Hello and welcome to issue 85, Women in Leadership. In this issue, we’re looking at all things related to women as leaders. Here’s our five ways to get yourself a seat at the leadership table … or maybe just make like Beyoncé and build your own table. And, while you’re at it, make it a better one.
1. Learn the rules and then change them
How many of us have spent years gaining qualifications and then rising through the ranks in a particular industry or sector only to find that the rules of the game (either formal or informal / spoken or unspoken) are not to our taste.
So many careers, in STEM fields in particular, not only struggle to recruit women, but they also struggle to retain them, which in itself exacerbates the problem.
How many organisations recruit on the basis of finding those with team working skills, problem solving skills, verbal and numerical reasoning, but then as soon as staff exhibit independent thought and try to challenge the status quo, they are side lined or discouraged for not being prepared to follow the herd?
For those type of organisations there seems to be a value clash in asking criteria based questions around ‘leadership’ but then recruiting a ‘followership’. Leaders often set themselves apart by learning the rules of the game and then changing them, or sometimes just ignoring them altogether.
2. Value your time
Who could forget the Maxine Waters taking no prisoners in a US House Financial Service Committee meeting in August 2017 when faced with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin? When he repeatedly dodged of her question about why he never responded to a letter she’d sent him in May she simply talked over time. “Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.” Needless to say, #ReclaimingMyTime went viral, even being turned into a gospel song.
Could this be the new strategy for calling out those you perceive to be making mischief by trying to evade giving a straight answer? It’s not for the faint hearted – can you imagine just talking over someone to call them out in your workplace? – but it’s certainly a way of getting you noticed.
3. “…nobody gives you the power, you just take it…”
This quote is from Rosanne Barr, American actor, comedian and television producer. It takes most of us years to realise this nugget of wisdom and it couldn’t be truer. The people (women and men) who make it as leaders don’t sit back and wait for things to happen to them, they go out and make things happen.
All too often, perhaps because of the way girls are brought up, women in particular are conditioned to sit quietly, work hard and wait for recognition and reward to come to them (known as tiara syndrome) whereas sadly, diligence, tenacity and being quiet do not fast track you to management. If you want the power then the best way to get it is to go straight up and take it.
4. Tell the negative committee that meets in your head to sit down and shut up
How many of us constantly give ourselves a hard time, convinced we’re not clever enough, not fast enough, not good enough, like there’s a negative committee of nit-pickers inside our own heads? imposter syndrome is well known today and cited by numerous senior women as having held them back as they felt unable to internalise their accomplishment and they feared for being exposed as a ‘fraud’. I was fascinated to learn about the Dunning-Kruger effect recently, which described as a psychological phenomenon of illusory superiority.
Could this be the opposite of imposter syndrome and does this form of cognitive bias, as identified in Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments and Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence affect a disproportionately high number of men? We’ve all heard of mediocre men doing incredibly well in corporate life by virtue of the fact there are so many more of them willing to have a go.
Let’s face it, we’ve all had the excruciating experience of working for a manager (it could be male or female) who is hopelessly inept but managed to bluster their way up the corporate ladder, bumbling along and destroying their subordinates’ moral through the sheer injustice of the organisation’s ability to find them out as actual imposters.
What if we could learn from these individuals, bottle some of that illusory superiority and redirect it to the people who were afflicted with imposter syndrome? Or perhaps it could be some form of donation and transplant system?
5. Stop overthinking things
It was three or four years ago that I first encountered the term ‘to overthink’ something. I found an unattributed post on Pinterest and it reminded of myself:
Me: Let me sleep
Brain: *LOL* No, let’s stay awake and remember every stupid decision you made in your life
The tendency to constantly revisit our greatest mistakes and decisions we regret can weigh heavy on us. I think I’ve mentioned the phenomena before where someone tells you not to think of an elephant and – hey presto – what’s the first thing that pops into you head? It’s the same when you constantly try not to overthink something.
There’s a variation on this when you reach out to someone and you don’t hear back from them so paranoia sets in. “I’ve done something to offend her. She hates me.” Err, no – she’s just been on holiday for two weeks because she has some other priorities in life than your email.
Your rightful place
So, in conclusion, whether you battle your way to somebody else’s leadership table or you build you own, remember that you are entitled to your place. Leadership can take numerous different forms too, so if you’re not getting the kind of development you need in the workplace then look elsewhere. Becoming a school governor is a great way to gain leadership skills. Stand for your local council. Coach a sports team. Go on an adventure. If you realise your own worth then others will start to realise it too. Pull up a chair, sit yourself down and make yourself comfortable.
Beyoncé image credit: By Asterio Tecson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons