• Oasis Living chats with coach Sally Helgesen, regarded as the world's premier expert on women's leadership, about her own journey into the field

    It is tough making a name for yourself in the corporate lion’s den as it is but, statistically, it's even tougher for a woman. History doesn't need to rewind any more than a few decades for us to be in a time when women leaders weren't taken as seriously as their male counterparts.

    Enter leadership coach Sally Helgesen who has spent the past 28 years in the field by writing and coaching – enough to have her work be regarded as the gold standard when it comes to women's leadership.

    Her first book, The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, was published in 1990 and is still in print, She had since she written five more books, the latest of which – co-written with leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith – looks into breaking twelve habits that hold women back in the workplace.

    Oasis Living caught up with her on her recent visit to Dubai for a chat about her latest literary release, How Women Rise.

    GIVE US A BRIEF TIMELINE OF YOUR CAREER

    I began working as a journalist for national magazines in the 1970s. Then, in the mid-80s, I switched to a series of jobs in corporate communications. I enjoyed it but was dismayed by how little the organizations I worked for understood about what women had to offer as leaders. This led me to begin researching how the best women leaders led their organizations, a project that resulted in The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership.

    As it was the first book to focus on what women had to contribute rather than how they needed to change and adapt, organizations began calling me to speak to women, work with them and deliver a variety of leadership programmes.

    WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

    My field really chose me. It was a natural, organic decision based on my evolving interests and growing commitment to women’s development and talents, along with my belief that organizations could benefit enormously if they became better at recognizing what women had to offer and supporting their growth.

    HOW DOES A TYPICAL COACHING SESSION GO?

    I am making a switch in my coaching. It has been more informal and rooted in my specific content and insights until now. But going forward I will be using the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Coaching model with my clients, integrating what I have learnt into that powerful framework.

    WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

    Many challenges, but perhaps the chief one has been in persuading leaders at the senior executive level that creating an environment in which women can reach their highest potential is a bottom-line issue.

    IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST EXTERNAL OBSTACLE BETWEEN A WOMAN AND CLIMBING THE CAREER LADDER?

    I would say the biggest external barrier remains a lack of targeted support for women as they seek to rise.

    YOU'VE AUTHORED MANY TITLES OVER THE YEARS, WHICH IS MOST PERSONAL TO YOU?

    All reflect my personal experience and passion, but my latest book brings all the lessons I have learnt together and offers them in a very practical and actionable way.

    WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND HOW WOMEN RISE?

    Recognizing the power of Marshall Goldsmith’s essential insight in his great book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: that the very behaviours that serve people well early in their careers may hold them back at higher levels. And wanting t see if he and I could adapt that insight in a way that would specifically benefit women and the organizations that support their advancement.

    AMONG THE 12 HABITS YOU MENTION IN YOUR BOOK, WHICH ONES STAND OUT TO YOU THE MOST?

    Here are four:

    1. Women can be reluctant to claim their achievements and uncomfortable bringing attention to what they contribute. As a result, they may expect others to notice their hard work and feel disappointed when this doesn’t happen
    2. Women often tend to overvalue expertise. This approach can make them invaluable as employees but not necessarily help them get that next promotion
    3. Women often fall into the perfection trap, trying to be precise and correct in everything they do. This can result in unnecessary effort and make it hard to delegate
    4. Research shows that women ruminate more than men, maintaining an internal dialogue about what went wrong, what they could’ve done differently and just being hard on themselves. By contrast, men are more apt to move on from mistakes, learning from them instead of engaging in self-blame

    WHAT STEPS CAN WOMEN TAKE THEN TO MAXIMIZE THEIR POTENTIAL TO LEAD?

    Start by focusing on any one of the twelve habits, or even part of it. It's important to acknowledge which of these habits you identify with if you want to make progress. Second, cultivate allies. These are people who can give you feedback and suggestions that will help you achieve your goals. Third, let go of self-judgment as well as judging others. Focus on desired results instead. And fourth, remember that problem behaviours also have their upside. They may be what got you where you are, but they won’t necessarily get you where you want to go.

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?

    The ability to give full scope to your talents and gifts and see them make a difference in the world.

    AND WHAT KIND OF CHANGE DO YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORKING FIELD?

    I wish to see organizations become more web-like and inclusive, giving greater scope for diverse talents to thrive.

    WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?

    I am working full-time on developing leadership programmes that reflect the insights of How Women Rise, and helping organisations adapt what Goldsmith and I learnt through their coaching and training practices.

    For more information, visit sallyhelgesen.com