Women in the Workplace – Are women their own worst enemies?

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

When talking with men in the workplace (and even some women) about why women are not making it to the CEO level, I sometimes heard the phrase, “Women are their own worst enemy.”

I bristled every time I heard this remark. I had certainly seen women behaving badly toward other women, and in fact had been the victim of a particularly vicious woman. But certainly this was a singular occurrence, right? What men were doing to hold women back, either consciously or unconsciously, was much worse, right?

It turns out there may be some truth to that quote. In fact, it has been given a name: the Queen Bee syndrome.

Before I go on, let me say this: while this article argues that the Queen Bee does still exist in our workplaces today, my studies show that this plays just a small role in keeping women from reaching the top of organizations. There are many other forces, discussed in previous and future posts, that are bigger culprits. However, it is important that women are aware of the Queen Bee syndrome so they can both prevent themselves from becoming one and protect themselves against them.

First, let’s define Queen Bee syndrome. The term was first introduced in a paper by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayartne, and C. Tavris in 1973. A Queen Bee is a woman who has risen to at least some level of power and then acts to protect her position, treating female subordinates more critically than male subordinates.

Hollywood has given us several examples of Queen Bees, several of which have become cult classics. Films such as Heathers and Mean Girls show what this phenomenon looks like in high school. Beyond high school we have The Devil Wears Prada, Clueless or countless others. In each of these films, women who are in power go to considerable lengths to keep other women from reaching their level. In this context, it is almost a shame that the Queen Bee makes for such great movies.

In the corporate world, most often the Queen Bee operates from a position of scarcity, believing that there is space for only one woman at the top. This means that the target of her protectionist actions are most likely other women. At the very least, she does nothing to support other women. At the worst, she actively works to thwart the advancement of other women in the firm. Most often, she shows incivility and rudeness to other women in the workplace.

Some social scientists have suggested that the Queen Bee sees the only way of reaching the top is to act like the men who have gone before her. In this way, she overemphasizes the male trait of disliking women – or more generally, the feminine stereotype. She sees “feminine” as a form of failure.

The discussion on whether the Queen Bee still exists in today’s workplace is hotly debated in academic institutions and in the press. Some say she still exists. Others say the Queen Bee is now extinct. A study in 2015 by the Columbia Business School showed that the Queen Bee was now nothing more than a myth. The same results were found in a Brazilian study conducted in 2018, looking at 8.3mil workers across the world.

And yet, a study done at the University in Arizona in 2018 is cited repeatedly in the news, with varying titles such as, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee,” or “Proof that Queen Been Syndrome Exists in the Workplace.” The original article was titled, “Incivility at Work: Is Queen Bee Syndrome Getting Worse?” In this study, it was shown that women are more rude and more uncivil to other women in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, had an interesting and provocative response to this study. She claimed that women are held to different standards, and that when they are not “nice,” they are seen as uncivil when men are not. This could be true – there is certainly plenty of evidence to show that women are punished when they act outside of their stereotypical roles. Because of this, and our tendency to quickly judge, we should exercise considerable restraint when naming an individual as a Queen Bee.

That said, my personal experience shows that there is a strong case to be made that Queen Bees still exist.

What is behind this Queen Bee syndrome? It is largely attributable to a lack of confidence and security in female leaders. They may have faced

So, are there still Queen Bees out there in the world?

My personal experience, and first hand stories from women I have interviewed and spoken with say that yes, the Queen Bee is alive and well. Sometimes she is as blatant as she has always been. And in some cases, she is more insidious than ever before, hiding behind an exterior that would suggest she wants nothing more than to raise women up.

Real-life stories of the Queen Bee sound like this:

  • When asking for a promotion that has been earned (and was (much) later granted), she says, “The best workers often don’t make the best managers. Maybe some other time.”
  • After a year of accomplishing major goals, saving the company significant money, and obtaining several industry educational designations, she also promotes a man who has done none of these things, saying “I think he will do a great job going forward.”
  • In a meeting with high-level officers of the company, she tells her female manager that her data is incorrect, and when the manager attempts to explain, she loudly tells her to “Shut Up!”
  • She belongs to several women’s groups, invites young women along, but then promotes men into the important roles in the company.
  • She coaches women to exacting standards on non-essential skills while coaching men on standards that matter to the business.
  • She picks one or two women to support and does so in a very public way, and treats other women with incivility, often out of the public view.

What do we women do when we encounter a Queen Bee? Here are some thoughts:

  • If the Queen Bee is your direct manager, the best advice is to find a new boss. She is not likely to change or to find more confidence. Save yourself a significant amount of effort and time, and find a boss who will support you.
  • When this is not possible, find ways to support her without threatening her status. This is part of the technique called “managing up.” For example, before presenting something to a larger group, be sure to first run it by her and then to give her some of the credit when presenting it (one assumes she will have added a contribution when you run it by her).
  • When the Queen Bee is not your direct manager, but you need to interact with her, always be professional and do your best to develop a relationship with her. Where there is trust, she will not, most of the time, undermine you.

Women will only get to the top levels of our organizations in large numbers when we are able to recognize that when we support each other in the workplace, we all win.

As a reminder, Queen Bees are not the norm. There are fewer and fewer of them in the workplace, to the point that there are studies showing that their number is quantifiably insignificant. Until they are all gone, however, we need to continue to educate ourselves on this.

Have you experienced a Queen Bee? What techniques did you use to help navigate this situation? Please be sure to share.

As always, stay positive, and have a great day!

Job Seekers Beware – Not All Advice is Good Advice

Some advice may not be as good as it sounds

I have now been in the hunt for my next big opportunity for over six months. In that time, I have had the chance to try many different methods of searching.

I have applied to positions online. Contrary to popular opinion, I have found success with this method. I’ve had many interviews that resulted simply from submitting an application. And another little secret – I don’t often include a cover letter. My experience in the corporate world says that cover letters are used as a method of eliminating candidates more than anything else. See a typo? See a strangely phrased sentence, or a over-the-top assertion? Eliminate that candidate!

I have “worked my network,” or put another way, I have been to every coffee shop within a 60 mile radius. I love this method of job searching. It gives you the chance to meet with people one-on-one, to practice describing what you are looking for, and a chance to learn about all kinds of new things. Plus, it is proof over and over again that good people do exist and that they genuinely want to help. This is the method most often recommended to job seekers. This morning I heard a statistic that says 70% of positions are found using this method.

I have gone to networking meetings. Many of these have been geared toward job seekers and others are groups I belong to or have some close connection to. Most of the job-seeker networking meetings have an invited speaker, and this is the topic of this blog post.

Let me start with this – everyone who helps those of us in need is doing so from the goodness of their hearts. I believe this from the bottom of my heart. Most of what they have to share is good advice for someone, but what is important to remember, is that it is not always good advice for everyone.

It is essential that those of us listening to this advice keep a critical ear toward what we are being told. The results of not doing so, I firmly believe, could be significant damage to an individual’s search.

Here are two examples of good advice that needs some additional scrutiny:

  1. Your focus should be on how you come across as a person.

This advice was given in a workshop on how to get more interviews. On the face of it, I would say it is sound advice. Give it a little thought, however, and you might come to the conclusion that the whole reason you are not getting interviews is because of some fatal flaw in your personality.

For some folks, I suppose, this might be true. But honestly, if you are changing yourself just for your interview, are you likely to be successful in the position? If you can’t be authentic in the interview, are you likely to feel comfortable being authentic at that workplace?

Even more important, this would indicate that the entire reason you are not getting interviews is your fault! This is dangerous waters for a job searcher. The entire system of job searching is complicated and full of unwritten, inscrutable rules that we may never understand. If we begin to feel that we are the problem, we are likely to become downtrodden and depressed.

It is critical that we keep an arms length from rejection during this process. Learn from it, and move on. Do not internalize it.

2. Before applying for a job, do all the research you can think to do.

This was at another job-search meeting. The speaker was suggesting that before submitting an application, we research LinkedIn, news stories, financials, anything we can get our hands on.

Again, solid advice, maybe. Checking LinkedIn will give you an idea of whether or not you have a first degree or second degree connection in your network. It will help you identify who is in leadership at the target company. This helps you get a better idea of what the culture might be at the company. You can also reach out to those leaders and perhaps network ahead of submitting the application.

Searching news stories helps you contextualize what the current status is of the company – what problems you might be able to help solve, or what situations you might want to avoid completely.

The problem with this advice? If you have to do all of this research before submitting an application, how likely are you to ever apply? And as the saying might be rephrased, you’ll miss 100% of the jobs you never apply for.

This advice is particularly dangerous for women who already put themselves at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or promotions. Research shows that women only apply when they feel they are 100% qualified for a position. Imagine how much information they might find in this type of research to dissuade them from applying.

My thought – submit the application. Then start the research. And only do what is necessary up front. Find the connections and reach out. But don’t worry about the rest until you have an interview. Time is absolutely precious during this process – don’t waste it.

There is so much advice out there. This is only two examples of how good advice can cause trouble in the job search. Be careful, be skeptical, stay positive, and take care of yourself! Know that you are worthy, and that everyone out there wants to see you succeed.

Keep it positive!


Bloomers, Toxic Masculinity and the First Female Buddy-Cops – Feminism Served Three Ways

Cagney and Lacey – Season 1

In the last few weeks, I’ve come across some fascinating sources on feminism. I am avidly curious, and these various sources represent some of the diverse directions my curiosity takes me. One is a news story, one is a podcast, and the last is a 1980’s tv show. All of these have the common thread of looking at the struggles women face in society today, especially as they try to negotiate the world of men.

The first is a story from Slate.com that came across my news feed recently. It is a story of a woman from a local town who, in 1820, shocked her entire town and in turn the nation by showing up at church on her bicycle wearing her bright red bloomers. The story is cute and amusing, and was published in part as a response to the current uproar in the media around women wearing leggings to church.

This attention on the wardrobe and body of women is not uncommon. Not long ago, the women of Hollywood revolted against this, discussing the problems with the focus on “who” the female actors were wearing rather than discussing their next projects or their current achievements. There has been backlash against school dress codes that limit girls and not boys.

Many times, the need for these restrictive dress codes, as in the case of the current discussion on leggings, is unfortunately put in terms of how the clothing affects the men in the situation. In the recent ‘leggings letter,’ the mother writes, “I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”

As many people have responded, it isn’t the girls who need to solve the problem. It is the boys themselves, and society that supports the notion that men and boys just can’t help themselves. We would all do well to do as the preacher did in the 1820s – support the women in their decision to wear what they want to wear.

The second resource is a podcast from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University entitled Scene on Radio. From July through December of 2018, they produced a series called Men, looking at the gender issue through the lens of what it means to be a man.

The entire series is a must-hear for everyone. Over a series of twelve episodes, they cover everything from the history of how patriarchy developed (spoiler alert: cavemen didn’t drag women by their hair!) to an important audio essay of a father interviewing his preteen son on homophobia at school.

I enjoy the discussions that put our current thinking on its head. For example, the host John Biewen shares, “Even within American culture, some of our ideas have completely flipped over time. A few examples: the Puritans thought women were the hornier gender. Most people would not say that today. Cheerleading started out as a guy thing. And a hundred years ago, Ladies Home Journal recommended blue clothing for girls and pink for boys, saying blue was more dainty, and pink the stronger color.”

Another fascinating story he shares concerns the drawings of skeletons in the mid-1700s (episode 3). This was the first time detailed drawings were being made of the female skeleton. For some reason, the drawing that became most popular was an inaccurate drawing produced by a French female scientist showing a skull that was much smaller than the male version, and a pelvis that was much bigger. In reality, there is very little difference between the skull sizes of men and women, and the pelvis is nowhere near as large as shown in the drawing. The drawing, however, was not corrected and taught in anatomy and physiology classrooms for a very long time.

One of the most fascinating episodes is #7. It is almost hard to listen to, but critical that we consider what is going on here. In this episode, a woman who was sexually assaulted examines the reactions of her friends and family to the episode. It is eye-opening, scary, and absolutely real. In this current world of #metoo, it is ever more important that we examine our reactions to these occurrences.

The third resource is just plain fun. I happened to come across the first season of Cagney and Lacey on Amazon Prime the other day. In the first season, only 6 episodes long, and aired in 1982, Meg Foster plays the role of Det. Cagney. She was replaced by Sharon Gless for the rest of the show’s run.

In that first season, one of the major themes in each episode is Cagney’s battle against the gender differences in the police force. In one episode, the women are excluded from a baby shower for one of the male detective’s wives. They are told the reason for their exclusion is potential jealousy on the part of the wives. They show up anyway, of course, and their appearance causes exactly the uproar their husband’s were concerned about.

Another episode, Cagney and Lacey are tasked with providing security for a prominent woman who was a vocal critic of the Equal Rights Amendment. This character says, “[I believe] that every American women has the right to be a full time wife and mother and not be forced to work outside the home.” Throughout the episode, the characters grapple with their opposing views, with the female cops, in the end, saving the life of their charge by using their unique skills of connecting with the would-be murderer. Perhaps having women on the force wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

These three resources are fun, interesting, and educational, and are all ways of understanding the difficulty women face trying to find their place outside of the home. I encourage you to take a look at all of these. Should you have other resources to share, please do so here! I’d love to know about them, and perhaps share them in a later post.

Please also consider subscribing to this blog by entering your email in the form on this page. That way you don’t miss out on a single post.

As always, keep it positive! Have a great day!

In Praise of (Temporary) Unemployment

My son at the beach

For many months now I have been grinding away at the job search. I have been working tirelessly at networking, applying, emailing, and attending meetings and events. When I am not doing that, rest assured I am thinking about it.

In the first few months, I got dressed early in the morning and headed out – to coffee, a presentation, an interview. The days were full. So full, in fact, that I have done many, many interviews/phone meetings sitting in my car because there just wasn’t time to get home. I even did one driving between two meetings (I took unpopulated back roads).

This level of activity has made me happy. I love being productive and on the go. I feel certain that I have been doing everything in my power to find my next opportunity. And I think I am probably right. But it has also been exhausting.

Last year, when the holidays hit, I was forced to slow down. No one was hiring at the end of the year, and it seemed they were all on vacation anyway. I remember being told at the end of November that I was moving on to the next round of interviews, but that they wouldn’t be scheduled until the second week of January when everyone was back in the office. Frustrating. I wrote a post on how to survive.

Even though my calendar wasn’t as busy, my brain still was working. Every waking moment (and many of the rest) were filled with thoughts of what I needed to do next. I was starting to have more bad days than good, to feel more frustration than optimism. I felt guilty if I took some extra time to walk the dogs or hang out with the kids. I spent the entire month of December sick, and got sick again in January and February. And March.

And then a couple things happened. Nothing dramatic or even that exciting (sorry). The first was I hit the seemingly impossible 6-month mark of unemployment. The second was finally getting to the ocean, putting my feet in the water, soaking up the sun, breathing the salt air. I truly believe there is something absolutely magical about the ocean. Those two things in concert have changed my perspective.

So, while I was dutifully recording my blessings from the very start, and I was trying to take time for myself, I now realize that I never really did. I’m going to change that now, or at least try. To start, I would like to share openly some of the amazing blessings of being unemployed (for a short time I hope).

But first, some tips for you:

  1. DITCH THE GUILT – Don’t even bother with it. Sleep in and enjoy it. Don’t worry about what the world thinks. You do you.
  2. EMBRACE THE AMBIGUITY – This process of finding a job is not something you can control. Own that now and relieve yourself of hours of frustration.
  3. FIND WHAT MAKES YOU SUPER HAPPY AND GET IT ON YOUR CALENDAR NOW. LIKE RIGHT NOW. For me it was the ocean. I wish I had gone much, much sooner. 
  4. KEEP A GRATITUDE LIST AND KEEP ADDING TO IT. Review it when you feel low. Put some of it on sticky-notes around your mirror or on your desk or in your car. Share it with a friend. Share it here with me!

And now for my list. Read it for enjoyment, or maybe even for inspiration.

Here is my praise for unemployment:

1. I am meeting new people. I have met at least 100 new people, and all of them have been amazing. All of them! Sometimes our interests align well, sometimes not as well, but in every instance I have come out better for having met. I hope they have too!

2. I am catching up with old friends. The old saying about silver and gold holds true here. Old friends are pure gold. Anytime I am feeling down, I know that all I have to do is get a coffee, lunch, cocktails, or a phone call on the calendar and I’ll be right back up on my feet again.

3. The flexible schedule. I am just now learning to be grateful for this and to embrace it without guilt. The other day I took my dogs out to the woods for a long hike. And it was awesome! Another day I took a nap. In the middle of the afternoon. It was incredible! 

4. The chance to be around for my kids. At least a couple days each week, I am there when my kids get home from school. Sometimes this frustrates us all – they can’t get away with YouTube-ing away their afternoons and I lose a couple hours of “work” – but in general I think these three kids are just about the most amazing people on this Earth and I LOVE listening to their stories about the day. I even managed to bake cookies for them once!

5. The chance to explore who I am and what I really want out of life. To be honest – this one I struggle with. I sometimes feel that the longer I have, the more confused I get on this subject. I keep discovering more sides of myself I want to explore. I performed in a musical! Maybe I want to go back into singing! I’m doing quite a bit of public speaking. I love it! I’m doing some coaching. Maybe I should fully focus on building my own business. Ack! But also YES!

6. Back to the kids – I get to be the one to take them to appointments and practices and rehearsals. In the past, my husband did much of this. Now, I get the chance to support the family in this way. Plus any parent knows some of the very best conversations with your kids happen in the car.

7. I am writing. I have the space to write. And it feels so so so good. Even more, I am learning how to get the validation and productivity I crave by creating something myself. That’s pretty powerful.

8. Getting a clearer understanding of what my needs are vs. my wants. A few months ago, I would not have considered this a blessing. I was angry when a book came up and I had to fight the urge to Amazon that thing right onto my doorstep immediately. Now I have learned to enjoy the exercise of deciding – do I really need that book? Will I actually read it? What about the 24 other books I have in line ahead of this one. Is this one really more important? 

9. Finally – and I still struggle with the guilt on this one – I often get to sleep in. At least a little. My beautiful husband handles all the morning chaos, and lets me sleep. This is usually good given that sleep is hard under this much stress – many nights I don’t fall asleep until well after 2am. I will love him forever for this small, daily gift.

Unemployment is not something I would wish on anyone. I am not having a whole bunch of fun. I am not happy about my situation. It is a stressful rollercoaster that no one wants to be on. But we can get through it. By being positive. By believing that something wonderful is out there – we just need to keep working to find it. 

And in the meantime, we can find ways to enjoy the beauty and gifts we have in our lives. I am so thankful.

Stay positive, and count your blessings!

Next-level Diversity – 6 Ideas for What Companies Can Do Next

Diversity can be a puzzling issue to deal with. Even defining what diversity means can be problematic and fraught with missteps, over-simplifications, and mistakes. Lately, I have heard many business leaders describe the diversity they seek as “differences not just in the obvious ways, but also diversity of background, experience, perspective, all of those types of things.”

I have been doing a heavy load of interviewing as I am currently in a job search. I always ask the question (because it is important to me) about diversity in the workplace. Most companies, after using the quote above, will then point me to their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and will occasionally share the names of some senior level individuals who are African-American or female. 

None of this is bad. In fact, the many accomplishments these ERGs and senior executives have made are impressive. The support the companies put behind them comes through in the sometimes staggering number of ERGs or in the types of programming they put on. For example, at one company I noted that a well-known national thought leader on women’s empowerment had been invited to speak at an ERG event.

This is all good news. Companies need diversity these days. Study after study have shown that diverse companies are more successful than their less diverse counterparts. And with the world itself becoming more diverse, it is in every company’s best interest to mirror their customers.

What I want now is something more than companies have been offering up to now. I am anxious for the next generation of diversity initiatives. More of the same just won’t cut it anymore. Here are just a couple ideas companies should explore next:

  1. Bring up the pride the company has in diversity without a candidate, investor, customer, or partner having to ask. Perhaps display a picture of the current Board of Directors or Senior Leadership Team that reflects that pride. Really any statistic that would help illustrate this would be welcome.
  2. Add a chair on the Board of Directors to be filled by a representative of the ERGs. This person would be responsible for ensuring the voices of the minority groups are included in any high-level company decisions. I can imagine that this might make some executives uncomfortable, but if the company is doing it right, there are already highly qualified diversity candidates at the highest levels that can serve in this roll.
  3. Involve the ERGs in real business problem solving. I can only imagine the incredible results if these diverse groups brought their talents to bear on, say, a new marketing campaign, the product development process, or on a customer service issue that needs to be solved. Plus, the experience and exposure that these individuals would receive being a part of such a project nearly makes me giddy.
  4. Develop a flexible holiday schedule, allowing associates to take off work on the days most important to them. Many companies have switched to flexible days for sick and vacation, lumping them in together. This just takes it one step further to include holidays.
  5. Share how you are specifically developing programs to help diverse employees throughout the organization to move up the ladder and how you support them at crucial points in their careers. With women, for example, there is a significant danger of them opting out as they move up the corporate ladder. What has the company done to keep this from happening? What programs have been explored? There are similar issues with other groups at various levels.
  6. Hire a diverse candidate to be CEO. There is certainly no better way to show the company’s commitment to diversity than to show it starts at the top. I’ve seen several companies point to the level just below the CEO as an example of diversity. Although this is wonderful to see, this is no longer enough.

I am certain there are other ways companies could show their next level commitment to diversity. What ideas do you have? What has your company done in this arena so far? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? I would love to hear your thoughts!

As always, keep it positive! Have a great day!

The #1 Critical Leadership Skill

There are many critical skills necessary for effective leadership. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, covering topics as varied as humility, positive attitudes, building on your strengths, communicating effectively, and so on. A quick Google search tells us that the top leadership skills include communication, delegation, motivating the team, and trustworthiness, among many others.

Leadership is a difficult and complicated concept. There is no doubt that these skills are crucial to successful leadership. A wise, successful leader will surely look to develop all of these skills in order to be the best they can be.

Underlying these skills, however, lies one critical skill that needs more discussion. It is the absolute essence of leadership, and without it, none of the other skills matter much. It may be that this skill is seen as so elementary that we skip right over it, assuming that someone who considers themselves a leader has already developed this skill.

My experience says this is far from the truth. What skill is this?

The ability to make a decision.

After all, why do we have leaders? In order to make decisions! Hard ones, easy ones, decisions over which direction to go, who to hire, which product to sell, what processes to improve, and so on. Decisions are central to the operation of business. One might say that a decision to not make a decision is still a decision, but this is not the skill I am talking about today.

Making decisions is hard. After all, if things go awry, it’s your responsibility, your head on the plate! This can be especially daunting if large teams or entire companies are relying on your decisions. That is, however, part and parcel of the whole leadership gig. If someone chooses to become a leader, she/he must understand that this critical skill is at the heart of her/his new responsibilities.

Have you ever worked for someone who struggled with this skill? It can be the most frustrating experience of all time. Some of the greatest complaints and vexations I have heard over the years come as a result of a leader’s failure to make a decision.

It can look like this:

  • Employee: We’ve done the research
  • Leader: Yes, but did you look at this? Go back and pull more data

Or this:

  • Employee: Here is the recommendation we have developed
  • Leader: Let’s take this to the group and see what they think

Or even this:

  • Employee: So, the decision I heard was to move forward on this.
  • Leader: Yes, well, let me get back to you on that

These are just some of the ways ‘leaders’ avoid decision-making. Constantly looking for a definite answer that does not exist by continually searching for information is one of the most popular methods. In this situation, the leader feels no decision can be made until all possible data has been explored.

Another popular method ‘leaders’ use to avoid making decisions is constant consensus building. In this case, the leader turns the decision over to a group. He works back and forth from one team member to the other until those members are in agreement on a decision. The leader may try to explain this as delegating or as listening to his team. Unfortunately, this is simply his/her way of avoiding the responsibility of making the call.

Another method used to avoid decision making is to simply not decide. By putting off the decision, the leader hopes to kick the decision down the road until someone else makes it or the situation resolves itself.

First, some advice to leaders: Double-check yourself to be sure you aren’t accidentally using some of these techniques to avoid decision making. Some decisions are hard to make, but that’s why you are in the position you are in. You have been hired to make these difficult decisions, so go do it. I wrote a previous post that may help you here.

Now, for employees stuck in a position of having to deal with indecisive leaders, here is some advice for you:

  • Anticipate the need for data when presenting information to your boss. This is an important element of managing up, regardless of the type of boss you have, but particularly important when dealing with this type of boss. Know your stuff, have your numbers.
  • Seek buy-in from others involved in the decision-making. Sharing that other leaders are already on-board can be effective in helping your leader make the final call.
  • If your boss requires consensus, work with your co-workers ahead of time to be sure everyone is on the same page before the meeting. This is the same advice as above – simply a different group of people.
  • Don’t give up. If your boss is the type to put off decisions, just keep coming back. Try different ways of presenting the information. Sometimes a quick hallway conversation can be better than a formal meeting/presentation, or vice-versa. Often times leaders need to hear things several times before they actually hear it.
  • If all else fails, and it is absolutely terrible that it can come to this, get yourself a new boss. Life is short, and we all deserve happiness and fulfillment at work. Don’t hang around too long expecting something to change! Make your own tough decision and move on!

Good luck to you all!

As always, stay positive!!

Women in Leadership – A Question of Ambition

This article is part of a series based on the research described in the doctoral dissertation by Dr. Melinda G. Hubbard where she studied why women continue to face challenges reaching the top level of organizational leadership.

I had a colleague say to me, during a heated debate on the question of equality in the workplace, “If women wanted to be at the top, they would be there.” You might guess, and you would be correct, that this colleague was a white male who was over the age of 55. At first, you might be like me, and simply dismiss him out of turn as a product of his generation, as ridiculous as he sounded and not worth the time and effort to even consider.

This particular colleague, however, was a highly educated man, and a person I respected greatly, so I decided to give him a chance to explain himself. What he said was intriguing and worth discussing.

What he then went on to describe was the seemingly endless number of executive women, who, having reached a certain level, seemed to disappear from the corporate landscape. Some quick online research of our mutual acquaintances showed that some of them had moved to a new company (clearly only disappearing from our landscape). Some of them had left to open their own businesses. Some we knew had left to take care of children or parents. Some had left to do something entirely different.

There is some research on this – the act of ‘opting-out.’ In fact, over the last several years there have been several sensational articles in the press about this phenomenon and the popularity of it among women leaders. The original article was written by Lisa Belkin in 2003 for the New York Times Magazine. In this article, Belkin interviews women who opted out to do something completely different, largely raising their children, giving up on successful careers and expensive educations. Subsequent articles build from here, though, showing that there is much, much more to this opting-out.

Was it a by-product of the glass ceiling? Was it fatigue from fighting a battle they were unlikely to win? Or fatigue from playing by rules that made no sense to them? Or was it, as my colleague suggested, a question of ambition?

Do women really want to lead?

I’ll save you the suspense. The answer is clearly and overwhelmingly, YES. Women want to be successful. Women want to be in charge. Women want to get ahead. Women want to lead. In study after study, researchers have shown that in professions across the board, from judges to scientists to sales professionals to academics that women have just as much, if not more, ambition than men. They want to lead, they want to be successful, they want to get ahead.

In my research study completed for my doctoral dissertation, I urged the women I interviewed to discuss their ambitions for the future. In only one case did I have a woman suggest that she was not interested in continuing to move up the corporate ladder. And the reasons that one woman gave were incredibly interesting in and of themselves. She felt that she would not be adequately supported if she were to move up, and so desired to stay in the role she had.

The rest of the women I spoke with, and the data I collected quantitatively, all reaffirm what the previous researchers have shown: Women are not lacking in ambition. Women want to lead.

This article is the first in a series. In future articles I will explore some of the reasons both my research and the research of others offer for the lack of women in the highest level positions. We will cover personal traits of women leaders, the current corporate environment and social forces that may keep women back or cause women to ‘opt-out.’ Stay tuned!

As always, stay positive!

Women in Insurance – A History – the 1990s

Life Insurance advertisement circa 1995

The 1990s were generally a decade of peace and prosperity in the US, with some notable exceptions. The economy was in a relative state of expansion after the recession in 1990. The stock market was booming, and unemployment rates remained low for much of the decade.

Bill Clinton was in office for most of the decade after winning the election in 1992, taking over from George W. Bush who had been in office since 1989. Notable events during the decade include the official end of the Cold War in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) that went into effect in 1994, and the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995. In addition, Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War) took place in 1991, the Rodney King trial was held in 1992, and the US suffered several high-profile bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996.

Technology advances exploded during this decade. The World Wide Web made its debut in 1991 and quickly took the world by storm. By the end of the decade, the dot-com boom was in full swing. Advances were also made in the area of genetics with the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. Both of these advances would have a significant impact on the life insurance industry.

In general, women were doing better economically than they had in previous decades. A Korn/Ferry study published in 1994 reported that 67% of companies responding to their survey indicated they had at least one woman appointed to their boards, up from 59% in 1989. The overall numbers, however, were still low – only 6.2% of the Fortune 500 company board seats were held by women in 1994.

A major national survey of working women conducted by the Women’s Bureau in 1995 revealed important truths about women in the workplace at that time (Nussbaum, K., New York Times, 1995). Over 79% of the women reported liking or loving their job. Nearly all of the women, however, reported the need for improvements in several areas. These included:

  • Pay equality – women with similar educations were making 71.5 cents to every man’s dollar
  • Access to male-dominated professions – 60% of working women were siloed in traditionally female dominated professions where the pay was significantly lower
  • Access to senior-level positions – over 95% of senior managers were white males
  • Retirement funds and other benefits – a vast majority of the positions held by women did not come with benefits

During the 1990s, life insurance sales declined. A report in 1992 showed that 46% of men and 40% of women carried life insurance, a significant decrease from past decades. In 1997, reports showed 11.1 million policies sold, a 37% drop from 15 years prior. According to an A.M. Best report in 1998, less than half of American households held coverage beyond the minimums provided by employers.

One new area of sales that opened up and grew quickly only to fall off dramatically near the end of the decade was the viatical sales market. In this market, viatical companies would purchase life insurance contracts from sick (often those suffering from AIDS) or elderly policy holders who either needed money right away for hospital or treatment costs, or no longer had a need for the policy death benefit. These companies would then continue the premium payments and collect the death benefit when the policy holder passed away. They were, in effect, gambling on the death of these individuals. On the flip side, this provided much needed money to those in need.

In 1996, there were roughly 60 such companies who bought between $400 million and $500 million worth of policies annually. Near the end of the decade, some traditional companies fought back against these viatical companies through their design of the Accelerated Death Benefit, a rider that offered policyholders a way to access their death benefit early when a doctor had certified that death was imminent.

The traditional life industry had become highly competitive, not just within the industry but from forces outside the industry. Mutual funds and other investments were diverting sales. In addition, the arguments over whether to buy term or permanent insurance raged on, with term winning in most advice columns during the decade due to the strong economy bringing lower premiums to the companies. Certainly, during this time of economic boom, higher returns were easily found outside of the permanent insurance space. In addition, people were living longer lives which in turn helped them to postpone thoughts on mortality and therefore purchases of life insurance.

The Life Insurance industry’s reputation took a significant hit in the 1990s. This was largely due to the competitive pressures put on the sales agents by the economic forces in play. Life insurance sales representatives began relying on unscrupulous tactics to make their sales. Many resorted to the sales practice called “churning” where they used the cash value built up inside an insurance policy as a loan to buy another policy for their clients. These policies were sold as a “no cost” way to purchase additional insurance coverage. At the same time, these policies generated additional commissions for the agents and bonuses for their sales managers. Unfortunately for the client, often all of these policies would eventually run out of money, and all coverage would lapse leaving the client with no coverage at all. Or worse still, upon the death of a loved one, an insured would find that the loan on the policy would nearly (or entirely) eclipse any death benefit left, leaving them with little or no insurance.

Another common sales practice of the times was the “vanishing premium” policy. In this case, a life insurance sales representative would produce a policy illustration that showed the need to pay premiums on a policy for a set number of years. In reality, these illustrations were often based on unrealistic interest rates and returns, and policy holders would find themselves paying premiums for many years more than originally planned.

Due to the fallout from these sales practices, nearly every major company found themselves paying significant settlements to their customers. Metropolitan Life alone paid over $100 million in fines and restitution. This amount was increased to $1.7 billion in 1999. New York Life settlements were estimated at $65 million, State Farm at $200 million, Nationwide at $100 million, John Hancock at $350 million, and the list goes on. Quite obviously, these suits did significant damage to the reputation of the industry.

Near the end of the decade, the larger insurance companies took action to address the concerns of the public and organized the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association, a compliance organization built to address unscrupulous sales practices. Another measure many companies took was to severely reduce their sales forces. Prudential reported cutting from 20,000 agents down to 9,000.

Companies were also dealing with some significant high-profile harassment lawsuits. In one case in 1997, two female employees of CNA Life Insurance alleged significant harassment from the president of the company, who was then forced to resign along with his deputy. Comments from news articles at the time claim that just a few years prior, the company would have likely swept such an incident under the rug. Another major suit alleging rather sensational harassment claims was settled in 1997 against Monumental Life in the US District Court in Maryland.

Another byproduct of the slow-down in sales was a consolidation in the industry. This included mergers and acquisitions along with many insolvencies. In the first half of 1991, 12 companies went under including Monarch Life, Mutual Benefit, and Mutual Security Life, among others. Many companies sold divisions that were non-core businesses in order to focus their concentration. In 1995, over 20 deals were made involving non-core business sales. Analysts that year estimated that a full 20% of the 1500 companies in existence were facing consolidation.

As mentioned above, technology brought about a major change to the industry. Carriers began selling term life insurance on the internet. Several quoting engines popped up on the scene giving consumers the ability to shop for low-price term on their own. Suddenly the long-held belief that life insurance had to be sold, not bought, was put center stage and debated fiercely in the media. One of the biggest disrupters in this area was Charles Schwab, a company that introduced both online sales and a toll-free number customers could call to purchase insurance. Only a very few traditional insurers joined in the online sales in these early days, including USAA and Ameritas.

Women and Life Insurance During the 1990s

The number of women in the workforce continued to grow. In 1993 there were over 58 million women in the US workforce representing 45.6% of the labor force. This growth can be attributed to the changing desires of women who wanted to forge their own careers, the economic pressures on families, and the continued increase in the divorce rate.

Women-owned businesses were on the rise as well. Estimates made in 1998 showed that women were on pace to head 1/3 of all family firms by the end of the century. Only ten years prior, women would not have likely risen to the top of family owned businesses, instead seeing male relatives put into that position. In fact, women-owned businesses were the fastest growing segment of the US economy in 1998. Times were changing, which meant that more women needed insurance.

In order to bolster sales, the industry again turned to underserved markets, including the women’s market. In 1993, the American College joined with the Life Underwriter Training Council to hold several seminars across the US to discuss the opportunities to be found in marketing to minority groups, referring to these groups as a “growing demographic trend.” One study reported that only 14% of men pursued women as a market.

It was still the case that during the 1990s women were underinsured compared to men. An article from 1992 cites a LIMRA (Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association) study that shows that on average women were purchasing $52,000 of coverage while men were purchasing $103,000 of coverage.

American Demographics, Vol 18, Iss 1 (1996)

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in 1994 launched a program called WINS (Women in Nationwide Sales) in an effort to recruit women as sales agents. The program intended to appoint women to at least 1/3 of new agency manager positions.

Several companies simply added female-targeted advertisements, including a Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance ad that read, “All the women who won’t outlive their husbands don’t need to read any further.”

In 1997, Cigna rolled out their program, “Achieve: a Financial Independence Program for Women.” The program included nationwide seminars and written materials intended to help women better plan for retirement.

A study in 1996 by the IIAA (The Independent Insurance Agents of America), conducted to understand the women’s market, concluded that women were not confident when it came to making financial decisions causing them to often avoid the subject entirely. Less than half of the women surveyed indicated they had contacted a financial representative for help in the last year while 76% of them indicated that working with a professional would be beneficial. There is no data on how these numbers compare to the corresponding male population. Another omission of note – there is no data on how often these women were contacted by a representative offering advice.

An article in Best Review (Feb 1999) entitled “The 51% Niche Market,” opens with the following sentence, “As life insurers continue to focus on ever smaller marketing segments, some are rediscovering the largest segment of all: women customers.” The article details several new marketing efforts, nearly all of them less than two years old. The article quotes a sales manager from one company who is responsible for training on the women’s market: “It was hard for the [sales agents] to pull back and look at something new. We asked them, ‘How many women business owners do you currently do business with?’ Many of them did not know.”

This same article outlines the differences in working with women:

  • “Women use a different buying process. Men are transaction-oriented buyers while women are relationship-oriented buyers. They want to trust the person selling to them and know the relationship will continue after the sale.
  • Women covet information. They seek advice and insight from others such as a qualified agent, but will often stop to consider their decision before they commit. However, if the agent follows up, the sale is usually made.
  • Women are often more loyal customers, but that loyalty depends on maintaining a relationship.”

Some other tips given to attract the women’s market included:

  • “Don’t tweak the product or put it in a new package and call it new and improved. Change how you create business relationships instead.
  • Don’t think only female agents can reach this market.
  • Don’t sell life insurance only to the husband; consider the wife as a breadwinner too;
  • After spending lots of money on advertising to attract the female market, make sure your organization treats them as economic decision-makers.
  • Don’t assume all women are alike. That will get you into trouble.” (Best’s Review, 1999).

A LIMRA survey in 1996 indicated that 72% of life insurance companies felt that diversity programs were some of their most important objectives. Approximately 44% of life insurance companies stated that they had these objectives in written form. The reasons the companies gave for the creation of these objectives included it being the right thing to do and to help them increase their market share. Most of the programs shared in the survey targeted cultural minorities with bilingual services/non-English language marketing materials. None of the programs targeted women directly (Managers Magazine, 1996).

Women’s fraternal societies were still in existence, serving the women’s market directly when other companies struggled to reach this market. In 1997, Royal Neighbors was the largest with $548 million in assets and a board of directors that was exclusively female. Other women-focused fraternals included Loyal Christian, Women’s Life, Degree of Honor, and Catholic Ladies of Columbia. Many of these fraternals credited their on-going success to their personalized service to the women they served, along with their ability to offer other services that built strong relationships with their members.

Women in Life Insurance Sales

Several surveys, including one conducted by LIMRA in 1995, showed that women in life insurance sales sold largely to women. This resulted in income disparity due to the fact that women, as mentioned above, were purchasing roughly half the amount of insurance as their male counterparts. It was also the case that in general, female producers did not sell to high-income earners, further reducing their incomes.

A study conducted in 1997 by the National Association of Insurance Women shared some insight into why this might be. Their survey concluded that “women working in insurance sales are more likely to be motivated by a need to meet the needs of their customers, than by the challenge of the job” or the pay afforded them in this career (Esters, 1997). The compensation women earned was significantly higher for those working in insurance compared to other vocations.

Women reported difficulty in making the important business connections in order to grow their businesses. In one article, women discussed the advice given to them by many men to “learn to play golf.” These women found that even after learning to play, they still had trouble integrating with men in a meaningful business way at the sporting events. Women found it difficult, no matter what, to break into the old-boys network.

Despite the challenges they faced, the retention rates for women in life insurance sales were on the rise throughout the decade, with one-year retention rates often higher than those of men, and four-year retention rates nearing those of men.

At the turn of the century, women had made considerable in-roads into the life insurance industry, but still had a long way to go to reach parity with their male colleagues. The female side of the equation had once again been rediscovered this decade, but whether the attention paid to it would have meaningful results is something to be investigated in the next article.

Sources:

Anonymous (1998). “A Rich Heritage Since 1989.” Atlanta Daily World, Oct 18, pg 3.

Anonymous (1997). “Cigna pitches annuities to women as route to financial independence.” Best’s Review / Life-Health Insurance Edition,Vol. 98 Issue 5, p86.

Anonymous (1993). “Cultural Diversity and Its Impact upon the CLU/ChFC Movement.” Journal of the American Society of CLU & CHFC. Mar1993, Vol. 47 Issue 2, p88-88.

Anonymous (1996). “Diversity the focus.” Managers Magazine, Jan/Feb 1996, Vol 71, Issue 1, pg. 4.

Anonymous (1998). “Why Women are Different.” US Banker, Feb 1998, pg 13.

Bailer, D. (1997). “Fast-Track Group Offers Help to Women.” New  York  Times, Jan 12, pg WC4.

Bell, A. (1997). “Monumental settles harassment lawsuit.” National Underwriter, Vol. 101 Issue 40, p52.

Bell, A. (1997). “Women’s fraternals appeal to a niche within a niche.”
National Underwriter, Vol. 101 Issue 14, p7. 2p.

Christensen, B.A. (1994). “A look at the relationship between income and insurance.” Trusts and Estates, Mar 1994.

Esters, S.D. (1997). “Insurance women surveyed.” National  Underwriter  Property & Casualty – Risk & Benefits Management. Jul 21, pg 4.

D’Ambrosio, M.V., Hinchcliffe, R. (1995). “Female producers.” Managers Magazine, May 95, Vol. 70, Issue 5, pg 7-8.

Dunlap, D.W. (1996). “AIDS drugs alter an industry’s path.” New York Times, 30 July.

Geer, C.T. (1992). “Gender Gap.” Forbes, March 16, 1992.

Gilbert, E. (1994). “Nationwide targets female market.” National  Underwriter Property & Casualty -Risk  & Benefits Management, Aug 15, 1994.

Goch, L. (1999), “Marketing Traps to Avoid.” Best’s Review, Feb, pg 43.

Goch, L. (1999), “The 51% Niche Market.” Best’s Review, Feb, pg 40-43.

Hitchcock, C. (1992). “Why life insurance agents can’t work for you?” Consumers Research Magazine, Oct92, Vol. 75 Issue 10, p17.

Myers, G. (1996). “She works without a net.” American Demographics, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pg. 18.

Nelton, S. (1998). “The Rise of Women in Family Firms: A Call for Research Now.” Family Business Review. Sep pg 215.

Nussbaum, Karen (1995). “Women in Business: Working Women: Unfinished Business.” The Washington Post, Oct 17.

Quinn, J.B., Ehrenfeld, T. (1995). “Churn, churn, churn.” Newsweek, Mar 6,
Vol. 125 Issue 10, p46.

Quinn, J.B., Wilson, V. (1991). “Is your insurance company really safe?” Newsweek, 7/29/1991, Vol. 118, Iss 5, pg. 38.

Quint, M. (1995). “In Sales Pitches, Life Insurers Revive a Focus on Death.” New York Times, Sep 29.

Pasher, V.S. (1996). “IIAA spotlights cross-sale opportunities via survey.” National Underwriter, Vol 100, Iss 27, pg 1-2.

Pitz, M. (1999). “Metropolitan Life Insurance Settles Suit Alleging Deceptive Practices.” Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 8/19.

Ramirez, A. (1996). “Investing It: A way to cash in as insurers get the urge to merge.” New York Times, 21 Jan.

Sherrid, P. (1996). “Enter the virtual agent.” US News and World Report,
Vol. 121 Issue 13, p64.

Shook, D. (1998). “Fraud Suits Make Life Difficult for Major Life Insurance Providers.” The Record, 12/13/1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Death Benefits, Now for The Living.” New York Times, 27 Sept. 1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Life Insurance Loses Ground As Investment Options Grow.” New York Times, 8 June 1998.

Vatter, R.H. (1994). “Women in the labor force.” Statistical Bulletin-Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, July-Sept 1994.

Job Searching Through the Holidays

Job searching is one of the hardest things to do. Add in the holidays and it is recipe for headaches, heartaches, and a whole host of other ailments.

Many people see the holidays as a time to take a break, a time to be with their family and friends and to put aside their work applying for jobs, attending networking events, setting up coffee dates and lunch dates.

For others like me, it is not a time to let up. It is a time to reach out, to check back in with people I have already spoken with, to connect with old friends, to try new things or old things in new ways. It is not a time to give up, let up, or step back.

There are several motivators at work here. First, my absolute need to keep moving, keep working, keep trying. I just don’t know how to stop. Mixed into this is some FOMO (fear of missing out). I am a bit nervous that if I take a day off, that is the day I would have been connected with exactly the right person/job/situation. This is not rational, but it is part of who I am.

There is also my positive attitude driving me forward. This situation is a new adventure and is helping me to develop a new set of tools to put in my “Life Tool Belt”. I want to keep exploring. I am curious to see what all is out there. I enjoy imagining myself in different job situations, different cities, different companies. I love meeting new people and talking with them about important things. 

Finally, and on the other side of the coin, is the fact that Christmas will not look the same for my family this year. We are a very fortunate family. We like to celebrate big. The space under the tree is normally stuffed full of presents. This year, with money and the future so uncertain, we will be scaling things back. Way back. I think my kids understand – I have certainly tried to prepare them. But I don’t want this to last, and so I will continue to look for a new opportunity.

I have two recommendations for those of you looking for work/life balance while looking for work. Both suggestions came from mentors of mine who have both been in the same situation:

SUGGESTION 1: Develop a point system. It can be as simple or as complex as you would like. Assign activities different point values, and set a daily goal for how many points you need to earn. For example, you might set a daily goal of 5 points. Setting up a lunch could be one point, connecting with someone on LinkedIn could be a point, and filling out an online application could be 2 or 3 points (those things take time!). Once you have reached your daily goal, you are free to spend the rest of the day as you choose, without guilt!

SUGGESTION 2: Set a goal for work hours. This fits better for those used to working traditional hours. Get up in the morning, take a shower, and get dressed like you are going to work. Schedule time off as you normally would at work. If you need to do things during the day, schedule work hours in the evening. By treating this like a real job (as it is), you are more likely to ditch the guilt when you spend time on non-search related activities.

All of that said, I have discovered that just about NO ONE shares my desire to engage in recruiting activities this week (the week before Christmas), and I am sure that this will continue next week. Emails are going unanswered, interviews are delayed, new job listings have dried up, and no one is available for lunch. 

So this week and next, I am trying to embrace the “other side.” I am spending as much time as possible with my kids. I am playing with my delightfully mischievous puppies. I am finding fun, creative ways to enjoy the holidays. I am trying to relax and breathe and believe that there is something truly magical waiting for me in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong – I still applied for 3 jobs last night, have sent several emails this morning, and have scheduled as many coffee/lunch dates as I can. But I am also stopping to take a breath and enjoy the season.

I hope you do too! Happy holidays!!

As always….stay positive!

 

 

Four Non-Traditional Leadership Development Tools

There are many traditional tools out there for growing your leadership skills. There are books, seminars, videos, workshops. They will teach you how to listen, to delegate, to strategize, and to make decisions, and many of them are worthwhile.

There is another aspect that leaders need to develop and I would like to offer some non-traditional methods to develop it. I believe that an excellent leader constantly develops her deep knowledge of herself. This is critical in order to lead authentically. Knowing yourself helps you to truly understand and articulate your values, and to stand confidently and surely in front of your teams each and every day and lead.

Over the past few years I have been introduced to many different techniques to help me understand myself better. Some of these techniques were familiar and easy to implement. Others were a little bit out there (what we lovingly refer to as ‘woo’), but still can be very useful once you accept the strangeness of the experience.

Here are four non-traditional techniques for you to try:

Journaling

Why journaling? There is something about writing things out that helps us to process. It helps us to think things through and get to the bottom of our feelings. Formulating our thoughts into cohesive sentences can aid in the organization of our thoughts and plans. Sometimes, getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper helps us to see things differently and can help us to be more objective about ourselves and our decisions.

This is an easy technique for anyone to pick up and try. Simply grab some paper or open a word document and start writing. The tricky part might be in figuring out what to write. For that I have a few suggestions:

  1. Write whatever is on your mind. What was the last thought you had? What is a current problem you are trying to solve? Write it out, and then write out whatever occurs to you next. Keep in mind journaling is just for you, so don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or organization or cohesion. Just write.
  2. Find some prompts online. There are several places to look for these. One online journal I happen to like is penzu.com. Sometimes just answering answering the question “How am I feeling today?” is enough to get you started.
  3. Buy a journal that comes with journal prompts. For some people, this could be constraining, but for others it can help you to get started.
  4. Ask yourself ‘why’. Then ask yourself ‘why’ again. And then again. And again until you feel you have really reached a meaningful answer.
  5. Make it fun. Go somewhere different to do your writing. Try a park or a museum or a coffee-shop. If you like colors, buy yourself some colored pens. Add some artwork. Ask yourself some crazy questions. I am happy to offer suggestions if you need them!
  6. Make it a daily habit. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your leadership challenges.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a new journal/nice pen)

Time: 10 minutes a day

Meditation

I will be the first to admit that meditation is hard. My mind is always going a thousand miles per hour, so asking it to stop completely is impossible. But I have found several ways to work with this, and when I do, some of my most brilliant thoughts appear.

It is like those moments in the shower, or while driving, or while on the massage table (my personal favorite) when your mind is calm and clear and the answers seem to appear from out of nowhere. Meditation can give you that any time, any where.

Meditation is also tied to mindfulness – being aware of what is happening in the present moment, both with ourselves and in our environment. This has been shown in many studies to be an important part of successful leadership. Leaders who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress, are better able to adapt to changing environments, and create better environments for their teams.

To get started, I highly recommend using guided meditations. These are free and easy to find. You can find a bunch of them on YouTube or simply by googling “guided meditations.” The best tool I have found out there is the popular website/app Headspace. You can access the website from your computer or download the app for free on your mobile device. I would often use these quick guided meditations right in my office during my lunch hour.
If you prefer an in-person experience, there are also classes you can take. The easiest places to look are at local yoga studios (or again, Google). You can also check for classes at your local community centers or holistic healing centers.

What is important is that you give this a shot, find what works for you, and then keep at it to build a daily practice.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a class)

Time: 10 minutes per day

Oracle Cards

Have you ever heard of oracle cards? Perhaps you’ve heard of their more well-known cousin, tarot cards? These are cards that can be used by anyone, anywhere, for whatever purpose you would like. In this case, I suggest you use them for personal growth through self-reflection.

Plus you can get a deck on Amazon or eBay for less than $20. There are some pretty fun decks out there! (One suggestion: go for the Oracle decks, not the Tarot decks. Much easier to interpret and use for beginners).

I realize this is a stretch for most people in the business world. It certainly was for me until I gave them a shot. But stick with me for a second, and I think I can show you how they might be helpful. I, myself, find them a fun, creative way to work on my development. An example might help.

First, I shuffle my deck while pondering a particular question. I might be asking myself, “What do I need to concentrate on today?” Then I spread out my cards and pick one. Sometimes I linger over the cards, thinking hard about my question and sometimes I just pick one right away; it doesn’t really matter. But this step can help you practice mindfulness. Let’s say I pull the following card:

+

img_20181128_1748403090033284455571341.jpg

Next, consider the card. What meaning can you pull from having selected that card? You could use this as a journal prompt. Explore how you can apply what is on the card to your question. If you feel the impulse to reject the card – something like, “this has nothing to do with me today!” – explore that feeling. Why do you feel like this isn’t important?

In this case, when I pull the “Play” card, I might think about how I plan to incorporate some fun into my day. Or I might journal about whether or not I am making time in my life currently to have fun. Or I might consider whether or not I allow my team members to include fun in their work. I could take this any number of directions. Perhaps this came up for me today because I haven’t taken a day off in a long, long time, and I really need to do so.

The important thing here is that you expand your mind, think in new directions, and consider possibilities that you hadn’t before. Plus it is always fun to see what comes up!

Cost: $15-$30 for a deck (or borrow one from a friend, or find free sites on line)

Time: 10 minutes

Leadership Coaching

So, let’s say you are a tennis player, and you are pretty good, but you are looking to get to the next level. You could continue to practice on your own, but chances are that in order to make a significant improvement, you’ll need to hire a coach.

The same thing is true in leadership. If you want to move to the next level, you might do well to find yourself a leadership coach. This type of coach can help you navigate tricky situations in your career/workplace, can help you build on your strengths and can help smooth out your weaknesses. She can work with you to set ambitious goals and then define tactics to achieve them. In short, she can help you get to the next level.

As with your tennis coach, you’ll need to exercise some judgement in hiring a leadership coach. Not all coaches are created equal. You will want to be sure you are hiring someone who can actually help you. And personalities matter. You’ll want to be sure you can work well together. Keep in mind, this will not be an inexpensive endeavor, but will be worth it in the end.

I have worked with career coaches myself and found them to be inspiring, challenging, and well worth the time, effort and money. I am now working as a leadership coach myself (part-time), and enjoy this side of the relationship even more. I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who has interest or questions.

If you’d like to explore working with me as a coach, reach out! I’d love to have a conversation with you.

Cost: Variable

Time: Variable, generally 2 conversations/month

In general, anything that takes you outside your comfort zone is going to help you grow in new and different directions. I encourage you to try something new. Experiment with something you’ve never tried before. Grow, dream, and accomplish amazing things!

I’d love to hear if you have other alternative ways of developing your leadership skills. Be sure to share!

And as always, keep it positive!