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10 Commandments For Women In Leadership

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Monday, May 16th, 2016
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Back in 1970, one of the group of four first-women to be admitted to the Harvard Business School MBA program started her doctoral research on women executives – a rather narrow field 45 years ago. In 1977, the thesis became a book, The Managerial Woman:, The Survival Manual for Women in Business, which went on to become a best-seller (you can still buy it on Amazon), and its authors – the afore-referenced Margaret Hennig and classmate Anne Jardim – went on to speak and give training courses to women in management.

The CBS Broadcast Network was one of the first corporate clients, and I was one of those women selected by CBS to be trained in multiple daylong sessions scheduled over the course of several months in New York City at CBS headquarters, referred to in the industry as Black Rock.

A lot has changed since Hennig took that first sampling of 25 women: none of them was a top-level exec, all had been placed n their first jobs by father or family connections, and – given their ages at the time of the interviews – one assumes they would have been born during the 1930 Depression years.

Decades of Change

Today’s “Managerial Woman” is certainly more prevalent in the business world. She (finally) benefits from four decades of supportive legal changes, and maybe even receives more societal acceptance than those featured in Hennig & Jardim’s book. But women today still fall short of their objectives – whether it be in the corner office or even the Oval Office – largely because they fail to understand the rules of behavior, the style of communications and the mode of relationships (Hennig & Jardim’s terms) necessary to succeed. And note that the subtext of Hennig & Jardim’s book was focused on survival, not success. 

In an effort to clarify some of the thinking of professional women of my generation, and to hand down the benefits of our experiences, I – with input from other professional women – compiled the following list of Ten Commandments for Women leaders:

      1. Speak up. Recent research by INSEAD business school professor Horacio Falcao shows that one of the reasons women are lagging in the salary sweepstakes is their failure to negotiate. This may be a component of women’s belief hat working hard will get them somewhere – that efforts will be recognized by those who are in charge. This is simply not the case. Those in charge have other things on their minds. If there’s something you want, ask for it. It’s not impolite; this isn’t a tea party. Don’t be afraid that the boss won’t like you.
      2. Choose your battles. This is another form of prioritizing. Chose those which will create the most good for the company, for the family, for you. Err on the side of NOT sailing into battle. You run the risk of becoming a banshee.
      3. You may be able to “have it all,” but not all of it going well simultaneously. When you juggle work, family, social demands, etc., you actually spread the risk: when one thing goes badly wrong there’s another corner in which to hide. But to make yourself crazy trying to do everything perfectly all the time is, well…crazy. And impossible.
      4. This is also how you share your competences with those who might give you a leg up. It allows you to share knowledge with others who need it, learn from those who can teach you, and create an important base. Lonesome cowgirls don’t do well in the business world.
      5. Hard work and excellence are important but they’re not enough. This is an important first step, but you and your competence need to be on someone’s radar screen. You don’t have to brag, just don’t pass up the opportunity to remind people what you’ve contributed when the opportunity arises. Too much modesty can easily get you overlooked.
      6. Dress well. Identify a female executive whose style you admire and copy it as best you can. Yes, like in high school. Even if you’re attached to your own style, you might find something to improve.
      7. Use silence. Not to be confused as the antithesis of “speaking up.” Women talk more than men; they ramble, they forget the cutoff valve between mind and mouth. I have no statistics to support this – only memories of business meeting presentations made by women that went on far too long and ended badly. Silence is a useful punctuation on either side of a well-thought-out statement.
      8. Do what you say you’re going to do. Do less, or say more, but make it balance. Deliver on the promise; make it real.
      9. Stay positive. Not crazy Pollyanna-like Cheshire Cat grin happy; comfortable in your skin happy. Even if you’re not. Thinking of things that are going right will help you handle those things that are going wrong. Worry and pessimism only cast a pall over the realm of possibilities that could help.
      10. Don’t sleep with the boss. Many do. Not smart. You lose.

Perhaps another list of commandments will be written before another 45 years pass…

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