The Success Factors You Need as an Aspiring or Rising Female Executive

I recently asked executive search professional Barbara White Crockett what sometimes impacts female executives in their ability to move up in an organization. Principal of BWC International, a boutique search firm focusing on all aspects of the Executive Search process, Barbara is privy to her clients’ thoughts (including many CEOs) on filling senior positions. When a hiring team has to choose from a number of successful candidates, what are the deciding factors? What tips the balance from one candidate to another?

Barbara’s feedback is insightful in that she talks about the general behaviors that get in the way of advancement for female executives – and it’s information aspiring senior women need to know.

Successful candidates treat the workplace like a playing field

On a soccer pitch, elite players don’t just dive for the ball and try to get it into the net. They consider the entire playing field: how will a player advance the ball the to net; which fellow team members will help and which opposing team members will hinder the player’s progress? To whom can the player pass the ball, and who will pass it back – and who will play dirty? Successful players know the impact players and how to leverage relationships with those players.

Successful executives apply the same approach to the workplace. Rising female executives understand the game being played and see the entire field. They recognize who or what stands in the way of achieving their goals — and who or what can help them reach their goals. They aren’t surprised nor take it personally if the game gets rough or some of the calls are bad.

A simple message is better

Crockett notes that unsuccessful candidates have a tendency to over-explain things. CEOs favor candidates who don’t get lost in complexities but deliver clear and concise messages. When female executives spend too much time explaining a decision or action, they look unsure, as if they need validation from others to feel secure in their decision-making. Better to keep explanations short and clear so that you don’t open yourself up to endless debate.

Likability can get in the way

Unlike male executives, female executives worry about their likability and work to be on good terms with their managers, colleagues and staff. This is natural, of course. You spend a lot of time with these people and getting along with them can make work more enjoyable.

But problems arise when wanting to be liked gets in the way of the job. Focusing on likability can lead to indecision (e.g. not wanting to take a decision that will lead to hard feelings or unpopularity) or incorrect decisions (e.g. where concerns about likability lead to the wrong decision entirely).

Nobody wants to be the social pariah of the office, but hard decisions often aren’t popular or well-received. It’s better career-wise, says Crockett, to be respected at the office, especially for making sound (if unpopular decisions), and to cultivate friendship elsewhere.

(Susan notes: “Likeability” is extremely tricky territory flush with double standards for women, and frankly, depending on the unwritten rules and preferences of the senior leadership team, it may be a doable task – or an impossible challenge. Likeability for women leaders is tremendously complicated, and those who succeed always have, often in concert with the CEO, explicitly thought this through and found a way to make it work.)

Success in your current job isn’t always enough

The Human Sigma principles developed by Gallup are being applied and rewarded everywhere, yet senor women don’t always understand how to apply these principles to their own careers/brand. It’s crucial that you do, however, because applying these principles reduces the variability of how you come across with regard to:

  • Maintaining a consistent method of communication
  • Developing a disciplined process for self-evaluation and subsequent improvement
  • Regular tweaking or improving upon how you’re delivering yourself to your workforce and/or clients.

The Human Sigma principles simply state that there isn’t a single best way of doing things as a professional . . . but there is a single best outcome. For executive women, that means successfully moving up the corporate ladder to the desired position — and beyond.

The successful executive sees the whole field, understands the players and patterns, finds her own way to navigate through the game by utilizing her own personal best practices and thus, to some extent, consciously managing – and at times manipulating — the desired results.