Women leaders, we may be over rowing our boats.
As Linkage’s Susan MacKenty Brady writes in Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement, out November 23 from McGraw-Hill Education, women take on a lot–professionally, personally, and emotionally–and we constantly strive to maximize every second of our waking hours.
But, the real question is: How can we stop doing so much, still prove our value–and ultimately, achieve our goals?
Dive into Hurdle #3, Proving Your Value, in the following excerpt. Leave a comment to let us know what resonates with you and pre-order your copy of the book now.
As I speak to and work with individual women, groups of women leaders, and those around them, what I hear most often is how busy we women are. I have yet to come across a woman who is driven to achieve and not feeling a tad (or extremely) overwhelmed about the volume of things she is managing in her life. They include, but are not limited to: planning, leading, and recapping meetings; business-as-usual duties and net-new initiatives toward the big corp. picture; updating social media (which sometimes leads to more contacts, more commitments); working out or at least engaging in some level of movement with their bodies because they’ve been at a desk or dinner table all day, all night; and all the tasks involved in being a great (rather than just breathing) boss, partner, mother, family member, friend, and/or pet caretaker. Anything I missed? Maybe fun? Sun?
This hurdle is, at the core, about how and on what we are spending our time. This hurdle is about asking ourselves daily if what we are doing and if the volume of energy we are expending is truly in our best service and the best service of those around us. Research led by University of California, Berkeley and INSEAD professor, Morten T. Hansen, reveals that doing less (or “mastering selectivity” as he calls it) is essentially the ticket to getting ahead. He wrote about this phenomenon in his latest book: Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.
The analogy I use when speaking about this hurdle is rowing a boat.
Picture this: You, awesome woman, are alone in your (smallish) boat. You have oars to row with to keep you going. The exuberance of rowing your own boat may have started in your formative years, like in high school. You manage your academics, your extracurricular activities, your friends, and your family. You are rewarded for this elegant and powerful rowing, and graduate to college where you fine-tune the art of rowing your boat. In these early years of life, you even pull the boat over once in a while, get out, stretch, and play between long “shifts” of rowing. Or maybe you have friends who are rowing their own boats alongside you, and the feeling of being together and having a unified group and purpose (be that to study for a test or lead a campus effort) is exhilarating. You have evidence of the fruit of your labor and effort since you get more opportunities!
As your life becomes more complex with a professional job, more expectations in your relationships and perhaps motherhood or other home responsibilities, you are required to row harder and faster. You personally take on the “weight” of more and more projects, tasks, people management, and/or home responsibilities. If you don’t row harder and faster, your boat may sink. You are rewarded for your performance and given your first promotion. And then your second promotion. And then the time comes when you can’t imagine taking on another thing. You have maximized every second of your waking hours. It is right about this time when we see a massive drop-off of women advancing into higher levels of leadership. I used to refer to this as the “cliff.”
Now, thanks to former chairman of Walt Disney International, Andy Bird, whom I had the pleasure of working with on International Women’s Day in 2018, I call this moment of massive decline of women rising the “waterfall.” It was Andy that said to me, “Susan, if women are doing all this fast rowing and there is a ‘drop-off,’ perhaps it isn’t a cliff; it’s a waterfall?”
Could it be that right at that moment of potential advancement into increased levels of leadership responsibility and scope, women are exhausted?
That we can’t fathom more hard, fast rowing? Could it be that when we look at the reality of the next big job, that what we really see, and implicitly reject, is a life of more hard, fast rowing? All the while, the people we love in our lives are giving us the “gift of feedback” that they are worried we are doing too much and not taking care of ourselves? All we know is what we have done to get us where we have arrived thus far in our life: more effort, more time, more personal oversight and time spent = our proven value.
Could it also be that the impact of our “I’ll just take it all on myself” mentality (and thus, tsunami-size wave creation) has turned off those who are in positions to help us advance?
Combine the effort we have made at home and at work with a known bias, commonly referred to as “Performance Evaluation Bias” and you have the perfect storm. Performance Evaluation Bias refers to the following: Men tend to be evaluated more on their potential and women more on their achievements to date. To this, please join my fatigued yet intact Inner Critic while she stages an utter revolt: “Are you freaking kidding me? So, Professor Hanson, I would LOVE to ‘master selectivity,’ but it seems that the world wants to see me do more, achieve more, perform more, to essentially row hard and row fast.”
PAUSE. Tell your Inner Critic to please be seated. BREATHE. Cue curiosity. But wait. Maybe, just maybe, there is a way I can advance into greater leadership impact, and not do it all myself? Why else might I be doing too much? What can I change for myself so that I can run over this hurdle?
What is fascinating to me, and hopefully instructive for us all, is why we find ourselves going, going, going— doing, doing, doing—over-rowing the proverbial boat, and what can we do about it?
The truth, I have come to believe, stems from our desire to express our value, or said another way, prove our value.
Oh, and we like feeling in control, we like the feeling of a job well-done, we like it when it all works as it should, we like when things are done OUR way. This requires our oversight, management, and personal rowing effort. We like saying, “I got this. You can count on me.” We like helping others. We like feeling valued and of value.
Marshall Goldsmith, in his international bestseller, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, has made a book title the most powerful coaching concept of all time, especially for women. We women need to fundamentally re-think what we are doing, how much we are doing, and ultimately how hard we are rowing at home and at work if we want to advance professionally. What got us here (eager, often perfectly timed and expertly executed rowing) won’t get us there. Not only are we exhausted, we are unintentionally alienating those around us with the waves made by our too-fast rowing, and/ or we are too busy doing it all to see how much willing and eager help we could tap into to help us.
Before I go on to the impact this over-rowing has on those around us, let me reiterate that the discovery of the hurdle of Proving Your Value (like all of the hidden hurdles) is not an opportunity for us to blame or shame ourselves or others. In our home lives and at work, we are supported, affirmed, given public accolades, and sometimes expected to go the extra mile. We women are good at all of this, aren’t we? We have been rewarded for this behavior; we have come to—at some level—enjoy the level of importance we feel from being so…valuable. Until, that is, we find ourselves confronted with the reality that this hurdle may be hidden for us, but it is obvious to others.
Looking for more from Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement, out November 23 from McGraw-Hill Education? Check out another excerpt from Susan MacKenty Brady on bias and how we can let go of beliefs that no longer serve us.