The Real Superpower For Women Leaders
You know that feeling when you work harder and harder and get better at your technical skills and feel really on top of your game – you’re the complete go-to person in your field? But you’re still not making the impact as a leader you really want to make?
We spend a lot of time as we evolve as leaders becoming technically proficient and getting ‘to know our stuff’. It gives us confidence and it gets us noticed. We very often get ‘to the table’ on the back of how our technical expertise is valued. And that is as it should be. You ARE really good. But it is not enough if you aim for a senior leadership role.
I hear a lot of women say “So what else do I need to learn to be an even better leader and progress my career?” Of course there is a huge range of great development opportunities out there and all need to be tailored to each person. But there is also a golden thread running through all that skill-building which in itself will accelerate your competency and confidence development. And that skill is becoming really good at learning.
Learning to learn will give you a competitive advantage
Don’t we all know how to learn? Well the problem is we can shut off our learning as we progress in our careers because the stakes become higher. As in all risky situations we tend to fall back on what we know already or what comes naturally as this seems safer. That is a normal protective strategy. But not one that serves us well when we need to learn new skills.
When we are confronting new roles and extended leadership responsibilities we need to expand our learning capability to ensure we grow into our roles, shedding old habits if necessary while practicing new things to be our best leadership self. And I am not talking about learning more about your domain expertise, that has diminishing returns, let that go for the moment – I am talking about building your leadership muscle.
Can you guess the three things that happen if we don’t learn to learn to be a leader?
• We wonder why we don’t get promoted because we stay as the technical expert
• We are not able to demonstrate to those around us we can operate at that level
• We deploy our same toolkit in a new and enhanced role and the toolkit is simply not fit for purpose and doesn’t support our success in the role
So we need to be intentional about continuing to learn, not just take for granted that it will happen. Your default modes don’t always serve you well so you need to remind yourself that you are feeling uncomfortable because you are learning and that’s a good thing. It is important we get used to doing stuff that is uncomfortable.
Why you Should Love a Failure
As Carol Dweck says, our growth mind-set enables us to be open to learning. We need to separate our development goals and our performance goals to give us the head space and permission to get things wrong – or we don’t improve. Yes, I know working at getting things wrong is really difficult for high-achieving, hard-working perfectionists.
Dweck’s work is a powerful reminder of what inhibits our learning. We also know we can’t learn when we feel threatened. Sometimes for women navigating the labyrinth of mixed messages and ‘outsider’ feelings has us default to being safe and staying with what we know. That won’t make us better leaders.
“We can’t learn when we are braced for failure, but we can learn when we embrace failure.”
So, when something goes wrong or you are clumsy or unskilled at something try looking at it through the lens of “How fascinating!” What can I learn from this? And watch out for the lessons that teach you to avoid that situation again or that sets up a belief that you are no good at it and never will be. Kick in your growth mind-set – ok so you’re not really good at it. YET!
The reason is that all learning requires us getting comfortable with being ‘consciously incompetent’. That will ultimately make us better leaders.
How does it work?
Just one small example. You need to make a greater impact in meetings so want to practice asking strategic questions and not simply waiting for the opportunity to say something as a technical expert. Find a meeting where the stakes aren’t that high. Where you might have a learning buddy in the room who can give you feedback and amplify for you (by acknowledging your point and reinforcing it). Prepare a number of questions beforehand, make them strategic not technical, practice taking up more space at the table, acknowledge it feels uncomfortable and you’re a bit anxious – that’s good, you’re doing something new. See how it goes, experiment, fine tune for next time, and the next time, until it comes naturally and you find you are at the table acknowledged as a peer and a strategic contributor – a prerequisite for leadership.
Six ways to accelerate your leadership development:
1. Set yourself development goals as well as performance goals each quarter.
2. Do stuff – practice is important, you can’t learn your leadership from a book.
3. Take small steps – make the task do-able.
4. Enlist others in your learning – it is supportive and it keeps you conscious of how you’re trying to change.
5. Celebrate your successes – really focus on this and keep notes on what worked.
6. Be kind to yourself – when things don’t work as well as you wanted them to, imagine you are your best, wisest friend. Give yourself a break, give yourself a smile and remind yourself of how talented and valued you are.
None of us is the finished article – your true superpower is understanding that and embracing every opportunity to improve. You have it all in you!