[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Kevin Kruse: Welcome to the LEADx Leadership Show everyone. I am Kevin Kruse, so glad you're here. We are going to help you to stand out and to get ahead. Today on the show, the book you're going to hear about will go down, I believe, as one of the best books of 2018. The author and I talk about the difference between building your network and leveraging it, the balance between being a modest team player, being humble, and being a self-promoter, and the pitfalls of perfectionism, and so much more. First, if you want to become the leader everyone wants to work for, if you want to become the boss you wish you had yourself, visit LEADx.org, check out the LEADx Academy. You can check it out for free for three days. Over 200 micro-lessons on employee engagement, communication, leadership, and so much more.
Our quote of the day, “Getting past those labels for me is pretty much really easy, because I define myself,” Serena Williams. Now, our guest today is one of the leading voices when it comes to women's leadership. Since the publication of The Female Advantage in 1990, it's still in print by the way, she has written five more books in the field and speaks to audiences all around the world. Her new book is How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, Or Job. Our guest is Sally Helgesen. Sally, welcome to the show.
Sally Helgesen: Kevin, it's great to be here.
Kruse: Now, we are going to talk about your new book in just a minute. I'm very excited about it, but I always ask our guests the same first question, which is what leadership advice would you give to a first-time manager?
Helgesen: A first-time manager? I would give the leadership advice to, from the very beginning, from the first day, focus on doing an excellent job, but also focus on getting visibility for the work you do, and starting to build connections from day one. I think that's really important. What I notice is that people who decide they're going to keep their head down and just do a great job, that's terrific. Doing a great job is important, don't get me wrong, but that if you're not also thinking in terms of the visibility, and you're not also building connections that provide you with visibility and also support, you're going to start to feel isolated and you're not going to be as effective.
Kruse: I love that advice and I know you expand on that in your new book, which again, is How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, Or Job. I wish we had time to go through all 12 habits.
Helgesen: It might take a while.
Kruse: Unfortunately, we don't, but why don't you kick us off, pick one of your favorite habits to talk about and to help people with.
Helgesen: Okay. The favorite habit I'll … I've got about three of them that are, I think, really fundamental for women. I want to emphasize, as you said, that I co-authored the book with Marshall Goldsmith, and he's a coach. What we were able to do is not only describe the 12 behaviors that in our combined many decades of experience are most likely to get in women's ways, but we're also able to provide a real template for dealing with them and in an effective and manageable way, so that it draws on Marshall's coaching process as well. I think it's-
Kruse: That's great.
Helgesen: -Very effective. The behavior, one of the foundational behaviors, and it relates to what we talked about in the lead in for women, is expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions and your hard work. I became aware of this some years ago when I was doing a survey for a group of partnership firms and they asked me to talk with female partners about what they found younger women, women who were associates or just coming in, were best at and what they were worst at. It was really interesting because the answers were pretty consistent. They said, “They're best at doing high-quality work. They're extremely conscientious. They dot the eyes and cross the Ts. They're worst at bringing visibility to their work, bringing notice to their work.”
Often if they're complimented on their work. They'll say, “Oh, my colleagues did that, or my team did that, or it was a wonderful client, or this boss is so easy to work for.” All which may be true and which is a very generous response, but almost pushing aside any kind of credit that they could claim for that. When I began doing workshops, which I've really done now for the last 30 years for women all over the world about developing leadership skills, I often start by asking, “How many of you are good at drawing attention to your achievements?” I get very few who often are. When I ask them, “Why do you think you're not good?” I get one of two responses.
One is what I've just said, “Well, if I do great work, I think people should notice.” Maybe in an ideal world, that's true. It's not true on the planet that most of us live on, particularly given how busy people are today. The other thing I hear is, “If I have to act like that jerk down the hall to get noticed around here, I would rather not be noticed.” That's putting it in a very either/or frame. Either I'm a jerk and a constant self-promoter talking about nothing but myself, or I just hang back and hope people notice. The first is untenable and the second is pretty ineffective. Finding a way to really get comfortable claiming your achievements and making sure that they're recognized, is really key to success.
Kruse: Yeah, and I think… I mean, it goes without saying, that all of these bad habits, they're plenty of men who may have them as well.
Kruse: They exhibit more highly in women. I like the way you talked about, it's not an either/or, because even myself, I was raised … My father was … God forbid I would do a good play on the little league baseball field and cheer or something. He would tell me afterward, “You don't boast. You don't brag. You don't draw attention to yourself.” My messages were always, “The work will speak for itself. You always, if anybody asks you about something that you've done yourself, you always put the word team in the first sentence.” I can still see many professional athletes use that trick. It's hard for many of us, I think, to say, “Wait, I'm just going to now be a bragger and I'm going to be that person everybody hates.” You're like, “It's not an either/or-“
Kruse: “There's a middle ground.”
Helgesen: There's very much a middle ground and everybody needs to find that kind of individually in how they interact with people. Let me give you an example of something that was really successful that we talk about in the book. A number of years ago, I was doing a workshop at a technology company out in Silicon Valley, and there was a young woman who was an engineer there. I was talking about this characteristic and she said, “Boy, do I know what you're talking about.” She said, “About a couple months ago, she'd gone away on the retreat for her performance review with her boss.”
She said, “I've always prided myself on being a really good connector in our organization.” She said, “And a lot of engineers aren't.” She said, “So I always thought that was something good. I help people, I get resources to flow. People ask me questions. I know a lot of people in our organization.” She'd only been there about six years. Her boss in his evaluation said, “She does great work, but she needs to know people in the organization.” She said, “I went away from that feeling so bad-“
Helgesen: “About myself and like he doesn't know me, he doesn't value me. Maybe I should leave. Maybe I'm not a good fit here.” Really going down the rabbit hole. Then she realized, after about two weeks she thought, “How would he know? I never told him. He doesn't watch my office. He doesn't monitor my email.” She decided to try, start emailing him once a week. Just very quick say, “Jim, here are some of the people I talked to this week.” Then just list them, that's all. After a month he came up to her and he said, “This is so valuable what you're doing.” He said, “This is information I need to know because I know now who our unit is connecting with.” She thought she'd be wasting his time, or that he'd think she was bragging, so she really learned a great lesson. What she found was that there was a way to do that, that's comfortable for you, that's actually informative and helpful to other people. It's a good technique.
Kruse: So practical. What I love about it is, look, in an ideal world, we would never have to manage up. Our leaders would have one-on-one meetings with us every week, and never miss them, and know exactly what we were accomplishing, and who we were meeting with, but that's not always the real world. This is a very simple technique, very non-threatening to your boss, of saying, “Okay. Hey, end of the week just wanted to do a check-in. Here are the people I've met with and the things. Just wanted to keep you in the loop.” Very subtle and great for the boss, great for the manager, and also becomes almost like a diary, a work diary. I mean, can you imagine how valuable that is when it comes time to do your annual review, or to think about areas for growth for the next year, to look back at your own notes week-by-week? I love this idea.
Helgesen: That's exactly right, Kevin. This woman, who I kept in touch with, Ellen, who went onto real success out there in the Valley, ending up doing some venture work, but she said to me, she said, “One of the side benefits of that,” she said, “Was I could go over those emails and I could see all the people I had connected with.”
Kruse: That's great.
Helgesen: She said, “And that was a real resource for me.” It just takes a little imagination and a little practicality. The other point you bring up is, this is so … The world of work today is so much not the ideal world. I mean, the advice your father gave you on the field, that might've been good for the workplace of the 1960s or '70s, when there was plenty of staff, and people had plenty of time to talk, and communicate, and hang out, and watch Jeopardy after work together in somebody's office. We're in a very different world now and people need their attention drawn because everybody is pressed.
Kruse: Yeah. This is golden stuff. What's another bad habit that we should learn to overcome?
Helgesen: Well, I think one of the things that I've often seen with women is putting their job before their career. That is-
Kruse: I was hoping you were going to talk about this one. I love this. This is great.
Helgesen: That is, investing too much effort in trying to do as good a job as you can. You get a 96 and your first question is, “Okay. How can I get 100?” You don't need to get 100, a 96 is good enough. Again, you need to spend more of your time thinking about, “Where do I want this job to lead me? Who do I need to connect with, etc.?” One of the things that people often forget is that when you do a stellar job and really become known for that, you often become indispensable to your boss. One of the women profiled in the book, who I worked with. She was in financial services up in Boston and her boss actually said to her, “You came up for this job,” which is a job in an area she wanted. He said, “But, I told them I could not afford to lose you.”
She said, “She went away feeling good about that,” and then after about a year she thought, “What? Does that mean I'm stuck here forever?” When a great posting came up, she went into his office and she said, “I will slit my wrist to get this job and I need you to help me,” and they moved ahead with it. Often people get stuck in jobs, valuing their job over their career because they feel an excessive loyalty to their boss, or to their team. Women especially can spend so much time nurturing their team, that they get identified also as internally focused, because they're focused on the team, rather than focusing on the outside. In this book, what we're really talking about, Marshall and I, it's to some degree based on his fundamental insight in his great book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There.
Kruse: One of my favorites. Yeah, that's one of my favorites, sure.
Helgesen: Yeah, me too. That the behaviors that get you to a certain point in your career, don't help you later on. I think this is a particular example of this, doing a great job, and putting your job over your career can be useful in earlier stages of your career, but when you need to be more outward facing, you can really get caught by that. It's the typical kind of thing that can get in somebody's way if they're trying to position themselves to really move higher.
Kruse: Yeah. The reason why I was so excited that you addressed this is, I'm passionate and some of my work is in the area of productivity and time management, and so often I hear from these high achievers who are working crazy long hours every day, often six or seven days a week, and any time you would suggest that they take time to learn and develop a new skill, to nurture their relationships, their social capital, to spend more time on their physical health, or with even their family, or to become mindful and to de-stress, they say, “There's no time. I have to do all these things and there are all these other things I really should be doing. There's no time.”
This is exactly the point. Often they're so focused on succeeding in their job, the short-term, succeeding in the day or the week, they're totally selling themselves out for the long term. They're hurting themselves in the long-term. On a personal level too, in terms of health, long-term health, long-term relationships at home or whatever. There has to be a balance. As busy as you feel, you can't do the job without also investing in the career.
Helgesen: That's true. I mean, it's an unsustainable way of operating in the world, basically. Again, I think given the nature of the technology that we operate with now, it's 24/7. It's programmed, literally, to exhaust us. It operates at a speed beyond human consciousness, so there is always something more to do. I think people easily get caught in that and it's extremely stressful for them. Guess what? It also creates stress for people around them.
Kruse: Yeah, that's right.
Helgesen: Because when you're in this hyper sort of, “Get it done, get it done,” super productivity mode without ceasing, people around you, whether it's your family or your coworkers, can experience that as quite stressful. One of the things that people, and this kind of overlaps the topic that we're talking about, valuing your job over your career, it overlaps to some degree with perfectionism, which is another behavior in here. Because if you are trying to achieve perfection on everything you're doing, you're going to be remarkably poor at delegating, because, in order to delegate, you have to trust. Often, people who are overwhelmed, are people who think, “Oh, it's just easier to do it myself. It's easier to do it myself.”
One of the things they forget is, if you take that approach, you starve the people around you of developmental opportunities. They're lots of ways in which that's an unhelpful practice and I think just being really intentional about why am I here, what am I trying to achieve, what is my ultimate purpose in this job, and also this career. You want to keep that in mind all the time and it will give you a benchmark to help you decide where you really want to be investing your time and where you may be over-investing in something that's not going to be helpful.
Kruse: Right. Sally, for my audience, I often like to … I tell them, try to get just a little bit better every day or every week and it doesn't have to all happen at once. I'd like to challenge them to try something very practical, so based on your book, what is something that we could actually do today, either for some more self-awareness, or to send that message to our bosses, or something you want to have us try out?
Helgesen: Yeah, I think so. One would be … If we're talking very much about this, putting your job over your career, if you want to stay with that-
Helgesen: For a minute. I would challenge people to sit down and write out three sentences, “Why am I doing this job? Where do I want this job to lead in my life?” Then thirdly, “Who could help me?” We have this sort of coaching template that we use in the book, is, first of all, starting small. You're exactly right, getting a brand new mean Monday morning is not an effective way to move ahead. Start something really small. You're trying to get more concise in your communication, identify one meeting where you'll be presenting this week and try to think about, “How am I going to be more concise?” The second part of our template is to enlist allies. Nothing helps you build relationships better than enlisting other people in trying to get better at what you do. You're having trouble … You're overwhelmed and you look at your list and think, “I can't think of anything anybody can do for me.”
You might try asking three people who know the project you're working on, trusted coworkers, and say, “I'm really overwhelmed to some degree, I may be doing too much, and I'm wondering if you look at what I'm doing, can you see anything I could delegate here? What are some tricks you've used that have helped you be a better delegator? I've seen you're good at it.” You ask somebody who's good at it, not somebody who's going around with their hair on fire all the time too. Then enlist them into the effort. Get their ideas, get their, as Marshall would call it, “feed forward” about what practices you might try in the future. I think that when you're trying to institute any kind of effective long-term behavioral change, even at the smallest level, the most important rule is really not to do it alone. It's too hard, it's too hard. You need fresh eyes, and you need support, and there's something else too.
If you're trying to get better at something, you want people to know that you're trying to get better because again, we're in a busy workplace, so you might be running around stressed and with your hair on fire, and you're trying to become less … Operate much less in that way, but people are going to know you as the person who is running around and was stressed with your hair on fire, so the only way to bring real visibility to that and to advertise that, is to bring other people into the process. Because then, when somebody else says, “Oh boy, Kevin is always on such a tear,” that other person can say, “Well, I think that's been true in the past, but have you noticed, for example, in that meeting how relaxed and … ” “Oh yeah, I see. You're right. Maybe he is changing.” That's the way you get your reputation to develop along with you. It'll be more accurate when you bring people into the process.
Kruse: Such great advice. You hit on something that I've often viewed as sort of a secret to success, is that so many people think that you build relationships and make friends by doing them favors, by helping them. I think it's the reverse. The fastest way to make friends and really bond is when you ask someone to do something for you when you ask for a favor. I think they call it the Ben Franklin effect, from some myth about Ben Franklin borrowing a rare book from his rival or something in Philadelphia. I think that that's just phenomenal, is it brings people in, they can give you that help and it gets their awareness on how you're trying to improve. I've chuckled a few times when Marshall has said some of the executives he worked with, they do change right away, but it takes forever for everybody to notice it.
Helgesen: That's right. That's right because they're not necessarily bringing people into the loop and that's really important. I think the point you make about asking people for help, is really, really important. One of the behaviors in this book, which I notice because I do all these women's leadership workshops, that is often a problem for women, is they're great at building relationships, but not that good at leveraging relationships. That is, bringing people in as allies saying, “I need help with this. Do you have any thoughts on this?” Engaging them. “I'm getting stepped on a lot when I speak in that meeting, could you possibly speak up on my behalf, or notice when it happens?” Things like that.
Just leveraging relationships. “I'm trying to achieve this objective, do you know anyone who could help me? Is there anyone in your network who could be helpful to me?” Women will often hang back from that and some men aren't great at it either, but when they do, I think often it comes because there's a sense they're not recognizing that, first of all, that exchange of favors is really how the world works, and it's a good thing. When you ask somebody to help you, you're really providing them with an opportunity to in the future, ask you to help them. There's an element of reciprocity there.
Kruse: That's right.
Helgesen: It's not about, “Oh, can you help me? I'm having trouble.” No, no, no. It's, “I'm having trouble with this.” You can even say, “If you're having trouble with something down the line, let me know, I'm glad to be a resource for you.” It's a way of building those kinds of buddy relationships that are so useful in organizations.
Kruse: Yeah, and I'm glad you addressed that chapter as well because I wasn't quite sure I was fully getting it. Now that you explained it, I understand that women are more likely to go ahead and build those networks, but not tap into them. You triggered in my mind, I recently met with an old boss and partner. He's one of the most successful business people I know and we were talking, and as you were explaining about leveraging, I realized almost everything he did for me was giving me names and introductions to people. It was like breathing for him. I would ask him his advice about a certain topic, and he would give me three names. I would ask for advice on this topic, he would give me a name. Then he followed it up with some email introductions. I need to improve at this as well, but I think at the highest levels, that's how things are done and that's what they default to.
Helgesen: Exactly. That's exactly right. As I have been observing the workplace and participating in it for more and more decades, I see the people who are most successful, are the best at doing that. They're the best connectors and it's one of the reasons that many of them seem to be less stressed and seem to have time to answer requests because they're not burying themselves under lots of work trying to prove that they're a wonderful person or a worthy employee.
Kruse: That's right.
Helgesen: They're really adding value in a way that is very helpful.
Kruse: It also occurs to me that often it's a joke in the New Jersey area, I'm in Philadelphia, but people make fun of the often used thing of, “I know a guy who knows a guy.” It's sort of the answer to everything. “Ah, my-“
Kruse: “30-year-old cars got a bad muffler.” “I know a guy who knows a guy.”
Helgesen: Yeah, exactly.
Kruse: You don't do it yourself, but you know a guy who knows a guy.
Helgesen: Yeah, exactly.
Kruse: Sally, this has been delightful and we are only in April, as of now, but I'm predicting that I'm going to say that this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year. It's that strong.
Helgesen: Thank you.
Kruse: My listener, I've had over 250 guests on the show, my listeners will know I don't say that very often, so this is-
Kruse: This is a special book. Tell us, how can we find out more about your work and of course the new book?
Helgesen: Well, the new book is available everywhere at every online supplier and in every retail store. It's also available in airports. We've got great airport displays. I'm getting photos from all around the country-
Helgesen: Of people, “Oh, I was just in Fort Myers and I saw your book featured.” You can basically get it anywhere, from Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million-
Helgesen: Because we both use that platform and are very responsive in it.
Kruse: That's great and generous use of your time. We'll make sure to put those links in our show notes.
Kruse: Sally, thanks again for coming onto the LEADx Show.
Helgesen: Oh, it's been wonderful. Really enjoyed it, Kevin.