Monday, June 30, 2014

Women and Leadership: We got it all wrong

As I stated in the previous post, which was a review of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In", I wanted to cover some points she brought up that were mistakes I observed myself or other professional women making. They warrant some focus because although they come across as innocent, Sheryl Sandberg referred to them as career killers. But to the average woman who is trying to navigate the workforce, maybe after a long break from it or who is trying to propel a career paralysis, these mistakes may not seem so obvious.

1)  Mentoring: Sheryl Sandberg as well as other authors on career advancement highly recommend mentoring. Only from what I have observed and experienced, we women may have the entire concept all wrong. Apparently mentoring is not really all about someone taking you under his or her wing, but the opportunity to prove you have something to contribute to this relationship. Its not about looking for direction, but having an idea or the displayed talent to work with someone else who will help build those skills. In her book, Sheryl describes a talk she participated with college students who had the opportunity to ask questions. She apparently cringed at the young women's questions of having it all (family + career). As she noted, the males were not interested in balancing anything, only posing stimulating questions and offering critical suggestions that revealed their talents. Also, don't ask to be mentored. Apparently, that determines whether you're mentor material or not. What the experienced veterans at your company, community, etc, want to know is actually how YOU can help THEM accomplish something. Its a work relationship in essence: I'll take you under my wing only if I can use your talent and skills. Think of mentoring as an interview process, so show your skills and knowledge by asking smart questions and revealing how you're putting them into practice. Remember, don't ask to be mentored. I did and never heard back from this individual. Now I know why.

2) Know your worth: Many higher-ups are too busy to notice most of their workers. So if you're expecting a promotion based on a high recommendation from a manager, you're wasting time. Take control of your career by building your skills and applying for those promotions you're interested in. And don't limit yourself to those positions that match all of your skill set. It has been found that men will apply for a job they are not entirely qualified for, but women wait until they have fulfilled a majority of the requirements before even thinking of applying. Wrong move. What you're doing is actually stalling your career. Men are not waiting for permission to proceed up the corporate hierarchy and they're not waiting for anyone to approve their qualifications. So if a position opens up that may require skills you did not learn, reach back into your past, see if you can substitute those skills somehow and cater your resume accordingly. The worst that could happen is that you're overlooked for that position. The best that could happen is that you're admired for taking a risk and applying. That could count for something - like a new position.

3) Stop being perfect: We were wrong. Nothing has to be done "right". Our mothers and society have failed us. All that matters is that it gets done. That includes the housework, childrearing, and yes, even your work. That's not to say that you should turn in terrible work, only that it doesn't have to be ultimately exact. Turning in a project that is 80 percent good is more resourceful than waiting, and re-doing something until it is 95 - 100 percent right. We strive for perfection because we are afraid of making mistakes. That also is a career breaker. Mistakes are not failures, and failures are not always bad. They're both experiences we learn from.

4) Don't take direction and information at face value: Just because a manager shares information with you or instructs you to do something a certain way, does not mean that individual is right. Keeping in mind that a higher-up does deserve your respect because of her position, it is still your right to verify and challenge conventional wisdom. This can be accomplished by still respecting her position, but by also proving you are an individual who doesn't take orders blindly. Our higher-ups are human, so they make mistakes. Call them on it, offer new ideas, alternative  ways of doing things, and point out blind spots. It doesn't  make you a rebellious problem employee as we were taught in the past, but a thinking and qualified member of the organization. 

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