SG098 - The top eight mistakes that female business leaders make

I never take for granted the privilege of being a coach.  Through my work I get access to understand the struggles that my clients are navigating and over time I’ve been able spot the patterns of thoughts and actions across my clients that cause them the greatest pain.

Through my coaching of female business leaders I’ve noticed some consistent themes, I write this article with the intention of illuminating the top mistakes I see them making in the hope that if you recognise them that you’ll be able to course correct and avoid the pain that comes with these mistakes.  All names in the article have been changed and details have been amended to maintain confidentiality.

Mistake 1 - Believing you need to be superwoman

She thinks that she should be able to do everything herself either because she’s seen other women in her life shouldering big challenges or because she believes if she wants something done well that she needs to do it herself.   As a result of this wrong thinking she tries to solve all her problems on her own.  What happens as result is that she becomes overly self-reliant, doesn’t create an adequate support system and burns out from over committing herself.  When she actually stops confusing her strength with success, she opens doors that she never knew existed.  

Take for example, Jill who was burning out doing a role that she didn’t love but she felt that she needed to show that she could do it and pushed herself hard.  She took her career in a new direction that she hadn’t considered before, she tapped into what lit her fire and transitioned out of a GM role into starting her own side business and took a new role in a more creative space that aligned to her passion.

Mistake 2 - Believing your work speaks for itself 

She thinks that her work speaks for itself and doesn’t see the need to self-promote so she avoids opportunities to speak about her achievements or to stand in her own success.  With this overly humble approach she limits her earning potential and opportunities to reach her potential, which over time begins to erode her confidence and self-esteem.  When she realises nobody wakes up each day wondering how they could help her fulfil her potential it changes the game for her.  

For example, Kate had been working in her organisation for 15yrs and whilst she had got to a senior role she had always relied on her work speaking for itself.  Realising that her waiting for someone to notice her good work was wasn’t serving her or others she could have helped by standing out, she allowed herself to be seen by launching a new workshop initiative for cross functional problem solving in the business.  Not only did she get recognised for her strength in problem solving, she negotiated a promotion and a pay rise and made a greater impact on the business by getting out of her own way.

Mistake 3 – Believing she doesn’t have time for self care

She thinks she doesn’t have time for self care and that self-care is about bubble baths and candles, so she doesn’t take time for herself to re-charge. As a result, she’s always tired and perilously close to burning out.  Until she realises that the end result is that if you trade your health for wealth in the short term you’ll be trading your wealth for health in the long term.  

Take Sarah she runs a farm in QLD.  Navigating drought, an ill husband and three kids she had a lot on her plate. It was when she saw that her own health was taking a turn she sought help and discovered that giving herself just 30 mins to go out on her horses each day (an activity she hadn’t done in over 6mths) would help her health and would also improve her productivity by clearing her head.  Giving this a go she was surprised at how much more energy she had for the day and also managed to use the time whilst on the horses to listen to podcasts to help her learn new ways to grow her business that she previously didn’t have the time to do.

Mistake 4 – Believing she’s not good enough

She thinks she’s not as good as people think she is or know as much as they believe she does so she finds herself not putting herself forward for opportunities and she would certainly never ask for a pay rise.  As a result of her lack of confidence she limits her potential and she fails to understand that the further you advance the more you will feel like an imposter and that it is actually quite a common experience for high performers.  

Take Jen for example, despite her success in being promoted to Head of Function Jen felt like she was the dumbest person in the room amongst her new peers, she had inherited a strong team which made her fear that they were better suited than she was.  It was only when she learned that one of her team shared the same fears and didn’t apply for another role because she didn’t think she was smart enough – Jen realised that she what she had experienced wasn’t unique to her and it helped her see that she needed to reframe success, for herself and others, as the effort in trying and improving each day rather than the self-imposed expectation to be perfect.   

Mistake 5 – Believing she should have achieved more by now

She thinks she should have achieved more by now and that she’s not getting the results that she wants fast enough so she ends up working longer hours to get more done.  As a result she experiences burnout, loses focus and her execution suffers which erodes her sense of achievement and worth even further.  Realising that volume doesn’t equal impact changes everything. 

For example,  Gina is a Type A performance focussed and results driven individual.   She started her own business as a side hustle from her corporate role and was desperate to leave.   Close to burnout Gina realised that her speed did not equal sustainable performance and by focussing on what she could achieve in 2hrs on her business 8-10pm every evening rather than try to fit in 4hr+ after a full day she got clearer about what was necessary and what wasn’t and became more effective. Gradually she reduced her hours at her job as she began to generate income in her business and was able to go full time with her new business with a sustainable income in only 12mths.

Mistake 6  - Believing networking is not working

She thinks she doesn’t have anyone she trusts to be of help her in the way she needs.  She avoids going to networking events because she doesn’t see the point and as a result misses out on creating a trusted support network with new people.  The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child helps her realise that she needs support in all areas to reach her goals.  

Jodie had been over looked for new role she had applied for internally and had lost confidence in herself.  She wanted to leave her business but soon realised that she had no network outside to help her secure a new role, she’d always been immersed in her job internally and as result she’d made no effort to cultivate a network externally.  After rebuilding her confidence Jodie harnessed her power of connecting with the right people and secured a new role.  She has now made a concerted effort to make space for cultivating a trusted network ongoing so she can always access support when she needs it most.

Mistake 7 – Vulnerability is a weakness

She thinks she can’t be vulnerable or emotional because people think you are weak so she finds herself stepping into a more masculine energy at work so that she is taken more seriously.  As a result, she lacks warmth and approachability and doesn’t foster trust which then limits her support network and ultimately begins to erode confidence in being herself.  Realising that she can’t be courageous without being vulnerable she understands the positive impact and real connection she can have with others through sharing.  

Showing vulnerability and emotion as a C-Suite leader isn’t easy and Sam was concerned about sharing that she was navigating a messy divorce and custody of her children, it wasn’t something she felt comfortable with others knowing. As the pressure of her personal life mounted her performance slipped and she found herself on a performance improvement plan.  She realised trying to control everything at work was hindering her and her team and she finally opened up to share what was happening.  As she let others help her and share the load she fostered greater trust from her team and felt relief not having to put up a facade.  Her courage enabled her to get back on track with her job and also won the support and empathy of her peers and team.

Mistake 8 – You have to play the game

She thinks she can’t succeed if she doesn’t play the game and therefore doesn’t show her authentic self to others and finds herself comparing how she stacks up to male counterparts.  This ultimately results in her confidence being eroded and losing her own character. She ultimately realised she couldn’t say she’d lived a successful life if she lived the majority of it denying being who she was.  Stepping into herself gave her increased confidence and her ability to help others and herself increased significantly.  

For example,  Connie worked for a Top 4 consulting firm in a high-pressured role.  Desperately wanting a family she had been navigating IVF treatment without letting on to her employer as she didn’t want them to think less of her.  After several failed treatments and her confidence lost she recognised she needed to talk about it.  In opening up she realised she had been sabotaging her desire to have a family because she felt she had to play the game her male counterparts were playing, when she realised what she actually wanted was a family more than anything she took action and secured a job elsewhere reduced the hours she worked, took time for herself and her treatments and reduced the stress.  She not only thrived in this new environment, she learned more about collaborating rather than competing which was more in line her nature, she also conceived and finally had the family she dreamed of.

Summary 

Many of you may read this and see yourselves in these examples and others of you will think “that’s not me”.  Whichever camp you are in, it’s worth paying closer attention to the examples above because all of the women above hit a wall before they were able to see these mistakes clearly.

I’ve seen a lot of high performing driven female business leaders facing 1. Burnout, 2. A lack of adequate support and 3. Dealing with inner self doubt  – whilst presenting confidently on the outside. These are ultimately the three most common problems that these top mistakes are symptoms of.

Unfortunately they are not uncommon, but please know there is absolutely another way to live a successful life, doing what you love and being your whole self.

If you resonate with the above, or recognise it in others, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – are there any other mistakes you’d add to the list?