Leadership Tutorial 1 (for women) — Getting Your Work Noticed

Following from a tweet, some additional thoughts on getting your work noticed:

I’ve begun reading Lean In and it’s going well.  Author Sheryl Sandberg stuck her neck out when she clearly didn’t need to do so.  I know what that’s like having written the Harvard Business Review case, “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk” that stirred considerable controversy in 1993 and a book on the heels of that, They Don’t Get It, Do They? about how both women and men don’t “get it” when it comes to working together with equal regard.  The book was a blueprint for sharing with women how their communication contributes to not getting ahead as well as how bias and unwanted repetitive conversational episodes (UPS) keep women in “their place.”

One of the things I like about Lean In is that it has gotten the discussion going again.  As Sandberg mentions, one that had largely stalled.  That doesn’t mean a whole lot of women haven’t been weighing in and writing about women’s issues, but in terms of the subject attracting press attention and getting a buzz going the front has been largely quiet.

And there have been enough young women not wanting to overtly connect themselves with women like me who are easily dismissed as having chips on our shoulders caused by feminist angst.  I’ve looked.  There’s none there.  But I get why some young women worry about connecting with feminist women twenty years or more older.  When I became a friend and co-professor with Betty Friedan, that was the subject of some conversation too.  But I wouldn’t have traded acquiring the wisdom she shared over muffins and coffee, teaching together and speaking together for all the feminist-rejecting kudos in the world.

Anyway, I’m delighted that the conversation is front-and-center again.  And I hope it will allow young women to talk about their careers with more senior ones and feel good about it.  In a part of They Don’t Get It, Do They (which I plan to put in e-book format),  I wrote about young women being in the “cute-and-little” stage at work.  That stage is rarely threatening.  People want to help you.  But cute-and-little people mature and if they aren’t prepared for the stages that come later, they’re in for a shock.  No one stays cute-and-little.  Eventually, you become a threat to someone because not everyone can be promoted.  It’s good to be ready.

So, I’ve decided to share my acquired wisdom in tutorial form, having written and taught about issues holding women back from leadership at work.  I worked and studied alongside Warren Bennis at the USC Leadership Institute where we taught leadership to promising graduate students in a variety of fields.

It’s important to know how to deal with obstacles that are self-imposed and those that aren’t, such as discrimination or simply having a boss who means well but  doesn’t see how he or she is part of the problem of low female advancement in the workplace.

So, here goes some advice in tutorials.  It’s generated by discussions around Lean In, revisiting my  own experiences, studies and writing as well as those of other writers and scholars.

Tutorial 1:  Are women not sufficiently asserting themselves at work?

As the data Sandberg cites indicate, many women are not doing so.  Holding back from leadership and taking other routes has been happening for a long time.  In response to the 1993 HBR memo case, author and entrepreneur expert Joline Godfrey wrote:  “Of a certain age and self-awareness, women who are weary of trying to adapt to environments in which they are not welcome are leaving to create companies that fit them.  The woman who feels strongly enough to write a memo (to the CEO) is in the process of breaking with an unfriendly culture.  Whether she sends it or not is unimportant– the process of alienation has begun.  And if she chooses not to spend another calorie of energy teaching lessons that companies have had over two decades to learn — and are in their own best interests — that’s her prerogative.”

So, the frustration was high even in 1993.  The thing is that the situation is not much better today.

What wisdom would I share on this?  It is not enough to be really good at what you do.  It’s critical but not sufficient to getting ahead.  If you are going to “lean in,” you need to do so with your eyes and ears open.  It’s important to know what matters where you work, how people who get ahead talk about their successes, what tasks to take on and how to make sure people notice your work.  It’s also important to know how to ask for what you deserve.

There is research dating some twenty years back about female boasting.  It was then and is now considered unappealing.  Men, in general, are more comfortable and often more competent at boasting than women — especially those who make it to the top of large organizations.  Women are socialized to avoid boasting.  I interviewed a female judge who told me that women lawyers win cases and head back to their offices to start the next one.  She observed that men were far more likely to tell others about their successes.  The women assumed the word would simply get out to others.  That’s usually a faulty assumption.

This does not mean you should go into work tomorrow and start telling everyone how great you are.  It does mean that if you haven’t been getting your deserved share of praise and promotions, you need to do some homework.  It’s time to begin watching how men let their accomplishments be known.  Get some advice on this from a trusted mentor.  Don’t think of it as “boasting,” but as celebrating with your colleagues a job well done.

Do people use e-mail at your workplace to share success stories?  Does it happen over lunch?  Do colleagues boast for others?  Let’s call this gift bragging.  It happens a lot in business.  Do you have someone who could occasionally give you such a gift and you one to him or her?  The very idea of people agreeing to say good things about each other may make you cringe.  But it may be how people get noticed where you work.

Find out how people gain respect.  Is it something women do well too?  Are you in a demure URP (unwanted repetitive episode)?  If so, it’s time to do things a little differently — to tweak your dysfunctional pattern.  Consider saying, “Something great happened today, and I want to share it with you.”  What’s wrong with that?  There’s a window of time not long after “something great” has happened when telling people about it is just fine.  Give it a try next time.

Make sure you choose your audience wisely.  Not everyone needs to learn of your accomplishments.  Who does?  And how can you be sure they do?  Which ones warrant attention as you don’t want to be telling anyone about everything you do well.

These are just a few thoughts.  More to come.  And there’s more in The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics about this subject.

As I said, I’m just beginning to read what Sandberg has written.  The book provides a useful springboard for discussion about letting others know what you do well.  She isn’t advising everyone.  And neither am I.  But if you want some advice about becoming a leader, this blog is meant to help.  I hope it does.  And I’ll be back with tutorial 2 soon.

Kathleen

 

 

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