kids is responsible for a fight. And making sure you tell everyone the right things, at the right time, all the time. It’s a lot. Here are some tips:
- Consider the boss’s circumstances — New to the job, long-distance, many direct reports — and consider how that may make their job harder
- Know how your boss behaves, especially under stress. When he or she exhibits that behavior, keep an even keel. Consider it may be more about them than you, and see what you can do to reduce their tension.
- Anticipate their needs. What are some possible decision paths and consequences of what you are asking for? What other limitations might your boss need to consider?
- Know what influences your boss. This is probably at least in part influencing their own boss. In addition, does your boss like public acknowledgement? Knowledge about cutting edge trends?
- Trust. Expense accounts, loyalty to your boss in situations with other stake-holders, and responsiveness are just a few. And if you ever disappoint your boss, make sure you clear the air.
- Work hard and make sure to occasionally remind your boss of your contribution. Everyone is moving fast and if you want to move ahead, let your boss know it too.
When it comes to the boss, our first response is not always empathy. Sometimes because we don’t have the easiest boss, but often because it’s hard to imagine that accomplishment doesn’t mean omniscience. With greater responsibility comes greater challenges. Keeping that in mind will shift the way you manage up.
All my best,
This summer my family went on a 45+ hour road trip. (Here we are at Niagara Falls). I know, I know, a great opportunity for quality family time. But one or two books on tape while the kids watched a video. C’mon, it’s OK, right?
Somewhere between mile 1700 and mile 1850, on the road to Montreal, I listened to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Being my own CEO has brought time management demands to a whole new level since the time I worked a corporate job. I thought I knew about most of the really good time management tools, but this model blew that wide open. Three key elements in particular really excited me:
- The world has changed. We have more opportunities than ever but are also doing more, and more scattered, things. Just acknowledging that makes the overwhelm a little bit less “my fault,” which is good for the hard on ourselves out there.
- Getting it down and out of your head leaves you so much more mental space for thinking. I’ve always written things down, but getting it all down has let me tackle the first of several long-term projects that have been floundering on my desk for months.
- Have a downstream process. Bam! I get it. Parts of my To Do list are like a kid’s food on the plate. It gets moved around, but never eaten. With a system, you can know when and how things will get done and focus better on what’s in front of you.
Big happy sigh.
If you do get the book, don’t let doing it perfectly weigh you down. I do tend to be “born again” in my excitement when I discover something. Then I let it settle and just use the elements that work for me.
Enjoy the back to school!
My cousin in France is really good at windsurfing. So much so that he spent his military service teaching windsurfing to soldiers on R&R. Pretty nice deal, for him and for the soldiers. Soldiers get R&R. Farmers let fields lay fallow. And yet the grinding rhythm of work and life makes us keep pushing even when we need rest. From colleagues and clients alike I’ve been hearing stories of overwhelm, lack of focus and laziness. One client said, “I don’t feel like working, but I feel guilty about it.”
Here are a few perspectives to help us all take full advantage of summer’s offerings:
- Stick to basics. Normally I am a big fan of identifying the “Important, not urgent” projects to keep them moving. But sometimes you just have to back burner them. So gather up all of your “should” projects and put a reminder on your calendar for end of August. And enjoy the freedom of not having them in your head.
- Find a guilty pleasure. Pick something good and just enjoy it. After writing this post, I am heading to the knitting store to start a project. No it’s not water skiing or parachuting, but it’s me.
- Rest. Down time, gentle exercise, easy social time. Reading the paper, I’m so happy not to be at the political conventions. Much too high context for this time of year.
- Accept the fog. When we are less focused we are open to experiences, observations and insights that we might step over during fast-moving times.
Hang up the guilt and enjoy the summer!