2019 Reading List: How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

I just finished another career/self-help book called How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job, by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.

I’d heard about this book through blogs or podcasts or something in the past year, so it’s been on my list for awhile.

It’s about the fact that all of the skills and tactics that make women successful up until the mid-to-upper career level may be the very things that are holding them back as they look to move to the upper management or C-level.

At first, this book didn’t really resonate with me. The introduction was long and odd – the intro seemed to be covering more of Goldsmith’s other book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, than it was intro-ing the actual book I was reading.

I was also very thrown off by the way the book was written in sort of third person and sort of first person. I actually didn’t realize that the “Sally” and “Marshall” that the book kept referring to were the authors until about halfway through, because it felt like they were referring to themselves in the third person, but the the next sentence they’d use the word “We.” I felt like the “we” was writing the book and Sally and Marshall were just hanging out. It was strange.

And then, I felt that I didn’t really agree with the book at all. They were trying to tell me that the skills I take such pride in weren’t good enough skills to have and that they would eventually hinder my ability to get ahead, if they weren’t already. My whole adult life, I’d been focusing on certain workplace skills. I’d been working on being a team player, I’d been showing gratitude to my team members, I’d been getting certifications to position myself as an expert. And they were telling me that at a certain point, that’s all wrong. I didn’t believe them. I almost put the book down.

But in continuing to read, Sally and Marshall convinced me. They had stories of people who were doing exactly what I was doing and it wasn’t working. They had real-life examples of how these (perfectly valid and generally awesome) traits were holding people back.

I realized everything I was hedging against in the book was precisely true. I was pushing back because I thought I was right – and that’s exactly what the book is calling out. I think I’m making all the right moves in my career (and I probably am, for now), but eventually, these aren’t the right moves to make and women get stuck.

I don’t think I’m quite at the level where I’m stuck and need to change my tactics, though. I am young in my career, I just started a new job, and I am learning new things from new people daily. But I can see from this book that everything I currently do is what they say is making me successful now, mid-career, but it may hinder my advancement in the future. Things like giving credit to everyone else rather than touting my own success. Not wanting to take credit for my own achievements. wanting to feel like an expert and a perfectionist before moving on to the next level. Not leveraging your network, wanting to have relationships and friendships.

They are right. The things that get you in to the C-suite make me cringe. It feels too self-promotional, too political, and too sleazy to do what they are saying. I don’t feel like I would want to be that person. And yet, the points they make are totally valid. The examples they have make so much sense.

I ended up loving this book, since it made me come face to face with something I believe to be true, but maybe isn’t quite as true as I thought. I loved the examples they had. I love that they acknowledged the feelings women have toward self-promotion and networking for your own gain. I love that recognized that women are basically trained from a young age to have these traits that eventually hold us back – being nice to people, building relationships, helping others, being quiet but hard-working. And they also let us know that it’s possible to change without turning into that sleazy crap-ball down the hall who we all hate.

I’ll give you a quick breakdown of each of their 12 habits, and then I’ll let you decide whether these are getting you ahead or holding you back.

  1. Instead of being reluctant to claim your achievements (giving credit to everyone on your team who helped out), you should take credit where your own credit is due.
  2. Instead of expecting others to notice and reward your contributions, you should take responsibility for telling your boss and getting your work seen.
  3. Instead of overvaluing expertise (and not moving forward until you feel like you know everything there it to know), you should make connections with other experts who you can rely on when you don’t have all the answers.
  4. Instead of building relationships and friendships with co-workers or colleagues in your industry, you should leverage your relationships and create a give & take with people.
  5. Instead of failing to enlist allies from day 1, you should make connections with people right away.
  6. Instead of putting your job before your career (and staying loyal to the company or team you’re currently at), you should think about your self-interest and what will benefit your career in the long-term.
  7. Instead of falling into the perfection trap, you should be fearless and take risks.
  8. Instead of succumbing to the disease to please, you should delegate your work and not say yes to every task just to make others happy.
  9. Instead of minimizing yourself, you should take up space in the room in the language you use.
  10. Instead of talking too much and over-explaining, you should get to the point and be concise.
  11. Instead of ruminating, you should say “oh well” and move on, looking to the next step that you can control.
  12. Instead of letting your radar distract you, you should focus.
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