Executive Women Building Confidence: Breaking Through

Historically, there has been much discussion devoted to the question of why women are failing to rise to the top in organizations. Explanations vary: it’s the unconscious bias thing, the exclusion from networks thing, the institutional barriers thing, the lack of executive presence thing, the balance thing, the failure to ask for promotions thing and, most recently, the much publicized confidence thing.

Meanwhile, less attention has been paid to learning what works best to help women leaders overcome the barriers they face.  As a the designer of The Executive Leadership Program for Women (ELP) it’s been a privilege to partner with the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership in answering this question. Over more than seventeen years we have developed successful leadership training targeted for top talent women. . In May 2015 The Rutgers Center for Women and Work published a study tracking the results of our efforts through interviews with program graduates.

In depth interviews with thirty candidates selected at random from classes spanning from 2000 to 2013 found that 57 percent of those interviewed had achieved significant promotion. This result defies the norm with over half of our graduates rising through the ranks at precisely the moment when the representation of women normally drops off.

I’ve sent many women to the ELP, including five who are now Vice Presidents. The ELP experience has been crucial to women’s development at Verizon. – Diane McCarthy, SVP-Network & Technology, Verizon

What are the ELP candidates doing that allows them to rise at the moment when most women’s careers stall?

As Hermione Ibarra points out in her latest book Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, action is the key to leadership. Reflecting on your strengths builds belief that you can do things. Actually doing them, getting feedback, learning and adjusting is the way to become the leader you wish to be. In The Executive Leadership Program for Women we think systemically while helping candidates act individually- bringing the biggest challenges for women’s advancement down to the individual’s locus of control.

Candidates engage in sustained action over six months as they test strategies and enlist real time feedback from colleagues and mentors inside their organizations. At the same time, they share their discoveries and questions with executive coaches and trusted peer mentoring circles who understand the complexities of life as a working women. Learning in action with ongoing encouragement and guidance — turns them from excellent managers into great leaders.

According to one study by The Center for Talent Innovation, 26% of Senior Leaders say “executive presence” is what it takes to get the next promotion. As women’s leadership has been historically overlooked and undervalued, development of a strong leadership identity and the ability to express this at work is key to their success.

But there’s a problem. A recent KPMG study found that among professional and college-age women who express the desire to someday become senior leaders, only 40 percent were consistently able to envision themselves as leaders. In contrast, 100% of ELP candidates surveyed define themselves as leaders. By developing an unshakable leadership identity, remarkable things happen. Confidence creates opportunity- both for larger leadership roles, and for taking visible leadership action within one’s current role.

Confidence matters more to our success than competency does. If you choose not to act, you simply have less chance of success – Kitty Kay & Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code.

Candidates develop a confidence that is reliable, supported and grounded in known specifics. As a result they become advocates not just for themselves and each other, but for what they can do, change, and create for their organizations and the world. Ambition becomes inspiration.

Truly inspiring. Refocused me on my development and helped me discover the authentic leader deep in my soul. – Marti Heckman, VP, Johnson & Johnson

So why are graduates advancing into leadership at unprecedented rates? As one of our candidates described it, the reason why is deceptively simple:

If you believe in yourself, the rest will just follow. – Dyanne Ierardo, Global HR Head-Asia Pacific, Verizon

Enrollment for the Fall 2016 ELP is now open. Click here to learn more. 

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On our holistic leadership philosophy: Holistic Leadership

On communicating with presence: Resonant Presence