The path to the top is not always smooth sailing. And no matter your professional accomplishments, key leadership roles can be elusive.
This is an issue far too many of us — especially those of us from underrepresented backgrounds — face in our professional lives. And the impact can be significant:
Even now, in 2020, it’s estimated that for every $1 a man makes, a woman will make only $0.81.
Those from underrepresented backgrounds fare worse: Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native women earn a quarter less ($0.75).
While this gap decreases when you take into account factors that affect compensation, such as job titles, experience, industry, etc., we’re still not at a 1:1 parity. And this gap widens as you move up the ranks.
Plus, it’s no secret that women are underrepresented in management and executive roles. But here are the numbers to back that up:
30% of women have had a supervisory role between the ages of 30 and 44, compared with 36% of men.
Only 6% of women ever make it to the C-Suite. As for men? 12% of them do.
— Data courtesy of PayScale
So if you find yourself making lateral move after lateral move or in the same job with the same responsibilities for a few years, what can you do? For those struggling to break through to that next level and to make their unique voices heard, here are five steps you can take today to achieve that leadership position.
1. ELEVATE YOUR MINDSET
One thing is clear: insecure leaders make poor leaders. Having the right mindset is vital to your success. It influences how you act, think, and make choices. Therefore, before you go any further, you must examine how you speak to yourself and decide what paradigms are no longer serving you. Instead, if you want that leadership position, you first need to build what Brené Brown calls grounded confidence. Here are four ways how.
Silence your inner critic.
The next time your inner critic goes on about how you don't know enough or you're not good enough, question it. Ask yourself:
Is your inner critic a defense mechanism? If so, what is it trying to protect you from?
Check your assumptions.
What assumptions are you making that are preventing you from fulfilling your potential? I often hear my clients say that “hard work will be recognized, and thus, that a promotion will come sometime in the future.” Yet, they find themselves stuck in “busy bee” roles.
Instead, challenge that assumption.
What can you proactively do to showcase your achievements?
A long time ago, I heard someone say that “the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil.” So stop making assumptions and start “squeaking”!
Challenge limiting beliefs.
This is another one that I see a lot of my clients struggle with. Many have been told that they do not belong at the executive table.
To combat this, play a little game called fact versus fiction. Ask yourself the following:
Is this a fact? Or is it a baseless assumption?
That is, does it stem from something:
that someone once told you?
that you grew up hearing?
that does not have a grounding in reality?
2. ELEVATE YOUR VOICE
As a professional from an underrepresented background, you've probably been trying to fit in — to blend in — as much as you can to be successful. But to break through to that leadership role, you have to come from a place of authenticity. You need to recognize your own voice and style so that you can build trust with both your peers and your direct reports. The best way to do this is to make sure you dig into the below:
Own your narrative.
Master your story by understanding what your strengths and your unique gifts are.
These are what make you unique and what is going to make your value proposition an add-on for the organization.
Master winning communication strategies.
Tailor your communication style to your audience. Take a DISC assessment, which will help you learn about how different people behave and interact with the world. Identify how each behavior type communicates. This helps you quickly understand who your target audience is. Then you’ll be able to adapt your communication style accordingly.
Practice active listening.
Listening is an undervalued leadership competency. In most US business schools, we are taught to talk, to convince, and to dive immediately into problem-solving mode. We are trained to embrace an “act first” mentality.
Active listening requires the opposite: it requires us to suspend our thoughts enough to understand another person's point of view. We must stop and consider their mindset, to see the world through their paradigms, and, in turn, to understand how they feel.
In other words, it’s not about you.
Research shows that one of the most ingrained human needs is to be understood. So hold off on any commentary, observe them, and listen to understand:
what they’re saying.
what they’re feeling.
how they’re behaving.
Then, and only then, can you create empathy and a feeling of connection with the person across from you? Then, and only then, can you overcome and eliminate any unconscious or conscious biases the other person might harbor — something that you, as a professional from an underrepresented background, must do in order to succeed.
3. ELEVATE YOUR LEADERSHIP PRESENCE
Equally important, and part of developing your leadership brand, is that you ask yourself:
How do you want to be remembered as a leader?
As you climb the professional ladder, your day-to-day will become more complicated and fast-paced. That is, your responsibilities will grow in number and complexity, and the decisions you make will be more nuanced. What’s more, you’ll have less time to make them.
Defining your leadership principles today will allow you to gain radical decision-making agility when faced with those complex business situations.
To create and commit to your own set of leadership principles. You want to do the following:
Decide which principles will dictate your actions.
That is, what do you value? And how do you want to live? Think about the rules you live your life by.
Embody those with your everyday actions.
Do you believe you should treat others as you would like to be treated? Then make sure you follow that rule yourself: if you want others to listen to your opinions, make sure you do the same for them.
This is essential to your success as an up-and-coming executive. With your principles decided, you will be able to act with effortlessness and precision when navigating the fast-paced, ever-changing environments within the C-Suite.
4. ELEVATE YOUR POSITIONING
Keep in mind: your network extends beyond your current company.
Networking is vital to advancing in a fulfilling career and landing those key leadership roles. Chief among the many advantages is finding a sponsor, champion, or mentor who can help you navigate office — and industry — politics and provide career guidance based on their own experience. Indeed, over 90% of workers who have a mentor report increased job satisfaction.
But finding those connections, especially if you look around your office and don’t see anyone you can relate to, isn't always easy. But it is possible.
Seek out opportunities to connect with professionals and mentors outside your organization (and possibly even outside your industry).
Actively ask for feedback, even if it may sometimes feel uncomfortable. Regularly receiving both constructive compliments and criticism will help you grow both personally and professionally.
Control the controllables.
So much of what happens is beyond our control. But many of us waste precious time and energy getting frustrated at the curveballs that life throws at us or trying to effect change where we alone can't. Instead, focus your efforts on the things you can control, on making an impact within your sphere of influence.
And remember that you are the CEO of your career.
That's a pretty powerful shift in thinking.
The first step — and perhaps the most important one — is to invest in yourself and find someone who can help you break through to land that next level role you have been eyeing for quite some time.
My mission at Prime You Coaching is to equip mid-level professionals from underrepresented backgrounds with the mindset and skills to achieve that leadership role.
Through my program — the Elevate, and Own, Your Voice™Package — you will steadily build up confidence in your leadership presence and strengthen your leadership abilities. We will work from the inside out to facilitate your transition to your next level position in a way that is authentic and powerful to you. And you’ll leave with an actionable, achievable game plan to obtain and succeed in that leadership position you want — on your terms.
So I hope you don't wait any longer, apply here to schedule some time with me today.