To Succeed in Life and Work

Before the holidays, Lisa Gates of She Negotiates started a discussion on ForbesWoman with this "burning question:" 
"What are the top 10 things you think all women need to learn to master to succeed in life and work?"
She sparked a pretty active discussion and here's what I observed about the replies. 

As you might expect the VAST majority of the answers had to do with enhancing personal greatness. Solid gold advice such as: believe that you're capable, take control of your life, discover your purpose, learn constantly, appreciate life, know your priorities and master emotions.

The second most common answers had to do with engaging others. These were significantly fewer of these comments which included: network strategically, delegation, ask for help, and teamwork.

There was virtually no guidance on the importance of developing and demonstrating business, strategic and financial acumen - out of 63 commentaries - many with multiple answers, there were about 3.

I am disheartened by this because remember the question was what do women need to master to succeed in life AND WORK

Shanti Feldhahn points out in her book, The Male Factor, that women and men view the world differently - and this discussion illustrates her point. Women view the "work world" as a smaller circle within a larger "personal world" circle. The assumption derived from this view is that if we constantly work on enhancing our personal greatness we will inevitably succeed at work. Men view the "work world" and the "personal world" as separate circles, each with its own set of rules. And while to me this is a less appealing construction, to ignore it in our search for career succes is perilous.

While it is true that honing our personal greatness will lead to success in life, it is simply not true that enhancing our personal greatness will naturally lead to success in work. As you know by now, success at work requires the development and demonstration of business, strategic and financial acumen. But that's not what I added to the discussion.

My answer to Lisa's question was that among the top 10 things all women need to master to succeed in life and work is this:  
To understand the difference between personal, professional and leadership excellence and act to develop all three.
Here's what I meant and why this advice is so powerful. Imagine 3 concentric circles. 
  1. At the center is personal excellence. Personal excellence is the core of what we need to navigate career and life successfully. All the advice about personal greatness is important here and working on this is fundamental. I know a woman who has twice run away from tough feedback. While she will continue to achieve a certain level of's obvious that she is limited because she hasn't embraced the feedback.
  2. The second circle surrounding personal excellence is professional excellence. Professional excellence involves mastering one or more domains of action for example engineering, human resources, scientific research and/or parenting. This entails acquiring the body of knowledge, staying current and honing related skills such as your interpersonal skills. As I'm writing I'm thinking of Lynn Elsenhans, CEO of Sunoco who took increasingly responsible positions in industry organizations as she progressed in her career.
  3. The third circle is leadership excellence...and, as you know, this draws on personal excellence/greatness (including professional skills) but requires that you go further to hone business, strategic and financial acumen - not to mention strong engagement skills. This calls to mind Anne Mulcahy who as she assumed the responsibilities of CEO of Xerox was aided in developing financial acumen by an employee in the finance department. Or of Ginni Rometty, who received mentorship on developing external strategic relationships in the months before stepping into the CEO role at IBM. 
As I point out in , putting on the mantle of leadership is absolutely necessary for success at work - no matter your level. The demands of today's volatile marketplace means that everyone is paid to lead - to use her personal greatness to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.
By all means, lhone your personal greatness or excellence. And continue on. Cultivate your professional excellence and your leadership excellence. These together will help you succeed in life and work.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
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Why Women MBAs Do Less Well Than Men?

A while ago I sent a colleague who is a strong critical thinker our new research on gender dynamics that constrict talent pipelines. The findings motivated him to rethink some of their talent development strategies. In addition, he sent along this question.
"I’m curious why female business and MBA grads don’t fare as well as male business and MBA grads.  Both graduate with similar education and training. Any thoughts?"  
Of course I had thoughts and in a few minutes waiting for a meeting, here are the reasons I came up with.
  1. Women with MBAs tend to do better than women without, so the MBA does represent an advantage. Of the 19 F500 women CEOs I've studied at least 6 have MBAs, 3 have other masters and one has her J.D. (don't have info about all the others)
  2. Stereotypes still come into play - negative stereotypes about women and business, positive stereotypes about men and business, stereotypes beneath assumptions about women who are mothers, women take care - men take charge, etc.
  3. Henry Mintzberg argues (and I agree with him) that many MBA programs create financial analysts for Wall Street and not business leaders. So the making of business leaders is left to informal mentoring/sponsorship relationships that women have less access to (see #4, 7 & 8).
  4. Some men in business leadership positions are uncomfortable mentoring women.
  5. Women opt off the career track for many reasons.
  6. Women aren't considered for operations leadership positions.
  7. Women don't choose to go into operations - stay in staff functions.
  8. Women don't ask for advancement - wait to be rewarded
  9. Men don't ask women their career aspirations.
  10. Having business acumen through an MBA program doesn't mean women know how to demonstrate it (or that they will be in positions to - see 6 & 7 above).
  11. Women leave for better jobs in other companies because their efforts don't get them ahead.
  12. Most mentoring programs focus on the creation of a trusting relationship and good manners (follow through on commitments, be on time) instead of how to use a mentoring relationship to develop a deeper understanding of the business, how decisions are made at higher levels, etc.
...there are probably others as well. 

Do you have others to offer?

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
Follow her on TwitterLittlePinkBook  |  Facebook  |  Google+  |  LinkedInGroupLinkedIn

What's Love Got To Do With It?

About every other year I use February to talk about love in the organizational context. This year I'm inspired by a presentation I saw Brendon Burchard make in which he said that at the end of our lives, each of us wants to be able to give positive answers to 3 questions:
  1. Did I live?
  2. Did I love?
  3. Did I matter?
Too often these questions make us think about life outside of work. But they apply equally to life at work - as a matter of fact, they track with our definition of leadership.

So, what's love look like at work? First, know that when I speak about love at work, I am not talking about the American over-emphasis on sexual intimacy. This should go without being said, but it’s safer to explicitly define what I mean by loving at work. Here goes.

Loving at work means 5 things. What I had to say is too long for this post, but you can read the rest here.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
Follow her on TwitterLittlePinkBook  |  Facebook  |  LinkedInGroupLinkedIn

The Role of Mindset in Advancing & Retaining Women

Back in the 1970s, progressive companies addressed the challenge of women's advancement issues with many tools including multi-day workshops that directly surfaced and addressed gender-based stereotypes. Does that surprise you? It probably does because since then, companies avoid this topic like the plague. This in spite of the fact that studies continue to point to barriers created by gender-based expectations and assumptions.

For example, McKinsey the global consulting firm has reported that:
“Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity Managers — male and female — continue to take viable female candidates out of the running, often on the assumption that the woman can’t handle certain jobs and also discharge family obligations.”
In anticipation of the day when companies once again are ready to take action on the fact that mindsets drive talent development decisions and actions, we've been tracking over 15 gender-based mindsets, how they influence the actions of people managers and actions managers can take to counter their "pernicious force". A small number of our clients in the U.S. have created opportunities to explore these dynamics.

When the issue of quotas for board positions was all over the European press, we predicted that the appetite for tackling this dynamic would grow in Europe. Many countries have framed the issue of women's advancement more broadly as an issue of gender equality. What excites me about this is that we've always held that the absence of women at the top is a result of 3 factors:

  1. Women's skills, knowledge and attitudes about themselves and men.
  2. Men's skills, knowledge and attitudes about themselves and women.
  3. Formal and informal policies and practices of organizations. 
For four decades, organizations have resolutely addressed #1 and #3. This has resulted in some progress. But without an exploration of #2, progress will continue to be glacially slow and as uneven as a potholed city street.
    What is your organization doing to help men in people management positions examine the impact of their gender-related mindsets? If they're ready to tackle this factor, let us know. We have the tools to support them.

    Lead ON!
    Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
    Follow her on TwitterLittlePinkBook  |  Facebook  |  LinkedInGroupLinkedIn