Research over the last few years regarding the participation and inclusivity of women in the workplace suggests that whilst it might appear there are more opportunities, progress is still incredibly slow and it will be many years before gender parity is achieved. But what can women personally do to accelerate their progress? Gillian Jones-Williams has been coaching women for over 20 years and finding out what makes them successful. In this article she shares some of their secrets.
What is it that makes women successful? How would it be if you could identify their formula for success and bottle it? It is a question I asked for many years as a new business owner desperately searching for tools and techniques that would help me succeed as a young MD, but it wasn’t easy to put my finger on it. I started my business in 1995 and in 2000 I became one of the earlier adopters of a coaching philosophy. This meant I started to coach women (and men) from all walks of life, and I had the privilege of understanding the challenges that they faced in the business world as well as the strategies which they were applying that made them successful. The more I was exposed to these coaching discussions the more I started to notice that there were themes of behaviours and traits that differentiated these women. Over the years I developed these into a model which now forms the basis of our international women’s development programme RISE™.
Trait One – Vivid Visualisation
When coaching women, the first theme I noticed is that successful women understand the power of visualisation and how to programme their brains to install great personal visions. There is a part of our brain that becomes activated to believe that we have already done something when we visualise it, so being able to create a strong person vision based around audacious goals is critical for success. Often, we have a variety of goals or directions that we feel that we could go in, but until we know exactly what we want we will never achieve it. The opportunities are all out there providing we know the direction we want to take, and once we decide upon it and can visualise it the opportunities start presenting themselves. The most successful people have big dreams and the more that you think about and visualise your dreams the more likely you are make them a reality.
Trait Two – Fearless Focus
The next thing that I noticed was that once successful women have a vision, they put a laser spotlight on achieving these goals and are tirelessly determined to achieve them. They persevere, bringing energy and enthusiasm to achieving their vision. Often when I am coaching people, they are in what I call “a fur-lined rut”. They know that they can do more and they want to progress, but they fear what might happen if they leave behind the safety of their comfortable position. But to be successful we need to be uncomfortable in our comfort zones. That takes courage – it is far easier to stay with what we know than to change, but successful women understand the importance of a Growth Mindset.
Trait Three – Bold Beliefs
Here is where we get to the real core of what makes women successful – what they believe about themselves. I have not yet met a woman who doesn’t have a “voice” in her head that is disruptive or critical, and this internal narrative leads to them perceiving themselves in a negative light. We all have beliefs that we hold that are helpful, but more importantly there are beliefs that hinder us. Successful women know how to eliminate these limiting beliefs and turn them into beliefs that are positively affirming and strengthen confidence in all situations. They also understand that confidence is not a constant, but is something that we choose to manufacture in any situation. Their ability to police their internal dialogue ensures that they can measure their own performance and don’t have a driving need for approval.
Trait Four – Audacious Articulation
To be successful we need to be able to say what we mean and mean what we say. We need to be able to elegantly, but assertively, express these views, wants, and needs. My observation of successful women is that they are able to assert themselves and hold their space whilst dealing effortlessly with different personalities. They use their Emotional Intelligence to send a message which says, “I am not going to fight you and I am not going to run away so shall we just do business”. To be successful we need to be eloquent communicators with gravitas and empathy who are not afraid to have courageous conversations or to negotiate firmly.
Trait Five – Proactive Prioritisation
Another of my key observations of successful women is that they are masters of ensuring that they focus on doing the right things at the right time, which means that they need to clarify what is important and ensure that they focus on high pay off activities. If we want to be successful it is vital that we manage our own and other people’s expectations and use the big picture to set priorities. However, it is also vital that we don’t only focus on business and careers, but also prioritise fun and doing things that we enjoy. To really live a fulfilling life we need to ‘be’ as well as ‘do’.
Trait Six – Self-Sustainability
During my years of coaching, I spent many hours coaching women on stress and burn out. It is far too easy for people to dedicate so much time and energy to their career in a relentless drive to be successful that they crash. For women this is even more true if they have family commitments – they often will stretch themselves so thin that that they end up feeling unable to cope. To be successful it is critical that we understand how to maintain peak performance and enjoy every part of our life. Whilst I don’t believe that there is any such thing as work/life balance (which suggests that there is some “correct formula”!), if we don’t regularly re-energise ourselves and prioritise our health, we will never achieve our vision. I feel that the most productive women are great at being mindful, being present in their businesses and spending time with people who energise them.
Trait Seven – Natural Networking
Networking is a key skill for the 21st century and particularly in this hybrid work ‘virtual visibility’ is critical to success. This is one of the main areas that I find women resist. They don’t enjoy the concept of networking and will often hold themselves back from getting exposure, hoping instead that they will get noticed for being talented. My observations of successful women are that they recognise the importance of having great connections and thrive in networking situations. But they also recognise the great variety of other networking opportunities in the digital age.
Trait Eight – Relentless Resilience
Sometimes when people think about resilience, they picture it as being very “thick-skinned” or almost numb about what is happening to or around them, so that they are not affected. But I see it differently, resilience is about how you keep going after you experience something which knocks you down, how you absorb any feelings and hurt, and bounce not just back but in a forward trajectory. Successful women have the ability to bounce forward from setbacks whilst learning positively from experiences.
I have noticed that when someone is prepared to open themselves up to potential failure on the basis that there will be valuable lessons that they can learn, they develop and grow faster than they ever believed. One of the keys to being resilient is the ability to eliminate over-thinking as those voices in our head (yes, we all have them!) can hold us back from trying things and achieving goals. It also means being very open to feedback and having a growth mindset – the more that we are able to learn consistently the more successful we will be.
Being successful means constantly learning and evolving – certainly my career has been strongly impacted by modelling others, observing what makes them successful and trying out the tools and techniques. Plus, of course, constant reflection and realigning. I hope these traits give you some thought-provoking material to reflect on what makes you successful.
If you want to know more about the RISE™ Women’s Development Programme or Diversity and Inclusion solutions, please get in touch. We are delighted to have developed women around the world, including the Middle East, for over 10 years.