Show me the way ManAn interesting article by Kaiser and Wallace in Talent Quarterly presents some provocative thinking about what prevents women from being promoted into more senior roles.

They analysed 360 feedback on four behavioural areas – forceful, enabling, strategic and operational – that comprise their Leadership Versatility Index. Their data has to date been collected from leaders in six companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

Their first key finding is that there are more similarities than differences in perceptions of male and female leaders.

More challenging is this finding: “We believe that the main reason women are not making it to the top is not because they are too feminine or because they are not sufficiently masculine. It is because they come on a bit too strong and get themselves boxed in carving out a niche by executing someone else’s agenda. They get stuck in the technical expert, implementer role and are seen as not strategic enough to lead the enterprise. Further, they are so reliable in this role that the are often considered too valuable to put in other roles”.

While this is a pattern that I also see on occasion in coaching senior female clients, what stands out for me is that men also execute the agendas of other more senior leaders as they progress through the organisation. What seems to happen is that women in these circumstances do feel boxed in and when that happens, they can become frustrated, their motivation decreases and their narrative about themselves and their ability to be successful changes.

What can be done? What I do in coaching is help  create a safe reflective space to discuss frustrations, provide a framework for developing a more positive narrative, work on reigniting/reconfiguring their passions and motivations, and help them to think more broadly about next career moves.

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