With the expectation that today’s female leaders need to be able to show that they can truly ‘do it all’, Nicky Garcea, director at organisational psychology firm Capp, explores the impact of the need to be a ‘juggler’ has on female talent development and well-being, and highlights ways that ‘doing less’, but thinking more strategically about using strengths can be a women’s secret weapon to success.
In my experience of working with women globally, their feeling of needing to ‘do it all’ and ‘do it all well’ is unanimous. And if the pressure to juggle jam-packed home lives with getting a promotion, wasn’t stressful enough, researchers also believe that this desire to balance home and work causes a significant decline in happiness.
Wellbeing & village of support
So why at a time when we have more opportunities to progress our careers do we feel sadder? There is a school of thought that suggests it might be a women’s desire for balance that is behind some of these statistics. That the pressure society and we put on ourselves to be good at everything has a detrimental impact on our well-being.
So what does this mean for those women striving to move up the career ladder? Firstly, you can’t do it all alone. You need other people to help keep the balls moving. Researchers Ezzedeen and Ritchy, call this a ‘village of support’. Secondly, that the secret to success might be in creating ‘imbalance’ and this is where strengths can help.
One of the distinguishing features between men and women during their 30s and 40s is that men report being both more directive and strategic with their career decisions. They predominately do two things differently:
1. They don’t get busy just ‘doing’ or being helpful. They are more selective with their career choices and more vocal with their expectations.
2. They don’t wait until they have acquired the confidence and skills before putting themselves forward for promotion, they take more risks and self promote more easily.
So what does this mean for women?
My advice to women is to look at their strengths and learn how to use them to best effect.
Strengths are defined as having three specific components: energy, performance and use.
This simple three step process helps individuals to identify that if they spend a lot of time working on things which they perform well at, but have to do, will actually drain their energy.
In Capp’s model, we would call this a ‘learned behaviour’. Drawing continually on our learned behaviours, has a detrimental impact on our energy and could be one of the reasons that our happiness decreases.
My recommendation to emerging female leaders seeking to maximise their strengths, is to spend less time trying to do a lot of things ‘ok’, but actually to do less better.
Some of the ways that women can achieve this imbalance is by:
Know your strengths and seek to work more on activities and in roles which expose your strengths. Others will then see you perform well but will also note your energy and passion for what you are doing. In a Capp study of the highly engaged, I noted that engaged individuals using their strengths 70% of any given week. Challenge yourself to do more of what you love and to find strategies to work around the areas, which you find draining.
2. Being you
Female leaders are expected to be more congruent than their male colleagues. When you lead using your strengths others perceive you as more authentic. Reflect on the strengths which you believe have been with you across your life and career to-date. How can you make sure that through how you lead these strengths are protected, nurtured and developed so they are part of your unique brand of leadership? What do you want to be known for?
3. Aligning strengths to action
It is often the case that we see our greatest area of growth being in our areas of greatest weakness, but it is in fact in using our strengths. Take time and engage others in helping you to identify your rich tapestry of strengths; including those you use a lot (realised) and those you use less (unrealised). Then set about challenging yourself to align your different strengths to different activities inside and outside of work. Our research, shows that you will achieve your desired goals and outcomes quicker.
Strengths-based female leadership development helps women to develop their confidence and authenticity. It also provides them with a language to develop their own specific leadership brand. Developing our strengths could be seen as just another ball to keep moving, but focusing on our unique gifts rather than trying to be well rounded has career and life benefits.
So ask yourself, what can you stop doing today so you can use your strengths more tomorrow?