I’m guessing it will not surprise anyone who follows me that I strongly advocate: “No one gets to the top alone.” This advice holds true, especially for women who have a more challenging time achieving success in the business world, even with all of our giftedness.
Women tend to think they carve out careers based on perseverance (as 91 percent of a KPMG women’s study found) and hard work alone. Yes, both attributes are elements of a woman leader’s arsenal, but they won’t take you to the top singlehandedly.
These four tips will move you forward with ease, so you’re never building your career alone.
- Your Boss: Besides yourself, your boss is the single most crucial relationship to building a successful career. I know it’s not always easy working alongside a troublesome boss, with research revealing that three out of four employees report that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. And 65 percent of employees said they’d take a new boss over a pay raise.
But guess what, such a difficult situation with your direct supervisor can lead to a breakthrough in your career as being seen as a “team player” is a crucial factor in an executive’s rise to the top. What can a woman do to turn her boss into gold?
Step 1: Stop—Talking negatively about your boss to anyone in your company. Stop focusing on the ‘less than’ qualities.”
Step 2: Discover—What your boss brings to the table that the organization honors—it’s why your boss is still there.
Step 3: Master—Now you know the skills your boss shines at and that your company honors … time to own them for your career. Ask your boss to mentor you.
Step 4: Fill the Gap—See your bosses’ weaknesses as an opportunity and volunteer to assist.
These four steps will move your career forward faster than ineffectually bemoaning a “less-than-boss.”
- Mentors/Sponsors: You don’t have to learn everything on your own. As a woman entering the marketplace interested in moving up the corporate ladder from low-level through mid-level management, you should keep your eyes open for mentors to support your growth. Seeking advice early and often establishes a foundation for your thriving career. ‘
A Center of Talent Innovation study found that men are more likely to be mentored by senior executives. In contrast, women are more likely to have junior-level mentors. From a practical point of view, which demographic do you believe has more influence to uplevel your skills, not to mention your position?
As you move into senior-level positions, shifting to sponsorship relationships invested in developing your career is essential. These executives actively facilitate overseeing your career advancements, introductions to influential relations, how to navigate workplace politics, and promoting you in the organization, along with other invaluable guidance. And since more men are in the highest ranks of organizations, this means consciously concentrating on senior male leaders as a vital, strategic factor when developing your network.
When you look across industries and companies, you discover that an influential network is the number one barrier to women stepping into their organization’s most senior levels. There’s a potent correlation between a successful executive woman and their high-ranking senior management support system. Research by the Center of Talent Innovation reveals that 68 percent of sponsored women feel they are progressing through the ranks at a satisfactory pace compared to unsponsored women.
Take a look at your calendar. Are you scheduling time to generate relationships with senior leaders, whether as mentors or sponsors, in the organization to improve your career trajectory?
If, by chance, you hesitate to make these all-important connections because you don’t think anyone will say “yes” to you, consider that KPMG research that shows 70 percent feel a personal obligation to help more women advance in the workplace. And no wonder when one study after another confirms that executive women who support other women are more successful in business.
- Social Media: I’ve been sharing Jessica Stillman’s predictor with my clients for several years being in an open network instead of a closed one (closed networks…people who already know each other) is the best predictor of career success.
It is expanding your career through who you know instead of exclusively what you know. More recent research reveals this is acutely applicable for you, an executive woman who faces more hurdles than your male peers!
The Harvard Business Review article by Brian Uzzi says it is more critical for an executive woman to maintain both wide networks and informative inner circles in order to land the best positions. He offers advice for women who want to up their ante on effective social media connections:
- A woman needs both influential connections and a close community of women. He suggests that it is because a woman’s inner circle is likely to provide critical private information on job opportunities and challenges. Based on my client’s experience, I’d say he’s right on. Women share insider knowledge regarding jobs before posting, encouragement on applying for a position, salary ranges of the company and what others have received, boss’s preferences, best departments to work for in their company, etc.
- Brian states that executive women should seek quality over quantity as connecting with people connected to multiple networks is a key strategy. And just as Stillman uncovered, the more you associate with similar-minded or experienced people, the less likely you will be to diversify your network and inner circle. So, think of higher, broader connections when building your power career network.
- And please take this one to heart…. Beware of a closed inner circle where the people within it are similar and have similar insights and opportunities. That’s not an effective network. It doesn’t expand your reach.
- Executive Coach: As a Strategic Coach, I believe in the efficacy of coaching. Not only am I one, but I have rarely been without a coach throughout my 30+ years in business.
Coaching focuses on partnering with an executive to generate change leading to a fulfilling, satisfying career. Why every executive woman doesn’t hire or ask her organization to pay for one is beyond me. Especially with research demonstrating that executives see a 22 percent increase in productivity through training alone, but when combined with coaching, that figure rises to 88 percent![i] Additionally, the International Coaching Federation, states that executives sustain a 70 percent performance increase in goal attainment, clearer communication, and satisfaction. Where in the world will you ever have someone whose only interest, commitment, and job, is to partner with you to produce improved results.
On top of individual improvement, Bersin & Associates established that organizations with senior leaders who coach effectively and frequently improve their business results by 21 percent compared to those who never coach. And to cap it off, A Metrix Global study found that executive coaching has a 788 percent return on investment based on factors including increases in productivity and employee retention.
Has there been a mind shift in going it solo? In which one of the four areas do you intend to be more thoughtful and vigilant?
Don’t delay, or you will continue to have a “less-than-satisfactory” career. And that isn’t something any executive woman would want. Is it?
[i] Gerald Olivero, Denise Bane & Richard Kopelman, Public Personnel Management