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Road Blocks Faced by Women to Advance their Careers

September 12, 2010

By Jo Miller

People will often ask me what I think is the greatest roadblock faced by women who want to advance their careers. Here’s how I like to answer:

The Emerging Leader’s Quandary: when you can’t get a higher-level job without leadership experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job.

“I feel like I am the best-kept secret in my organization”, a software engineer once said to me. She had leadership potential that was greater than her management saw in her.

Does this situation resonate for you? To be more specific, do you count yourself among the women who have:

…developed a great reputation as a hard worker who delivers, but wonder why that is not translating into career advancement.

…watched a job opening get snapped up by a colleague–a job you know you could succeed in, if you were just given the chance?

…felt you would be capable of proving yourself as a manager or leader if you could just be given the opportunity to take on more responsibility?

…had your leadership potential go unseen and underutilized by your management?

In short, are you the best-kept secret in your organization? You may have come up against that greatest career roadblock, the Emerging Leader’s Quandary.

To blast through this barrier, you’ll need to find ways to break out of the pack, differentiate yourself as an up-and-coming leader, and demonstrate your leadership skills… but the big catch is you must do it while performing the job you are in today—not the job you would prefer to be doing.

There are times when being a star performer can hold you back from going to your next level as a technical leader or people leader. There are certain behaviors you should let go of, and some new skills to add your leadership tool kit in order to make the leap from being a perceived as a ‘doer’ to being considered a leader. Here are some strategies to consider.

Be a Change Agent
Change agents strive for continuous improvement. They turn business problems into wins, and turn “good enough” into great. Look for areas in the business that would benefit from improvement and when you identify one, approach your management with a persuasive proposal. While you’re pitching your proposal, don’t forget to pitch yourself as the ideal person to lead the initiative.

Learn to Managing Others, With or Without Direct Authority
A leader is someone who makes a greater difference than one person can make alone, and this does not require the authority of a leadership job title. If you don’t know how to do this, take on a lead role on a project at work or in your life outside work that forces you to quickly learn how to motivate, engage and inspire individuals and teams who do not report directly to you. This is the most valuable leadership skill you will ever learn.

Lead Your Leaders: Manage Upward
Success in any role begins with understanding your leaders and their goals. Check in with them frequently to ask about their most important goals and greatest challenges. Aim to understand what motivates them. Once you understand what’s important to your management, use those factors to communicate persuasively with them and negotiate your own success.

Take Purposeful Risks
As rewarding as it is to lead and make a difference, there can be big risks, challenges and responsibilities. You can’t afford to not take risks in business and in your career, but you’ll be most successful when those risks support the goals of your leaders and the business you are in. Observe who is taking risks in your organization, and notice what risks the organizational culture supports and rewards. Run ideas for risk-taking by your mentors, because they got to where they are today by taking risks, messing up, recovering and learning.

In these ways, you can demonstrate your leadership potential, regardless of the job you are in today. The alternative is to spend the next year developing a really great reputation as a hard worker who delivers, then wonder why that is not translating into career advancement. (I’m willing to bet that more than one person reading this article has spent the last twelve months doing just that.)
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Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc, and helps women create a roadmap into positions of leadership and influence in business. Visit Women’s Leadership Coaching to learn about workshops, webinars, and coaching programs.

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