Review by: Amanda Cahill
Want to achieve more success in your career? Worried your current actions and habits might be holding you back from achieving the success you deserve? If so, How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith might be the book for you.
Helgesen and Goldsmith team up to examine the most common behaviors that can get in the way of future success for women. The book showcases that men and women typically present different self-limiting behaviors in business, with women more likely to take on too much work and take too little credit for their achievements.
Brought to life with examples and stories, Helgesen and Goldsmith examine the twelve habits holding women back and they suggest the reader take aim at two or three of their own most damaging habits rather than address them all. The authors also emphasize that some of the behaviors, including perfectionism, building relationships and overvaluing expertise, might have served women well earlier in their careers but often hinder development as women move up the corporate ladder.
Of the twelve habits outlined in the book, the five listed below stood out the most as either behaviors in myself or in other women in my network:
1. Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements:
This one may seem out of place because women often deliver great work. And yet, many women struggle to draw attention to their achievements and successes. To take it even further, some women can even find it hard to accept praise or will make a habit of turning the spotlight of attention to someone else on their team. This could be because some women don’t want to seem self-promoting or because they assume the good work will speak for itself. It’s noted in the book that “moving ahead—rising—requires bold action.” If women do not communicate the substance of their work and the value of their achievements, especially to those in positions above them, they may be thought to lack confidence in their ability or be ambivalent about rising through the organization. The authors suggest that women should think about their value to the organization, why their success matters and what greater good they can do if they are able to rise to higher positions of influence and impact.
2. Overvaluing Expertise:
“Trying to master every detail of your job in order to become an expert is a great strategy for keeping the job you have. But if your goal is to rise to a higher level, your expertise is probably not going to get you there.” The authors state that a woman’s expertise in lower level jobs may have gotten her to where she is today, but “the top jobs always require managing and leading people who have expertise, not providing expertise yourself.” Furthermore, women need to focus on four kinds of power as they rise. In addition to expertise, women need to learn the power of connection (who you know), personal authority or confidence (a strong presence) and the power of holding a senior position. Expertise alone is not enough to open doors to an organization’s top levels of leadership.
3. Building Rather than Leveraging Relationships: “Whilst women are often stellar relationship builders, they tend to be less skilled at leveraging relationships” and “leveraging relationships is key to achieving professional success.” While women are often excellent at building relationships they can be noticeably reluctant to leverage those relationship. There are many reasons this might apply to you—often it is connected to an aversion to be seen as someone who “uses” people. Most great careers are built not just on talent or hard work, but on the mutual exchange of benefits and if you refuse to leverage the relationships you’ve built in pursuit of your goals, you might diminish your ability to reach your full potential. While this may sound crass to some women, the authors once again warn against either-or thinking (a common theme found in the book). Authentic friendships can have intrinsic rewards and extrinsic, win-win benefits for both parties involved.
4. Putting Your Job Before Your Career:
The authors note two reasons women feel stuck in their job:
(1) People take note of how dedicated she is to her position and how she excels at it;
(2) Personal loyalty or over commitment to her team
When women begin to feel stuck in a position they often see others, notably men, advancing and, in turn, they adapt a strategy to double down on their daily work to the neglect of working on their careers. In addition, women might express the kind of loyalty to the job that she might show toward her family. The authors urge women to assess potential jobs and to choose specific tasks in terms of how any given job can serve their self-interests and their careers. In doing so, women should give their best work, but they should also do their best to have a great career and a great life. Once again, either-or thinking can create a trap for women who hope to rise to higher levels in their careers.
5. Minimizing: Are you making yourself smaller either literally by the way you sit around the table or by taking a seat in the back? Do you use minimizing language, such as apologizing when you haven’t done anything wrong or using works like “just”, “only”, “small” and “quick”, as in “I just have one small thing to add…?” The authors suggest women may unknowingly minimize their presence and impact simply by moving aside in meetings to make room for others, as well as unwittingly making themselves smaller by squeezing into a circle (when men allow others to adjust to their space). These are not character flaws, but minimizing, softening, shrinking, and ceding space are habits that can hold back a woman on the rise. Your body language and words need to assure everyone you know you are meant to be in the room and you are owning your decisions.
Whether for your own development or to enrich the conversations when leading others in your organization, How Women Rise is an inspiring and practical resource. All twelve habits are well worth a read, and the examples bring to life the many ways these behaviors can get in the way and the different experiences senior women have had in responding to them. The book wraps up with how to take the first step and how to sustain the effort over time.
Want to learn more about the 12 habits outlined in the books? Please join us Wednesday, June 9th for the WWLF Book Read as we take a deep dive into How Women Rise!