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Women at work Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

Winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked

By | Leadership, Results

I recently read about the upcoming release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. As the COO of Facebook, she talks about Mark Zuckerberg (her boss) and the advice he gave re her desire to be liked by everyone and his belief that it would hold her back in her career.

This is the second time I have heard about a leaders’ desire to be liked in a matter of weeks.  One of my female coaching clients said to me “I want to be respected, but I still want to be liked a little bit too”.

Is it possible to have respect and be liked as a leader? Will this goal hold you back from being an effective leader long-term?

My first opportunity to lead a team early in my career, presented me with the immediate challenge of winning the respect of a group all older than me.  How was I going to win them over? I started with showing them my results – facts and figures and methodologies that were black and white – I figured they couldn’t argue with achievements! It was the first step in establishing respect.

Since then, I’ve learnt other strategies leaders can use in the race to win respect, while losing the notion of being everyone’s friend:

1.You’ve already got friends– I have challenged leaders in the past who have struggled with this concept that you already have friends and work is not necessarily the place to gather more. Sure you might make friends, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus – avoid blurring the lines.

2. Relationships – I’m not saying don’t be friendly or don’t have social interaction with people. Certainly there is a human element to leadership and part of building relationships is getting to know the personal side of your staff.  BUT leaders need to show consistency, professionalism and not play favourites.

3. Deal with non-performance – a leader who gains respect, will have the courage to deal with non-performance quickly and without fuss.  Focus on the behaviour, not the person.

4. Lead by example – a leader who sits in their office, is always busy and unavailable in meetings, will not gain the respect of their team. Walk the talk, get on the phone where people can hear you, go on client visits, sit in open plan – showing you can do the job wins respect.

5. Hold people to account – being clear on what people are responsible for, give them the knowledge and tools to perform their role and then get out of the way.

6. Be clear on what you stand for – a respectful leader knows their values, is clear on what is expected and consistently inspires through communicating the vision.

7. Intuition –  go with your gut and call behaviours as you see them.  If you have a ‘feeling’ someone is going to resign, or something is up with the person who had his or her arms crossed in the meeting – don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and have a conversation – nip issues in the bud and encourage an open dialogue, don’t let unspoken issues fester.

8. Recognise & reward – catching people doing the right thing and being very specific about what they have done well goes a long way to building respect.

9. Open communication – what’s happening in the company, good, bad or indifferent shouldn’t be a secret.  If you don’t talk, people will make up their own ideas and assume – sure fire way to kill respect.

10. High standards – a respectful leader will push you outside your comfort zone and show belief in you to go further to achieve more than you think possible.  Not many leaders are willing to push hard for fear of losing approval.

During my leadership career, it has been a learning journey to earn respect, some people probably liked me and others probably didn’t. The difference is that it didn’t actually bother me. Great if you do and it doesn’t matter if you don’t. My role as an effective leader is to believe in you, coach you to top performance and support you in that journey.   There is no easy path. That journey will require moments of being uncomfortable and challenged – a respected leader doesn’t apologise for that or seek approval.

The goal as a leader should certainly be more about behaving in ways that create respect and if people to like you too – it’s a bonus, but it definitely shouldn’t be the aim. 

“Popularity is temporary, Respect is timeless”


Women in leadership – can we “have it all”?

By | Leadership, Women in Leadership, Work Life Balance

I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader.  She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review.  In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?

Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.

In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.

I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have.  My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker.  I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.

Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.

Quick tips to make it work:

  1. Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail.  The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity.  Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
  2.  Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”.  As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative.  However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people.  Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
  3. Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”.  This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both.  In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
  4. An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved.  Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
  5. Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals.  The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home.  I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.

To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different.  Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.

Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible.  The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.

Can women successfully return to work after babies?

By | Leadership, Retention, Work Life Balance

What a week it has been watching the debate around working women, their choices and when they should return to work after having babies – all thanks to a glamorous Jackie O crossing the street while feeding her baby.

Not only as a working mother myself, but as Leader of an all-female team with more than half of them being career mums with children (the majority being 5 years or younger), I know it can work.

I have successfully retained high performing young women after they have had babies, successfully employed new returning to work mums part-time and have successfully integrated the two worlds myself.

Before the media blow up earlier this week, I often advise clients about how part-timers can actually work and how the business doesn’t need to fall in a heap if a key staff member takes time off for parental leave.  10 things I recommend to help it work:

  1. First reactions – I remember the first time one of my top Consultants told me she was pregnant.  She was so nervous and scared that I would be angry that she was going to be leaving the business when she was performing so well.  I was delighted for her and kept the conversation focussed on her and this exciting time in her life. There is plenty of time for the planning discussions around when, what, who and how at a later stage. Don’t take the shine off such a personal moment.
  2. No pressure – I don’t put pressure on any employee to return to work.  I have had some take 6, 9 or 12 months off for parental leave. Of course you need to know in advance to plan for their absence, but there has never been an expectation of it being sooner rather than later.
  3. Flexibility – the key to making it work! I have always given the returning to work mums the free reign to say what days/hours they want to work when they return. I then do my absolute best to accommodate them within a structure that also works for the business.
  4. Encouragement & empathy – if your baby is sick and you need to go home, go! Don’t sit at your desk feeling guilty. Remember Health 1st, Family 2nd, Work 3rd.
  5. Job ownership – each Consultant has had their clients managed while they are on parental leave.  This has given new/more junior Consultants the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. The returning Consultant has then been given their clients back on their return – this was a big incentive for Consultants who had been with the business for many years and had built up many long standing relationships.
  6. Support systems – without question,  Consultants are given remote access, car parks, iPhones and admin support to assist if and when they are working from home.  This is essential for teamwork, flexibility and communication.
  7. Continuing reviews – regular one on one catch ups to honestly assess whether the arrangements are working for the individual and the business and whether they need to be re-negotiated or adjusted where necessary.
  8. Lead by example – by preaching work/life balance and flexibility as the Leader you need to ensure you are walking the talk. People will be guided by your behaviour and make their own assessment of what the ‘internal culture’ really is.
  9. Acknowledge FT employees – for part-timers to really be effective in an organisation and especially a small team, the glue that often holds it all together is the full-time employees. I have learnt it is critical to acknowledge their support and contribution.
  10. You can’t win them all – as much as you want all top performers to return to work after having children, it isn’t always the case. I have certainly lost a few along the way through their own decisions about it not working, deciding to give up work altogether or taking the opportunity to have a career change.  In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.

All in all, these tips have been some of my most successful retention strategies over the years.  In making it easier for these women to return to work with part-time, flexibility and support, I have gained their commitment, loyalty and respect.

The business wins too – we have retained key clients who want to deal with the same faces every year, the profits have increased (as part-timers usually generate similar revenue to their full-time counterparts and in some cases – more), reduced costs in re-hiring and being able to give internal employees greater opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.

So can working women successfully return to work after having babies? YES!  It’s a two-way street that requires a committed and realistic employee coupled with a flexible and understanding employer.

Can you make it work?

Why is confidence still an issue for women at work?

By | Confidence, Results, Retention

Over the years I would have mentored and coached more than 100 women formally and informally in business. It still puzzles mehow many successful women still suffer from both a lack of confidence and self-belief at work.  Some of these women openly admit this is what is holding them back, while others suffer in silence and it is proven through their behaviour of self- doubting and not believing they can achieve or are worthy of success.  When they achieve a record result or win a new client, it is nearly brushed aside as no big deal or anyone could have done that.

It has been one of my biggest frustrations leading a team of all women.  These women are amazing. They inspire me on a daily basis with what they achieve in the corporate world, at home and outside of work. To be surrounded by such talent and enthusiasm makes it easy to come to work every day.

So how is it that on nearly a weekly basis, a coaching session reverts back ultimately to a lack of self-confidence around a sales pitch, negotiation, making a call to a new contact or giving professional advice? Why do they often doubt their expertise around what they know and have successfully practiced for years and years?

As a Leader, it presents a daily and immediate challenge to coach on. I find myself continually coming up with new techniques and tactics to reinforce what I already think and believe about these women, expecting that they start believing it themselves. These include:

  • Facts – giving them facts and figures about their performance that can’t be argued. For example, you have won 8 new clients this month, you have achieve $30K in revenue for the business, you won 80% of the proposals you submitted and you have a 99% retention rate on all placements you have made. Hard to argue with real data!
  • Give them something to believe in – I have found that women in particular are more effective when they are working towards a greater purpose, to achieve an ultimate goal, other than just making money.  They need to believe in something greater than their individual performance to see they are making a difference in business, themselves and ultimately in the lives of others.
  • Reward and recognition – a verbal recognition at a meeting, a group email praising their achievements or a tangible reward such as a piece of jewellery, a dinner with their partner or clothing seems to generate a greater response than an increase in salary or a  large commission cheque (although that works too!).
  • Expect confidence – treating team members as confident professional and expecting they can do the things they may hesitate to take on. You get what you expect.
  • Being uncomfortable – sometimes I have had the best success asking them to do something that they really don’t want to it and it pushes them way outside their comfort zone.  So much so, they learn the most and their confidence sky rockets.
  • Fake it until you make it – sometimes when you don’t feel 100% confident in a situation, I encourage my team to “fake it until you make it”.  This is not about lying your way through a situation, it’s about exuding confidence, remaining calm and delivering a rational response. I remember being 21 conducting a meeting with a CFO in large blue-chip organisation and being drilled about the current market conditions and salaries.  Instead of being intimidated and bumbling through answers, I was clear and confident and if I wasn’t 100% sure, I said I would find out and get back to him. It won me this client until this day purely because of my confidence.
  • Role models and inspiration – I encourage my team to read books, seek out mentors outside of our business and to learn from others’ success.  The best mentors can be those that have achieved the results you aspire to and follow their recipe for success rather than reinventing the wheel.   Surround yourself with these people and learn as much as you.

Can self-confidence be learnt or re-built? Can we coach to overcome it? In my experience the best we can do is nurture the talent that we have, believe in people and hope to inspire them to things they didn’t even think they were capable of.