I have been working with women leaders… forever. First as a business journalist asking them questions for interviews, then as a generalist trainer of strategic communications, emotional intelligence, and leadership, and since last year as a premium career management advisor, coach, and mentor for smart, talented, and ambitious women who want to grow into the C-Suite at regional and global level.
During this time I noticed several patterns that keep repeating and that regularly prevent otherwise outstanding women from promoting in their careers faster and from enjoying their work and lives fully.
Need to mention that in the past I worked mostly with European women and it is possible that the specific social and economic circumstances in the EU might influence the local women’s mentality in a certain direction. But I don’t have more comparative data at this point to support a cross-regional comparison.
Back to our women leaders in Europe, here are the main causes I notice why women don’t get promoted faster in their careers.
THEY EXPECT SOMEBODY ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR PROMOTION
Of all the patterns, perhaps this is the most insidious and pervasive one.
Perhaps you are familiar with Stephan Karpman’s Dreaded Drama Triangle theory, which states that during conflict or in an immature phase of personal development we choose one of three roles – the Rescuer, the Victim, and the Tyrant.
While the Rescuer gets busy focusing their attention on others and spends most of their time gossiping and fixing other people’s problems (recognize someone in your life?), the Victim is constantly dreaming and looking elsewhere for the “real” cause of their misfortune, lack of progress, and general unhappiness.
Ultimately, when we get tired of feeling powerless, we shift into a passive or active aggressive mode when we start asking for what we’re due in toxic ways – like maxing our spouse’s credit card with our mindless shopping, for example.
In 2000 David Emerald, an American leadership developer, came with the solution to the Dreaded Drama Triangle.
While we cannot escape the three roles, we can transcend them by growing into their mature versions: the Coach, the Challenger, and the Creator.
In this enlightened version the Coach stops rescuing people and, instead, is showing them how they can help themselves, the Challenger doesn’t need to become aggressive like a tyrant to express their needs and lead transformation, and the Creator is fully responsible for their actions, behaviors, journey, and life.
Which is taking me back to our women leaders.
If more women leaders acted from the Creator mentality – “No one else is responsible for my happiness and progress; I am the owner of my career and life journey, if I want something I need to behave correspondingly and go for it.” – and less from the Victim – “They should finally see my greatness and get me promoted,” we would have more women in top leadership in a snap.
Going against the Victim pattern is, however, a massive endeavor, as we, women, have been systemically trained to be believe that being a woman means being passive, quiet, obedient, and… pretty.
However, the gates to the executive and non-executive boards we dream of are not guarded by angels with fiery swords. If we want to get there, it’s purely our job to design a strategy to get there – and to put our money where our mouth is, so we can bring it to life.
Which is taking me to the second issue.
THEY DON’T EMPHASIZE STRATEGIC THINKING
The second pattern is closely correlated with the first one, as it is also deeply rooted in the systemic raising of women throughout millennia – we, women, should focus on operations and execution, not strategy.
But operations are not what will get you promoted; strategy is.
I am working with women leaders making tens of thousands of EUR per month; they still choose to clean their houses, cook, and iron their clothes by themselves (on top of driving people around, volunteering to make coffee, and organize events at work).
Of course, this means that they are constantly busy, never have time for anything, and feel utterly exhausted at the end of the day.
If only 10% of that time was spent resting, envisaging, reflecting, and thinking strategy long-term, our world would be in a much better shape.
We, women, need to make a serious decision about the role of strategic thinking in our daily lives. If we continue drowning in operations that could – and should – be done by someone else – at work and at home, mind you – we will never grow into the strategic wise womanhood that our companies and our Planet so desperately need moving forward.
THEY DON’T DEVELOP A CLEAR SENSE OF TIME
Closely connected with the sense of strategy comes a sense of time.
There is nothing worse that someone who starts talking and doesn’t know when to stop. Moreover, such people often cover the essence of their message in so much fluff that the very idea of having such a person on an executive board is dreadful even to the secretary – not to speak of other board members and company stakeholders.
Having a clear sense of time means that:
- We are punctual (without being time-anxious).
- We answer communications timely (without being at everybody’s whims).
- We respect the time given to us to present / speak, therefore sending a message that we are reliable, trustworthy, and in control.
And no, the fact that an event supplier was late with the paper cups for the next company event is not an excuse for being late or for failing to prepare yourself for your next presentation.
Which is taking me to the next topic.
COMMUNICATIONS LACK IN SHARPNESS AND CLARITY
Maybe it’s the former journalist in me, but this has always been something that drove me crazy: talking to someone for an hour, and at the end not being able to pull one good soundbite from our talk.
We, women, have marvelous ideas and observations. Unfortunately, because we often fail to make time for strategic thinking and crafting a clear and well-articulated message, we do two things:
- We avoid strategic communication interactions – like public speaking, interviews, or large company presentations, altogether, and
- When we go for them, we are so nervous that we revert to our automatic patterns of behavior – piercing high pitched voices that often deliver a long linear speech full of justifications and lacking in influence and gravitas.
All of this can be avoided and fixed by emphasizing a few things:
- Understanding that communicating your ideas and data is as important – if not more important – than having them.
- Exposing yourself regularly to strategic high-level communications from an early career age – it’s better to botch an interview when you’re an intern then when you’re the CEO.
- Constantly investing in developing your communication skills – such as storytelling for leadership and media training, for example.
- Understanding the importance of your personal brand and making room for your personal reputation management.
This is taking me to the final pattern I notice when working with women leaders: the delusion of emotional intelligence.
THE DELUSION OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
It is generally said that women are better at emotional intelligence than men.
That’s, in my view, a delusion.
We, women, are not better at emotional intelligence. What we have been trained to do is notice other people’s emotions more so we learn how to dodge them (mainly anger), manipulate them (mainly love and lust), and thus so we and our offspring survive through history.
But being able to notice and tap faster into emotions doesn’t make us automatically more emotionally intelligent.
What does make us genuinely more emotional intelligent – and I mean more in comparison to the older versions of ourselves, not compared to other people – is:
- Self-awareness and self-reflection – for which we need time to think.
- Self-mastery and the development of new, strategic and wise personal and leadership behaviors.
- Genuine empathy – cognitive, emotional, and behavioral – that doesn’t end up overwhelming us, but that we know how to put to good use in mature personal and professional relationships.
- Social intelligence developed through an understanding of groups, their underlying systemic patterns, mechanics, and purpose.
I do believe that, when we, women, start to focus more on these five areas, and when we leverage our sense of purpose, compassion, and caring, growing into top leadership will be a no-brainer both for us and for other women in our organizations. Which will be a blessing for our teams, communities, companies, and our Planet.
But until then… we’ve got a lot of work to do.