Throughout the work that I do (coaching, mentoring, speaking at events, facilitating and training) a few recurrent themes keep coming to mind that I wish I knew when I was in my early thirties. The topics at hand are often about working with confidence, assertiveness and the importance of owning your personal brand and raising your own profile.
In my early thirties, I was a management consultant with an interesting, international and varied career already behind me. I would say that I had a good level of self-awareness and was quite driven. But if I could go back in time there are some things that I would like to tell my younger, professional self.
You don’t need to become aggressive, bolshy and like ‘one of the guys’ to succeed. You do need to be more assertive and you do need to build your sense of self.
Know that outer confidence matters and helps manage perception. Even if you are doubting yourself, it is likely that no one else sees it but you.
Speak up and let your voice be heard. Trust your judgement and trust your opinions. They are as valid as anyone else’s.
Know that as well as hearing the ‘constructive feedback’ and focusing on areas for development, hear the compliments – and I mean really hear the compliments. Acknowledge any feedback on strengths and take time to build your bank of positivity.
Be aware of what your personal brand is at work and with clients and what you want it to be. Own it.
And the two biggies…
Know that it is your job to promote yourself and to let people know what you are doing. It isn’t enough to just get on with doing the job, keeping your head down and focusing on delivery. This very often becomes the default position for women during the mid-career phase especially but not exclusively if they have children. I know that after my first baby, I was so busy getting the job done that people didn’t know what I was getting done and it was my job to tell them, to self-promote and raise my profile. I think I didn’t do enough of that.
Know that what worked really well early in your career isn’t the same thing that can bring you through to senior management and leadership roles. This comes back to the previous point. Getting the job done is not always enough to succeed. Your impact on people and the way you engage with clients, managers and peers, is as important as getting the job done. Call it office politics or call it influencing and managing stakeholders, but it is part of your job as you progress through your career and it’s up to you to figure out what that means for you.
Own the career conversation. As part of performance and career discussions, discuss how you see the next few years of your career. Drive the real conversation around your career. Discuss if taking a bit longer to get the next promotion or even plateauing for a period is acceptable, maybe due to family reasons. Or, if you are still focused on driving forward at the same pace, make sure people know this and don’t assume otherwise. This phase of managing career and a young family is only one part of a potentially long career. But it must be managed pro-actively by you. Talk about it and name the elephant in the room.
Don’t wait to be put forward for the next promotion or that strategically important project that will help build your profile. Ask to be involved, seek out the opportunities and let it be known what you are looking for.
Retaining women during this stage of a woman’s career is a big challenge for many organisations. Knowing this and discussing options could take some of the pressure and expectation away – or at least ease it.
If I had known some of these things maybe I would still be with the same company. Maybe not. But I would definitely have felt less pressure on myself while I was still on that journey of discovering who I was and becoming the more confident professional that I would be a few years down the road.
What advice would you give your younger self?
A few years on, (I won’t say how many), four children later and running my own business which focuses on helping professional women (mainly) set themselves up to succeed and navigate their career from management through to leadership, I know that we all have a role to play in pushing the boundaries and changing the status quo. We owe it to ourselves to take responsibility for actively navigating your career forward. If organisations are serious about more women in leadership roles, then mentoring and supporting female talent as they navigate the mid-career phase, from management through to leadership levels is critical to retaining female talent in the organisation. It’s a two-way deal.
I share and discuss these same things with my clients and the feedback is consistent. Taking the time to stop, reflect re-focus and re-energise will help you set yourself up to succeed.
Helping you to find your mojo.
P.S. If this blog resonates with you or think it would resonate for someone you know, please like, share, tweet or forward on whatever media you like. E-mail is still good! I’d love to hear from you.