How to Be a Calm and Strategic Woman in Leadership
A strange thing can happen to very high-potential women when they step up into leadership: They become flummoxed by their to-do lists instead of being calm and strategic in their role.
One of the very qualities that helps women succeed in early and midcareer stops them up as they get into more senior roles: Their ability to cross things off the to-do list and get things done. Women are rewarded for getting things done. For finishing everything on the list. For being proactive and taking responsibility. We get positive validation for those qualities—and they distinguish us in early career.
We are praised for completeness.
But as we grow in our careers, there will always be more problems to solve than there are resources. There are always a few things on fire—some things are in flame while others are smoldering quietly in the background, threatening to burst into bigger flames if not attended to.
The key quality we need to thrive is not completeness, but discernment.
A successful woman leader once laughingly told me, “I never get to everything on my to-do list!” Leaders who get everything done on the to-do list are not working on the right things. They’re not practicing the art of decision making—choosing what needs attention and what can remain unresolved.
But for many women, the idea of letting some things burn—fall through the cracks, not get done—feels abhorrent. We feel personally responsible for everything not being perfect and “fixed.” We can’t rest until it’s all done. We look at the flaming kitchen and think, “I don’t want that job. That’s not for me.”
But consider this: When you turn your back on the flaming kitchen and say, “I don’t want to do that,” what you might really be saying is, “I can’t thrive if I can’t fix it all.”
And, my dear high-achieving woman, the key isn’t to “tough it out” in a stressful kitchen.
The key is to change your perspective.
What if the flaming kitchen is a reality, and that’s ok? What if life and work are about adjusting things as they come in and out of alignment, and that’s ok?
What if you didn’t make the flaming kitchen mean something was wrong? Or that something was wrong with you?
What if the kitchen wasn’t a kitchen, but rather a garden? What if things need tending from time to time, and sometimes the weeds take over a patch, and that’s ok sometimes too?
What if, as a leader, you’re helping grow something dynamic, and complex, and beautiful?