Friday, 28 August 2015

Why Self-Doubt In Professional Women Is A Factor Of Organisational Culture

I found myself agreeing with just about everything Peggy Drexler, Forbes Contributor, says in her article about women, competence and confidence.

Peggy cites several studies including a 2014 one from Bain & Company and a 2015 study from KPMG and makes a series of very relevant points which totally resonate with me:
  • Female employees now make up half the workforce, and the impact they’re having on that workforce is significant.
  • Women at work are more capable than ever before.
  • Women need more than competence to succeed long term...they need confidence!
  • Women start out wanting the top job but by mid-career their confidence starts to decrease, they begin to think they are not equipped with th right skills, they can't do the job, others are better prepared and suited.
  • Ultimately, women do not help themselves as well as not being helped by inherent biases, gender pay gap and other structural reasons. 
  • In brief, women's self-doubt is a 'real reason that women aren’t getting ahead and staying there.'  
According to Peggy, studies have demonstrated that self-doubt is often the product of girls' upbringing, what they are praised for, the qualities that are mostly valued in girls, such as being quiet, modest, meek...if it sounds old-fashion to you, well it absolutely is, but still it's very true. It is also what Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook refers to when she says that little girls may be called 'bossy' whereas little boys are praised for their leadership qualities. The impact of this can be huge later on and particularly in work related circumstances, where being meek, modest and quiet takes you absolutely nowhere. Bain & Company's study also shows that the traits people identify as most likely to bring promotion and success in work are the ones normally displayed by men, for example boasting about your successes, developing and using strong networks effectively and putting in really long hours. These traits are quite opposed to the one generally present in women, such as nurturing younger colleagues, praising colleagues and being open about family needs. The report goes on to say  that in this context front line managers are really important to women as they become their first touch point, their windows to senior management. 

However, it seems to me that front line managers can only help to some extent. Because here what we are talking about is a conflict between what is being written and preached about by management gurus around collaborative organisations and authentic leadership, and what companies actually do and practice internally and their organisational culture. Women's self doubt is perpetuated by the fact that the professional working environment still praises to a great extent 'passe' qualities and practices. Even the most enlightened front line manager can only have so much impact on that! 

It is important that women acquire skills that matter in the workplace if they lack them, be it networking or critical thinking. But it is also critical that women build their strength and confidence on the understanding that their competence, jointly with their leadership traits will be not only useful but actually sought after by their companies. If that does not happen women will try and fail and doubt themselves even more. But in my view, unless there are enough women at the top available to listen and capable of influencing, that will not be possible. So we are back to square one, to the need of role models, mentors, sponsors, men who won't just recruit on a same- same basis and women who will open up the flood gate for other women. Somehow I cannot see it happening just like that, as I have been talking about the topic for almost 15 years and relevant management literature is older than that. So that is why the idea of introducing quotas should not be totally discarded. But what do you think? Please email me your thought or leave a comment below, thank you! 

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS 3 Reasons Why We Can Achieve Self Confidence Through Self Awareness

Confident people display a number of traits that help them appear effortless, never mind the sitation they are in. Confidence - or better a lack of it - is also cited by women as a key factor hindering their professional career and their overall ability to maximise their talent and potential.

Confidence is more than just the way we communicate or look. It totally permeates the way we are and it is reflected in everything we do and say, thus it impacts our management style, our leadership traits and our team playing skills, to mention but a few professional areas. 

In my experience one of the most important elements of self confidence is self awareness.  

Self Awareness is the ability to step back from and take a good look at ourselves in relation to our environmental, physical and mental worlds.  It is the ability to accept ourselves as a unique, changing, imperfect but developing  individuals.  It’s the ability to recognize our potential as well as our limitations.  Without self awareness we are unable to clearly and pragmatically identify what is good or excellent about ourselves, but also what needs improvement and working on.  Because self awareness is self honesty, it enables us to see ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses clearly.  Through self awareness we understand what we can offer and we can also recognise that time and effort will be necessary to achieve our highest goals.  In so doing, we eliminate unrealistic expectations about ourselves, that can lead to frustration and a loss of self confidence, but we also ensure we positively highlight what we do well and what plays to our strengths. In summary, by increasing our self awareness we also increase our chances to succeed at what we do best while minimising gaps and weak areas.     

In order to build our self awareness we can apply and regularly use the following three tools. They are not particularly new or 'revolutionary'...but I know they work and, as with most things, change is achieved not by way of a big-bang revolution but a step-by-step evolution! 

Self Awareness Tool # 1 - Limiting Belief

Many of us have beliefs that inhibit our potential, limiting the choices we make in life.
Limiting beliefs may stem from our background, culture, things we were told as we were growing up. The biggest problem is that Limiting Beliefs push us below our potential, thus those who succeed personally and professionally go through a process of identifing and eliminating limiting beliefs.  Ask your self:

  • Why do I believe this about myself?
  • Which evidence have I got to support this belief?
  • What is this belief stopping me from doing?
Think through the answers and see if you can find the origin of your belief and whether there is any proof you should continue to support it as true. If there is not a proof, 'bin' the belief! If you want further reassurance or discussion, you can also ask for feedback from those who are closer to you, your colleagues, your friends or your mentor!.

Self Awareness Tool #2 - Personal Swot

SWOT is a business tool normally associated with a company or a product.
But actually a personal swot analysis can be a very helpful tool to get to understand ourselves better. Take some time to identify your personal SWOT and to ask your self the following questions:
  • Which strengths do I have? These can cover personal and professional life, traits and behaviours.
  • Which areas of weaknesses do I need to recognise?
  • What potentially negative could happen if I did not address my weaknesses or if I misused my strengths (threats) ?
  • What great things could on the other hand happen if I used my strengths to the full or addressed my weaknesses constructively?
Once again it may be helpful to ask a friend, a colleague and /or a family member to discuss the SWOT and provide feedback.

Self Awareness Tool #3 - Self Sabotage
Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with achieveing our goals. Self sabotaging behaviour may include procrastination, anger and stress, very common ways to disrupt our life plans!

If we recognise any of these behaviours we must give ourselves the time to understand what is it that encourages this in ourselves and how we can best address it. If we also understand what we may gain from addressing self-sabotage we are more likely to find the motivation to eliminate it.

As mentioned above, none of these tools will revolutionise our life, but applied consistently they will undoubtedly foster and evolve our self awareness and self reflection.  In time this will help us see ourselves for who we really are and , in turn, encourage a positive and confident mindset! 

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why I Welcome An Unexpected Delay

I am sitting at the Eurotunnel terminal, French side, supposingly waiting for my channel tunnel train to turn up. The authority have just announced a series of the 1520 train has not turned up, the one after has not turned up and who knows which train will eventually lead us to the other side. And at what time!?

Having desperately tried to find out what is going on and being none the wiser, I decide to sit on a chair and - as my 9 year old just put it  - 'sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!'.

The truth is I cannot help but feeling annoyed at the delay, at the lack of information and at what will inevitably turn out to be a very late home arrival. On the other hand, I tell myself that doing what my son suggested seems kind of wise!  Most days, I wish I could have a middle of the day, unplanned break to do just this...sit back, think, read, write my why not maximising the opportunity now?!

I tell myself that I am lucky to be able to do this and really, this is my chance to catch up with emails, articles and the likes. I talk so much about the value of 'mindfulness' and then miss the opportunity to enjoy it at the first occasion!

So I am now going to grab a coffee, open those leadership articles I had kept for the usually unattainable 'quiet time' and do one thing...cherish the long delay as a unique opportunity to enjoy a special 'me' time. Long live travel disruptions! 

Friday, 14 August 2015

We Can Always Learn From Younger People

This week the world celebrated #YouthDay2015. I wrote a guest blog for Youth Career Council, an organisation devoted to providing employment opportunity to disadvantaged youth. The guest blog really got me thinking about giving back to young people via mentoring, but also about the importance of learning and keeping open minded about who we learn from. Too often we underestimate what young people have to offer, especially in the workplace, and believe that older members of the community have all the knowledge required. This is so wrong! 

For example in my work as mentor I continue to enjoy the benefits of win win relationships, in which younger adults share their own skills and knowledge with me. This is often known as 'reverse mentoring' but actually it should be seen as a natural component of a mentoring relationship. Lately I have been mentored by a young lady who has opened up the world of blogging and social media with me. She knows far more then I do and I must say, without her precious support and advice I probably would have kept on delaying my blog which is now successfully in its 8th month. 

Reverse mentoring is being used by companies as large and prestigious as IBM to foster relationship across every age and ensure that senior executives remain 'in tune' and engaged with younger recruits. The point is that we all have something to share with others and we can all learn from each other if we remain open minded and willing to overcome age barriers.

Likewise as a young professional starting out in business I enjoyed the mentoring of some great people, first and foremost my very first boss at the World Travel and Tourism Council. I did not know it was mentoring at the time, but he believed in me and challenged me to take on bigger projects, greater chances. As I result In my twenties I had the chance experienced things I never thought I would ever be able to accomplish and went on to enjoy even greater professional and personal opportunities.

Twenty years later, I am now in the position to mentor younger people and particularly women so that they can also learn from my experiences and move on to create even better opportunities for themselves.

So whether you are a younger or more experienced member of the community and/or your workplace environment my advice is not only to find yourself a mentor but to actually always think about your strengths and seize the opportunity to 'put them to the service' of other people, peers or otherwise!, because we can always learn from each other.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS 3 Reasons Why #Attentiveness Matters To Leaders

In a previous blog I spoke about the 5A's of Leadership. I want to pick up on one of these in particular for today's #TuesdayTRIOS as this is an area of great importance in my view but which is not always given the profile it deserves. I am talking about Attentiveness.

So what has #Attentiveness got to do with #Leadership and why would you want to ensure that it is a quality nurtured in up and coming generations?

Reason #1 Attentiveness is thoughtfulness, kindness and politeness. 

When you are attentive to others you act like an attentive host, who takes care of his/her guests, ensuring their requirements are satified while in his/her care. Equally, an attentive leader takes care of his/her community, staff and people in general, caring for their well being and nurturing their needs. 
This kindness and thoughtfulness will extend not only to the leader's closest team but by extension to the 'broader' family. Furthermore the leader will apply similar criteria to things such as the surrounding natural and social environment and will be able to capitalise on his/ her ability to understand and appreciate signs of happiness or discontent to anticipate change.

Reason#2 Attentiveness requires emotional intelligence

If the leader has to care for his/ her social and natural environment he/she must firstly be an emotionally intelligent leader, thus capable of empathising, communicating openly, tapping into people emotions and building rapport. It is a well known and researched fact that emotional intelligence is highly available in the most successful leaders, hence it follows that being an attentive leader gives us an additional chance to be successful leaders.

Reason#3 Attentiveness is about being alert and in the present moment

...So it could be otherwise called 'mindfulness'. This is the key to connect deeply with others and build their trust by enhancing one's ability to focus, achieve clarity and - as suggested in an article published by Harvard Business School - appreciate one's feeling and emotions and how they impact others.     

We can all be more attentive leaders. In doing so we are more likely to find that connecting with and  engaging others becomes effortless and it is likely to create a pathway to success.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

9 Lessons in #Female #Leadership

Many people have commented on my leadership insights blogs and how interesting and relevant they were. I have therefore created a summary of the key points that were identified and discussed over the three blogs. I hope you will find that reading them all together provides further opportunities for reflection and learning.

#1 Female leadership is transformational leadership 'at heart'  

The concept of 'transformational leadership' was introduced in the 1980's and for the first time identified 'emotional intelligence' as a crucial component of leadership. according to this theory, the leader:
  • has integrity 
  • set clear goals 
  • communicates openly and often
  • encorages and motivates others
  • provides supports and recognition 
  • develop teams and meaningful relationships
  • taps into people's emotions
  • inspires people to reach for the sky
When women act authentically and remain true to themselves they are actually capable of the most effective leadership. Equally, women who disregard their emotional intelligence in favour of what they perceive as the winning male traits they actually end up losing their effectiveness and their ability to impact others in a powerful, 'transformational' way.

#2 Leadership happens everywhere, whether you are the CEO, you aspire to be one or not.

We often associate the image of a CEO to that of a leader, but that cannot be more far from the truth. Wherever you are in your professional life, a manager in a corporate structure, a sole-trader, an entrepreneur or a stay-at-home-mum you can be a leader in your own right! 

This is a particularly important point to acknowledge in my view and especially for women, because often women have too many balls to juggle to focus on a wholly consuming idea such as becoming the CEO! The other side of the coin is that women have the opportunity to meet, nurture and impact so many people from so many different walks of life that they have just as much opportunity to show leadership skills. The key thing is recognising your strengths and applying them to making the difference to whatever you are doing and passionate about.         

At a corporate level, I think all organisations need leaders in order to nurture talent, foster innovation, bring much needed entrepreneurship skills and ultimately thrive in highly competitive, ever changing times! So organisations need to empower their staff - and particularly the women - to feel and act like leaders.

#3 Knowing Me - Knowing You

We hardly spend any time investigating and reflecting on ourselves (see my previous blog on the power of reflection!). Yet there cannot be leadership unless there is self-awareness! Even as 
adult women and grown up managers we must give ourselves thinking time, reflection time, taking stock time. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity.      

Self-Confidence continues to 'bug us'...although it gets better as we gain more expertise, knowledge and experience throughout life. But as women we need to reinforce it by reminding ourselves of our achievements and skills...and we are not good at recognising those in the first place! 

#4 There is no leadership without strategy

Women often comment upon their need to become more strategic, to take the next step having become very good at operational work. But strategy requires time to think and time to reflect and that seems to be a common 'missing link'. Also strategy requires more than 'hard work', it reques a game plan. This is something that attendees recognised to be not very good at. I am not sure this can be generalised but the point here is that women are more likely to just 'get on with the work' and if you are faced down buried into your work, you have hardly the chance to stick your head above the parapet !

#5 Authentic leadership requires mindfulness and a clear heart

There is no doubt that for many of us, males and females, the thought of 'just being', reconnecting and being present in the moment is still relatively alien and positively out of our comfort zone. We discussed this and the need to break through the comfort zone in order to enter the learning area - a concept relatively intuitive but actually difficult to implement.

#6 To increase your leadership presence you have to clearly understand power and who holds it

As women leaders being strategic is key. We need to think strategically and approach leadership not just through hard work but also through a more systematic process that includes networking and navigating the corridors and actually negotiation ( win - win being the ideal outcome) in order to win the minds as well as the hearts of people who matter.

#7 Camaraderie and Support

I have heard it over and over again, women-only groups become (pardon my French) bitchy and hellish. Yet, in my experience this could not be further away from the truth. The support, sharing and empathy I have witnessed amongst women has been absolutely first class. On the contrary, I regularly experience many mix- or male only group in which testosterone-filled alpha males try to out-do each other by challenging and out-smarting one another.

#8 Listen, Learn, this order!  

Being willing to listen, learn and only then lead is core to growing your strengths as female leader. I believe this is exactly how it should be as you cannot lead unless you have first opened up your heart and your mind to others through empathetic listening. You also need to listen to yourself, to your emotions, feelings, intuitions...and take notice. This level of listening inevitably brings about learning and demonstrates your ability to take feedback on board too.

#9 Fun, Food and Follow Up!

If we can start every day with a game, a story, something to relax, make us laugh, reconnect , we are going to function better as leaders. Sharing food is also an important aspect as it is about our primary needs and about building trust through the simple things. This is in itself a huge leadership lesson or at least a reminder that small but genuine, personal touches speak directly to people's heart creating good will and engagement.

As for follow up...mentoring in all its forms (one to one, peer, group etc) is a key tool for leadership. There is no doubt that mentoring works greatly with women, because of the intimacy and nurturing inherent to it. Giving as much as receiving is part of mentoring and this really helps us engage with others in a positive, developmental way. 

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.