There are few environments more electric than a group of professional women sharing their lived experiences. It’s in these conversations — with their candor, empathy and tenacity — that female leaders can learn from one another to overcome impediments to success. Because, despite the progress made over the last half-century, we still find ourselves in a world that wasn’t created by us or for us. We traverse paths to leadership that are fraught with peril, with double binds and obstacles that can derail our careers before we’ve even started.
Over the last few decades, we have coached more than 800 women leaders, spanning many different industries, disciplines and career paths, from established C-Suite leaders to professional athletes-turned-global speakers.
One of the greatest findings from our work is that as unique as each of our paths are, there are six universal blind spots that women encounter that can hinder or even derail their careers. Fortunately, there are strategies and tactics to effectively overcome these blind spots for an impactful, long-lasting career.
1. Build a career vision, strategy and plan
Your career is an ever-evolving journey, usually with a winding path that ultimately might not look like what you’d initially planned — and that’s okay! However, it’s critical for you to pick a direction — while remaining adaptable and receptive to change — with a long-term vision, strategy and tactical plan.
2. Prioritize your self-awareness
Studies show that fewer than 15% of people are truly self-aware, yet most of us think we are. The challenge of self-awareness is finding ways to be intentional about identifying your behavior, styles and personality and understanding their influence on others. Proactively seek out feedback to better understand how you impact others and commit to working on this through a do-learn-reflect model.
3. Invest in your reputationality
Reputationality is the combination of your unique personality and your reputation. It’s how you stand out — how you leave your mark. Creating a positive, aligned reputationality is a key element in designing an exceptional career for yourself. Take your reputationality into your own hands to create alignment between who you are and how others see you. Write your own story rather than leave it to others.
4. Avoid career autopilot
Without good, real-time guidance, finding your way takes a lot more effort than it needs to. Being deliberate with your career requires you to proactively seek feedback, advice and coaching that can help guide you and occasionally correct your course when you get off-track or run into obstacles. Seek out allies you trust to give you the hard truths and incorporate that input back into your career strategy.
5. Preparation and practice are key
Assuming we are always going to be “good on our feet” or “great in the moment” might not be a good strategy. Busy people tend to skip deep preparation and rehearsal and focus instead on the execution. But it’s critical to set an intention for the way you want to show up, and then practice and prepare for that outcome.
This is important for settings that range from routine meetings to major presentations. Precise, relentless practice can infuse your work with energy and confidence, help you sell ideas, influence decision-making and optimize successful outcomes. It gives you the opportunity to shine. If we are good on our feet now, imagine the impact we will make with a deliberate focus on preparation and practice in the future.
6. Don’t go it alone
Pursuing a career of purpose and consequence is an arduous undertaking. Without the proper support network, you will likely find yourself hitting dead ends, burning out or sub-optimizing your impact. These networks, or “posses” as we affectionately call them, give women vast, valuable resources for being more effective at work and help in steering their careers. Assemble a posse of supporters, both personal and professional, whom you can turn to for advice, feedback or a sympathetic ear during times of challenge.
As women, it is our ability to connect with one another and to share the hard truths that creates a path forward for all of us, not just those at the top. This is where we find the career-accelerating truths that empower us with the knowledge and skills to design impactful, enduring careers.
Brenda Wensil and Kathryn Heath, Ph.D., are co-authors of “I Wish I’d Known This: 6 Career-Accelerating Secrets for Women Leaders” and managing directors at Bravanti. Wensil also is a coach, writer, and speaker. Heath also is a best-selling author, thought leader and speaker on the topic of women’s leadership.