Professional Development Tips for Women Executives

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According to a January 2010 article in The Economist, “Women now make up almost half of American workers (49.9% in October). They run some of the world's best companies, such as PepsiCo, Archer Daniels Midland and W.L. Gore.

They earn almost 60% of university degrees in America and Europe.” lies that limit – those self-imposed barriers - and be true to themselves while claiming their place in a world historically dominated by men.

I invite women – and men who are confident enough to join them – to benefit from the softer side of communicating with confidence, collaborating continuously and coaching consciously. In honor of Women’s History Month, I offer women in business a roadmap to success that doesn’t require that they resort to traditional male behaviors and tendencies.

My transformational approach to executive coaching has been proven to help women break through self-imposed barriers that hinder their professional growth and personal satisfaction. Getting in the door is just one step on the road to success and satisfaction; it’s far from the end of the journey. Dealing with adversity without sacrificing one’s feminine nature is a very important part of development for women executives.

Business Week’s article “How Women Leaders Find Success and Happiness” points out that, “Much psychological research underscores that women tend to experience emotions more at the extreme than men do, with the result that adversity can lead to feelings of failure.

But it's possible to stop that emotional downward spiral consciously and address whatever the problem really is.” (Business Week Special Report: Oct 23, 2009) What follows are several action steps designed to help women get beyond Communicate with Confidence. Don’t be afraid of vulnerability and openness.

• Listen more than you talk. This takes a fair amount of self-discipline for most of us. If you do, you’ll learn a lot about what others are really thinking and feeling. You’ll gain insight into their mindset, feelings and beliefs that may give you what you need to position your ideas and projects effectively. You’ll be able to develop a winning strategy and overcome their objections.

• Speak truthfully without blaming anyone or making them wrong. Use phrases like, ‘Based on --- and ---, I think…” “I feel strongly about this because…” “Our current plan concerns me because…” Ask questions like, “What are you basing your judgment on? What did you consider?” Realize that what you’re thinking and saying is YOUR truth, and what the other is offering is HIS or HER truth. Neither is wrong, even when you differ. What you may find is that you are looking at different information, or interpreting the same information differently.

• When you feel attacked, dismissed, overlooked, or unheard, don’t take it personally. Taking it personally means you’re emotionally entangled. When emotions lead the way, most often, you’re victimizing yourself based on someone else’s behavior. Feeling like a victim – “they did it to me” – gives away your power. You place the other person in control of your feelings and reaction to a situation that you should control.

• If you’re hurt, cry later. Crying is good; it’s cleansing. But in the heat of the moment, take three deep breaths, tell yourself NOT to take it personally, and get right back to the issue at hand. Collaborate Continuously. Forget competing to win in the moment.

• Make partnership the hallmark of all you do. Partnership is a commitment to the success of all involved. Collaboration is working together to create effective processes and outcomes.

• Many times, important groups and individuals are overlooked as we plan and implement initiatives. When you work on a project, consciously ask: Who are all of our partners and stakeholders? Who else would like to be aware of what we’re doing?

• Force yourself to share your idea with those who would like to know and would be affected – even when you would rather not. Share your early thinking and allow input from your partners and key stakeholders to play a defining role in the final product. As much as you want to see yourself represented in the outcome, so do they.

• Ask the “quiet ones” what their thoughts and feelings are. Some people, no matter their age or seniority, need to be invited into conversation. Just ask, “John, you’ve been quiet for a while. I see the wheels turning, what are you thinking? I’m interested.”

• When partnering with others, openly discuss your individual goals and desires. Look for shared interests and the connections between your ultimate aims. Coach Consciously. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or offer help.

• Just as you can and should be coached, you can coach others – people in job levels below yours, peers, your boss and senior leaders. Tell them what you find helpful. Tell them what you appreciate and ask them if they’d be willing to help you by doing more of it more often. Respectfully, and without complaining, share your thoughts on what you think would benefit the business or your customers. Let it be clear that you are solutions-oriented.

• Coach to be helpful, never critical or punitive. If you’re tempted to criticize, don’t speak. Get a drink of water, instead. Leave the room. Write your critical comment down to get it out of your head. Do whatever you need to do to NOT speak the negative. Anyone can be critical. That’s easy. Offer your comments when you can say what’s on your mind without being critical. It takes emotional intelligence and a caring heart to communicate your message and have it maintain its potency and value. Handling the situation in a respectful way will lead to a better outcome for all.

• Don’t expect your boss to know how to coach and develop you. Help him or her. Coach them on how to coach you. Say things like, “It’s helpful to me when you…” “I appreciated when you… I would like it if you would do that more often. Are you willing to do that for me?”

• You can ask for coaching from anyone. Simply say, “I’m struggling with…” “I know… I need help with …” “Would you be willing to give me a couple of tips on how you…?”

In response, express your genuine appreciation, then and there, even if you don’t agree with what they suggested. If appropriate, follow-up with a thank you note. Many women will recognize these steps as ones they take to maintain harmony at home. In many ways leading is a lot like parenting – you’re supporting and nurturing the growth and development of individuals and a system.

And most importantly, these skills are more aligned with the way women naturally govern their lives, but they are also valuable workplace tools that will not compromise credibility. For questions or additional information, please contact: Pam Thomas at: Kyle Ruffin at:

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