Are You Your Own Greatest Obstacle to Success?

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Personal Performance, Self-Leadership, Thrive Strategies | 0 comments

Are You Your Own Greatest Obstacle to Success?

This is really directed to all the talented women out there that, for whatever reason, aren’t yet achieving at the level they’re capable of.  One thing nobody can deny is that women are under represented in senior leadership positions, both in the private and public sectors.  Study after study confirms this.   I’m currently reading a very interesting book on women and leadership by Linda Tarr-Whelan (Women Lead the Way.  Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World).  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how, even in the 21st century, women are continuing to be under-represented in important leadership roles.   I’m actually more disappointed than surprised, especially when reading how numerous studies show that increased representation of women in senior leadership positions in a company result in better business results.

However some of the fault for that lies with us, women who have the skills and ability to lead but don’t always step forward when opportunities appear.  Linda Tarr-Whelan tells of how the questions she was asking evolved over the course of her work and she began to ask a different question – “What stands in the way of talented, capable women accepting the leadership challenge when it presents itself?

Of course self-confidence was part of the answer, as women often fail to see themselves as leaders.  I really think part of the reason for this is social conditioning, especially for women working in traditionally male work environments, from hearing so often that women don’t have what it takes to lead.  I know I heard many variations on that during my career in research and development.  And I was once told I didn’t win a competition for a position because they didn’t think I was “strong enough to control the men on the committee”.  I hadn’t realized I would be expected to wrestle them to the floor!  I think part of the problem is for far too long leadership has been equated with the macho male approach and a military toughness combined with a take-charge at all costs attitude.

But there’s another part to this issue as well, not often spoken of but I hear it from colleagues, friends and clients, and that is that many women don’t feel they have exactly the right experience or qualifications to apply for a leadership position or to assume a leadership role. Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, told Tarr-Whelan that when he told a women that she should apply for a promotion they “almost universally told me they weren’t experienced enough or didn’t have sufficient background.  I never had a man say anything but ‘Thank you, I will apply.’

And I recognize those responses – I’ve been guilty of holding back in the past as well.  Yet why is it so hard for us to accept that we are qualified and we do have valuable skills to offer?  It reminded me of an interesting experience I once had that underlined just how differently men and women can look at opportunities.  I was reading a competition poster at work and a male colleague came up and, seeing what I was looking at, asked if I was going to apply.  And as much as it looked like a dream job and right up my alley I said no, I didn’t think so as I didn’t really have all the necessary experience.  Imagine my surprise when he blithely said he though he might apply – and I knew he didn’t have many of the qualifications or experience listed, it wasn’t even his area of expertise!  “But that isn’t your area and you don’t meet their requirements” I blurted out.  He just laughed and said that didn’t matter, he figured he could learn on the job, then he delivered the real ‘kicker’ –  “and while you’re trying to get more qualifications to increase your chances for the future, if I get the job I’ll be gaining on the job experience and end up far better qualified than you.  You’ll never catch up!”  Wow, that was a wake up call.

And he was right.  He had pointed out a fundamental difference between how men approach an opportunity and how far too many women look at opportunities.  We tend to see and magnify where we might be lacking while men see the opportunity and discount any potential hurdles to moving forward.  As a result they’re gaining even more experience and moving forward while we dither about, worried about having ‘all the right qualifications and experience’.

So, I have to ask – how about you, are you standing in your own way, creating excuses to not step forward?  Are you creating hurdles in your mind that, in reality, are non-existent, or could be easily overcome?

Maybe it’s time to stop the dithering and step forward.  The world needs the skills and abilities that women bring to leadership.  What do you say – ready to change the world?  And if you’d like to chat about what it takes to THRIVE and step into your authentic leadership role, drop me a line, I’d love to help – the world really needs more women to step forward!

Until next time – THRIVE on! :-)

Karen Switzer-Howse

Canada’s Premier Thrive Synergy Strategist


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