How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job
Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
Hachette Books, 2018
Reviewed by Shayne P. Taback, MD
Sally Helgesen, a writer, speaker, and executive coach, has been a prominent expert on women’s leadership since her 1990 publication of The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership.1 Her seventh book, How Women Rise, results from a collaboration with famed executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, the creator of stakeholder-centred coaching.
In 2007, Goldsmith published What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful,2 describing his methods to help (mostly male) business leaders reach the pinnacle of their corporations by eliminating toxic, derailing behaviours. Much of the advice in that book will not resonate with women leaders; the men in Goldsmith’s book suffer from rampant overconfidence. They are optimistic and resilient risk-takers and wired for success of a sort. However, their need to always win leads to toxic behaviour: they never listen, brag about accomplishments, take undeserved credit for what goes well, pass the buck when things don’t go well, never apologize, never thank, and vehemently resist change until they are on the verge of professional and sometimes personal disaster.
Women need a different book. Helgesen and Goldsmith follow a philosophy similar to that of Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In3: acknowledge the systemic gender harassment and the resulting no-win situations that women encounter in the workplace, but focus on changing the individual behaviours and underlying mental models that can hold women back.
A key focus is on replacing unhelpful mental models that create unnecessary internal conflicts as a result of “either-or” thinking. Success, ambition, power, and career self-interest need not conflict with strong core values such as putting other people’s needs first and not disappointing others. Key words are reframed: “ambition” as the desire to maximize your talents in the service of work you find worthwhile and rewarding, and “healthy career self-interest” as creating the conditions for building a career that gives full scope to your talents while providing you with the means to build a life that feels satisfying and worthwhile. Power is reframed as the potential to influence people but positional power is not neglected. The authors quote Peter Drucker, who said the decision is always made by the person with the power to make the decision.4
The focus of the book then shifts to 12 behavioural habits based on the unhelpful mental models that hold women back. This section is approached carefully to avoid being overly critical. Helgesen’s female clients are generally too hard on themselves despite being more open to change than Goldsmith’s male clients. The 12 habits include: reluctance to claim achievements, expecting others to spontaneously notice and award contributions, overvaluing expertise, not leveraging relationships, not enlisting allies from day one, the perfection trap, the disease to please (you know who you are), putting job before career, self-minimization, too much information, being distracted by sensitivity to others, and ruminating.
It is difficult to choose examples of these habits to discuss; each section contains considerable insight. For example, women are excellent relationship-builders and leverage relationships very well in aid of good works, but many hold back from leveraging in aid of their own work success. Failing to enlist allies gets at the importance of weak ties: mentors are good, sponsors are better, neither is magic, many allies are essential. Ruminating is not reflective, preventive, educational, restorative, productive, or self-compassionate.
The book closes with a discussion of techniques to support behavioural change. Often just tweaking one of the 12 behaviours can make a significant difference in terms of leadership development. All in all, readers may find this book to be of greater practical use than Lean In.3
Finally, this book resonates with women — but not only women! A healthy minority of men share the same mental models, attitudes, and behaviours discussed in How Women Rise and will also benefit from reading this book. Leaders who mentor these men should also keep this resource in mind.
1.Helgesen S. The female advantage: women’s ways of leadership. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
2.Goldsmith M. What got you here won’t get you there: how successful people become even more successful. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
3.Sandberg S. Lean in: women, work, and the will to lead. Toronto: Random House, 2013.
4.Goldsmith M. What I learned about influence from Peter Drucker. The Blog, Huff Post 2014;11 Apr. Available: https://tinyurl.com/y75fksjd
Shayne P. Taback, MD, FRCPC, CEC, is an associate professor at the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine and a certified executive coach.