I Can’t to I Can – 3 Actions to take control of Your career

I’ve been working with a number of women clients who’ve achieved considerable success in their careers. Most want to take control of their career. Yet, these women are still thinking and behaving with a mindset similar to the one I had in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

It’s the “I can’t” attitude.

Let me explain.

Prospects for women, especially in business and the workplace are still far from being on par with men. Yes we’ve made significant gains in the past 100 years. But it hasn’t been a consistent upward trajectory. It’s been more like moments of truth along the way.

Arguably the most impactful “moment” occurred in the late 60’s early 70’s highlighted by 50,000 women marching in New York City demanding legal abortion, universal childcare, and equal pay. While these demands haven’t been met in most parts of the Western World, awareness and tireless activism by many has resulted in greater parity. But not full equality.

We’re nearing the 2020’s and once again we’re in a “moment”. #MeToo has risen to directly take on sexual harassment in the workplace. This is busting open the glass ceiling for a better view of women in power, or rather of not enough women in power, and the slippery path it takes to get there.

I don’t subscribe to the “us versus them” approach to change. Instead, the time has come for women to exercise our rights and ambitions.

What if we shift our narrative from I can’t to I can? We can start by individually doing 3 simple actions relating to the most common complaints or mindsets I hear from clients:

  1. Let go of “if I just work harder” as your measure for success

  2. Create your tribe

  3. Ask for what you want

As a leader in a large organization I took great pride in knowing I was a high producer. When stress kicked in I latched on to the idea that if I just worked harder I would be more successful and more likely to get promoted?

I was wrong. Working that hard eventually wore me down. Long hours aren’t the elixir for success and happiness. Buying into the “if I just work harder” is counter productive.

In Hive’s recent State of the Workplace Report, they note that women produce 10% more work than men. What’s more, they’re given 55% of all work, compared to 45% assigned to men.

The real question is, “working harder at what?” How meaningful is that additional work? When assigned a task, women ought to consider whether the task is promotable or non-promotable (beneficial to the organization, but doesn’t contribute to career advancement). If there’s a pattern of being asked to take on non-promotable tasks, it’s time to say no and rethink your measure of success.

The second shift comes by consciously surrounding yourself with and holding up other women leaders. Whether they’re in your own company or industry, so much can be gained from sharing ideas, talking through challenges and celebrating successes.

I’ve heard clients complain they simply don’t have access to critical business information – the kind shared on the golf course. Little desire or time to spend on male preferred social activities results in less opportunities to build relationships that lead to inside information and connections that can give them an edge.

There’s lots of ways to build your tribe. Start by hosting a breakfast or lunch with the intention of inviting women to support women. Organizations like Lean In offer local circle groups where women talk openly about their ambitions and encourage each other to take on new challenges. Join an established network like WXN or industry-focused networks like WNET or WIA.

Finally, and perhaps the most important shift you can make is to ASK. This sounds really simple. But according to several studies, women are less likely to negotiate their salary and benefits.

Knowing it’s your responsibility to understand what you can ask for, and asserting yourself is key to negotiation.

Companies expect you’ll negotiate your salary and benefits. Depending on your position and industry, here are some additional benefits to ask for:

  • Vacation time
  • Health benefits and wellness program
  • Flexibility in work schedule and location
  • Tuition reimbursement and professional dues
  • Conference attendance at the organization’s expense
  • Stock options
  • Your job title
  • Your reporting relationships
  • One-time signing bonus
  • An executive coach to support on-boarding

The more you’re prepared to negotiate, the more likely you’ll be confident in asking for what you believe you’re worth when the time comes. Think of it this way, you’ll be doing the right thing for you and creating a better culture for all women.

Let’s use the current “moment” to confidently step forward and take action to match what we believe, need, want and deserve. The moment of “we can” is here.

 

 

When your why shifts

Lately I’ve had a spate of clients who struggle with understanding why their current position isn’t satisfying them anymore. They know something isn’t right but are caught in the “can’t see the forest for the trees”. They may even know something needs to change but through fear, stress or loyalty, they are stuck.

I know the feeling – I’ve been there. I never aspired to work in the public sector, but there I found myself. We had two young children and my husband starting his own business. Pension, benefits and a regular paycheck were my WHY.

It worked brilliantly for a long time – until it didn’t. This didn’t happen overnight. As my children got older I started to question my values and aspirations. My values weren’t lining up with the company’s culture.

In retrospect I can see that my original WHY was no longer working for me. But at the time I was caught up with the stress, the loyalty and no idea for my future.

My story isn’t unique. What I’ve learned is that as we move through life, our context changes and for many of us, we don’t recognize the need to change with it. Simply put, as we change, so too might our WHY.

Let’s take a closer look at what your WHY really means.

Basically your WHY is your motivation. It’s your purpose. For many of us it can be strongly influenced by our external context at a point in time.

I researched articles and studies on how motivation (your WHY) impacts your work and job choices. I’m intrigued by the work of Lisa A. Mainiero and Sherry E. Sullivan, whose research focused on a five-year study examining women and men’s career patterns. Their term Kaleidoscope Career describes:

“…a career created on your own terms, defined not by a corporation but by your own values, life choices, and parameters. Like a kaleidoscope, your career is dynamic and in motion; as your life changes, you can alter your career to adjust to these changes.”

Their work found that a complex interplay among issues of authenticity, balance, and challenge are behind why we shift careers through our life course. It’s about taking stock of career decisions and making changes to meet:

1. An individual’s needs for challenge, career advancement, and self-worth juxtaposed against
2. A family’s need for balance, relationships, and caregiving, intersected by
the person’s need to say,
3. “What about me?” “How can I be authentic, true to myself and make genuine decisions for myself in my life?”

While Mainiero and Sullivan found subtle differences between how men and women approached their career shifts, ultimately it’s the shifting context of their lives that impacts their need to change course.

So what does this mean for your career? And even more important – what does it mean for YOU?

If you’re like many of my clients who come to me disenchanted with their current work, it’s time to assess what’s beneath this feeling. It takes a bit of inner work and reflection, coupled with honestly assessing your current life context.

Here are steps to help you discover what exactly is going on and how to move forward:

1. Get clear on how you’re feeling and behaving – are you irritable, bored, stuck or blaming your discomfort on your workplace? These are key signs something’s up.
2. Make a list of your top 10 values. Ask yourself if these align with your work and your workplace. A strong misalignment is a sure sign it’s time to move on.
3. Reflect back on why you started on this career or took your current position. What were your reasons?
4. Consider what’s different in your current life stage and context?

With this data, you can look at your situation from the outside in. Has your original motivation for career or job choice become stale? Is your passion to excel and deliver still ignited?

Next is the critical question – what exactly is your WHY now?

If it’s the same reason it’s always been, then great. This may mean it’s time to shift companies or reach forward to a new level.

But if your WHY has shifted, it’s time to make a plan toward aligning your WHY with a career change. I can’t tell you what that would be. It’s yours to discover. What I can do is suggest next steps.

Google has pages of blogs, how-to’s and articles on mid career changes. I’d highly recommend working with a career coach. They have tools and roadmaps to help you uncover potential opportunities and plan next steps. Talk with family to understand how this will impact your status quo (i.e. financial, location, time etc.) will help solidify your plan.

We’ve all heard the saying, “you only live once”. But that one life shifts and changes over time. What worked well in our twenties and thirties won’t necessarily fulfill us in our late forties and fifties. Being aware of your WHY and assessing that against your current reality means taking responsibility for you, your career and your future. If this article describes you, it’s time to discover your next chapter!

This I do know for sure.

What marketing, managers and mentors have in common

It’s that time of year again. The pressure’s on to buy buy and buy more. On the heels of Black Friday (whoever came up with that name was cheekily brilliant), we now have Cyber Week! Everywhere we look there’s some corporate giant waiting to pounce on our wallets.

This mass media marketing is, of course, designed to make us think we must have that new electronic, or fancy pair of shoes. But do we really need it?

The same thing happens in our careers. We’re told we must develop our leadership competencies so we can climb that ladder that beckons us to the top. Managers tell us we must directly supervise employees to become a Director. And the message is, everyone must aim to be a leader. 

If you’re an entrepreneur you’re hearing so many “must” do’s to earn multiple figures or market to our target niche. Business mentors are ripe with recipes for that one path to success.

Like the pre-Christmas mass marketing that dupes us into thinking we must have the toys, gadgets and latest of the latest, so do the manager, mentors, leadership books and business publications demand we need to be and act a certain way.

But are they right? Or are they really telling us how to reach their goals and their vision of success?

I’ve recently had the privilege of coaching a large number of rising stars in a sizeable organization. Their managers tapped them on the shoulder to attend an intensive leadership program. While some of them truly do have the goal of making it up the ladder, others are confused and feeling pressured.

What I find most interesting is when we peel the layers off their onion we find that their own career goals are in contrast to what they believe they’re “supposed” to do as defined by their manager, organization or business mentor.

This is when the confusion sets in. Questions invariably come up:

  • Will the company still value me if I don’t want to move up?
  • Will I be passed over for interesting projects?
  • How will my colleagues view me?
  • What value do I bring to the company?

If you own your business, your questions are likely:

  • Why do I have to follow what everyone else is doing?
  • Will I be a failure if I don’t make 6+ figures?
  • Why does my sales funnel have to look like B-School’s?

These are natural responses and reactions. But what if I asked you, “What’s your definition of your purpose and the legacy you want to share with your organization or business?”

That changes everything!

I know this may seem obvious, but it bares saying: it’s unlikely you’ll ever be happy following what others do or what they expect you to do.

So now what?

While having a coach guide you forward is an asset in gaining clarity and perspective, you can start by tossing aside the previous questions and focus on uncovering your true goals and a path to achieving them. Start by asking yourself:

  • Who is responsible for my career?
  • How important is my work/life balance?
  • Am I passionate about the work I do?
  • Do I like being an expert in my field?
  • Do I crave greater responsibility for and interest in leading others or the bigger picture?
  • Is financial achievement my primary motivation?
  • Am I open to moving laterally versus up, in the organization?
  • Do I actually care what others think of my career direction and me?

The next step is getting clear on your beliefs. Try writing down 5 beliefs you hold regarding work and career. Compare these with your answers to the questions above. Do they align or are there disconnects? These disconnects are critical holes that need your attention; this is the vacancy between what you believe and what you desire. The idea here is to go into this space and honestly ask yourself which is your truth – your so-called belief or your so-called answers to the questions.

Please know there is no right or wrong answer. You’re entitled to your own career goals and a path to reach them. You’re also entitled to question your beliefs.

There are no musts or rigid rules in your career – only your ability to discover what is right for you. Like the catalogue full of enticing trinkets guaranteed to bring you joy and happiness, so too are your managers’ or mentors’ expectations for you – illusions painted by someone else.

The bottom line is – you get to decide. You actually need to decide. Getting clear and forging your true path is no doubt the most important career development step you can take.