On a recent coaching session, I was asked what are the common mistakes made by women in senior management. I responded by saying that I will share the two things that I feel women in senior management need to learn.
Women need to learn how to debate, and how to accept it when you lose a debate. Notice that I use the word debate instead of argue. For some reason, a lot of women take the word “argue” or “argument” to mean combative and that it will result with one party winning, and the other losing. This is not true. In the context of senior management especially, where consensus is rare and hard decisions need to be made quickly (and often, forcefully), being able to debate an issue and then accept the outcome of that debate is an important skill to learn. Too often I find that women need a lot of time to lick their wounds – and in the meantime they would avoid bumping into the “winning” colleague at the corridor; they would turn down invitation to socialize; they would limit interaction to absolutely essential work matters.
But I see this behavior rarely in men. They take their defeats, brush it off and then move on to the next task. We should learn how to do this i.e. to accept that losing an argument does not define who we are, it is not a criticism of our personality, it does not belittle the quality of our work or our intelligence – that it is a contained incident and should be left at that. Of course some decisions are harder to accept than the rest, but women need to learn to bounce back and bounce back quickly and the way to do that is to learn to debate and accept the loss (if at all) gracefully.
Women need to know how to manage up. This is something that I struggled with earlier on in my career. I had a boss who once told me that I needed to learn to buy him a drink or dinner once in a while. When I shared this incident with a male peer from the same industry, he told me that there is a value in learning how to manage up. However, I was not able to shake the feeling that in doing that I was kissing up and trying to get into the boss’ good books — ie where I would be leveraging on our good “relationship” to get easier buy-ins or approvals as opposed to getting them based on the merits of the projects or my capabilities as the project lead itself.
As my experience and skill sets grow, I now understand that “buying the boss a drink or dinner” does not mean exactly that. It means, once in a while, I should casually check in with the boss in order maintain open communication. Once in a while, I need to check the temperature and seek his opinion on whether I am on the right track or if I need realignment to ensure that I am on the course that he’s charted and have not veered off into a different direction. While the work relationship could always remain at arms-length, I should learn to talk to my boss on matters other than the immediate work requirements. By that I mean I should not see him ONLY when work requires me to do so like when I need him to sign something.
Unfortunately, lots of women still find opening up to the boss about the problems and challenges at work equals exposing one’s weaknesses and would diminishes one’s value to the organisation. This is not true. Well, certainly it is not true anymore in this day and age where most bosses are hugely invested in being the catalyst to push you to do greater things or helping to remove roadblocks so that you could progress further. Having a coffee session with the boss is still considered as a “bro” thing to do. We women need to get over that.