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Is flattery interfering with your career goals? This story is a wake up call!

If flattery can get a millionaire man to completely change his mind about who he funds for president, what can it do to women in the workplace?

I literally stopped in my tracks. I was out for my morning walk listening to one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. The episode was called Get Your Money’s Worth and part of it was dedicated to the story of Doug Deason, a Dallas millionaire and his father Darwin Deason, a billionaire. It was about their search for a Republican candidate to support for President of the United States.

The Deasons had budgeted 2 million dollars for this election cycle. After a thorough vetting process where they met with each candidate, they first endorsed Rick Perry and then Ted Cruz. They had such dislike for Donald Trump that the thought of vetting him didn’t cross their minds.

Even when you know someone is using flattery to get something, it's hard to resist its allure.

Even when you know someone is using flattery to get something, it’s hard to resist its allure.

But when faced with the reality that Donald Trump would become the Republican nominee, Doug and his dad set up a meeting with him. Doug prepared a list of questions for Trump (similar to the ones he’d been asking all the other candidates before he decided who to support.) Only that, when he met with Trump, he didn’t get a chance to ask much. Why? Because Trump used flattery to win over him and his dad. Just like that. With plain, old flattery.

This is part of the transcript of Doug’s comment to Zoe Chace, the podcast’s producer and reporter right after the Deasons met Trump: “…he kept complimenting Dad on me, (…), ‘I know how great it is to be able to turn something over to your kids, and let them run it, and let them do it.’ Which, obviously, is what I do. So it was nice to be complimented, right?”

They walked out of that meeting believing that Donald Trump was nice. That he had their same mindset. He thought like a businessman. Forget all the reasons for which the Deasons had decided to never even vet him. A brief meeting peppered with the right flattery, complimenting a dad on his son, was enough to shift the destination of millions of dollars. Because money begets money. And when a couple of billionaires bet on one candidate, many others tend to follow. Which is exactly what happened.

Way too often women are happy with being told they are doing a great job. But is that enough?

Way too often women are happy with being told they are doing a great job. But is that enough?

The story stopped me in my tracks because I had a long-held belief that men were less susceptible to flattery than women. But they are not. And in fact, an amazing study of 451 CEOs (which we know are mostly men) showed that high levels of flattery lead to opinion conformity. Which means that CEOs “become over-confident in their strategic decisions and in their ability to correct performance problems with the current strategy.”

The study revealed that CEOs subject to flattery were more likely to believe they were better leaders. But this was not confirmed by the firm’s performance data. The authors of the study said that firms with flattered CEOs were less likely to change strategy when performance dropped.

What’s most disturbing is that studies have shown that even when you consciously know that the flattery is BS (as most CEOs surely do,) the subconscious impact remains.

So, if this can happen to a CEO, someone who is trained and experience in the art of identifying BS, where does it leave you?

It’s time to ask yourself if flattery is interfering with your goals.

How about: "You look like you know exactly where you are going!"

How about: “You look like you know exactly where you are going!”

Most people seem predisposed to flatter little girls. “You look so cute!” “What a pretty dress!” “I love your hair!” As of late, we’ve been hearing more and more about the effects of praising girl’s appearance and boy’s achievements or behavior. But the truth is that we all grew up appreciating flattery and putting a lot of weight and value on it.

As a matter of fact, we are now in a constant state of pursuing flattery. Think about how you feel when you post a picture on social media and receive only a few likes. Your ego takes a nosedive, doesn’t it? Well, it maybe time to stop with the selfies for a minute and reflect on how seeking and receiving flattery might be getting in the way of what you really want. Primarily at work.

Here are some comments from clients and colleagues (who will remain anonymous) to help me make this point.

“My boss told me he couldn’t have finished the project without me.”

“My supervisor was incredibly impressed with how well I manage the company’s external relationships. Everybody knows me when I walk in the room and she finally saw that. She told me, ‘I now realize how hard you’ve worked for the organization all these years.’”

“I rolled out the Business Resource Groups in our organization two years ago and they are showing very positive results. So my boss told me I had a powerful vision and an uncanny ability to execute. Then she asked me to replicate the same model in Latin America. And this is not even my main role.”

What happened when promotion time came around? Did these women, who had received the most flattering comments from their supervisors, get their due? You guessed it. Nope. They were asked to do more for the same pay. Yet they didn’t even think to ask for more. The usual answer when I ask why, is: “Oh, I’m happy to do it.” Or “I love what I do and money is not all that matters.”

This begs the question: Are women so satisfied with being flattered that they are willing to forgo money they deserve? Is getting a great compliment enough?

Even when flattery is blatant and you the motives of the person using it are obvious, you can't avoid its subconscious effects.

Even when flattery is blatant and you the motives of the person using it are obvious, you can’t avoid its subconscious effects.

Remember: Knowing that someone is using flattery to get something from you (even when the ulterior motives are evident,) doesn’t protect you against its effect. So next time your supervisors flatter you for going above and beyond your job description, take the compliment. Enjoy it. Use it as an ego boost. And then write down exactly how you want to leverage your contribution, and the fact that it is being recognized as such, in the next salary negotiation. Or to get that stretch assignment you’ve been pining for.

And as usual, if you’d like to work on this and other key skills to help you move to your next career level, check out our Step Up and Step Up Plus programs. They have proven to work marvelously!

 

Climbing the ladder: What women don’t know

Why aren’t more women climbing the ladder at corporations and organizations of all kinds? It’s the million-dollar question. If you really want to change the status quo, read on!

We’ve been debating this question for a long time. Mostly because it’s unfathomable that so little change has happened in decades. Are women not climbing the ladder because of a personal decision or because of organizational biases?

Climbing the ladder: Three responsible categories, not two!

Let’s look first at two, broad categories that most commonly take the blame for making it hard for women climbing the ladder.

Organizational responsibility 

There is an array of factors that deliberately or inadvertently impact the number of women at the top in a negative way. These include barriers such as unwritten rules, policies, expectations, and perceptions of what constitutes leadership potential, executive presence, etc.

For instance:

  • Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Often, women are not offered advice or training on business, financial and strategy which is key to reach the highest levels of an organization.

    Expectations that in order to reach the C-suite you must be available 24/7. Or work late every night to entertain clients.

  • Expectations that women are still mostly responsible for family matters.
  • Perceptions of men being more competent or having more executive presence.
  • Regular skepticism, push back and challenges of women’s ideas and competences.
  • Fill-in positions through recommendations of current executives in office. (These tend to be white men and have a network with a similar make-up.)
  • Value face-time in the office for promotions(penalizing people who are mobile.)

Personal responsibility

This group of factors includes your own behaviors and decisions that impact your career trajectory.

For example:

  • How assertive you are in your communication and leadership style.
  • How strong your network of sponsors is.
  • How hard and often you negotiate for yourself along your career.
  • How visible you and your accomplishments are to key people.
  • How comfortable you are taking risks.
  • How important other pursuits outside of your career are for you.

Now, in trying to figure out which of these two categories is more responsible for women not climbing the ladder, we keep pointing fingers with little visible results.

The truth is that here’s a third category that connects Organizational and Personal. One that we haven’t paid as much attention as it deserves. One that can really make the difference.

Joined Responsibility

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

Climbing the ladder requires women to leverage all their assets and know as much about the business of their organization as possible.

This category is the space where both individual women and organizations share responsibility for more women not climbing the ladder. Due to the way in which organizations have traditionally perceived and promoted men and women, and social norms affecting both genders, some advice and training fell through the cracks. Companies didn’t offer it. Women didn’t ask for it.

This advice refers to the expectation that a person must have certain abilities in order to reach C-level. Advice that hasn’t been verbalized as often to women as to men. And women haven’t asked about it either. Here are the areas that may be holding you back at any level:

  • How focused you are in business outcomes. (Both the outcomes of your own role and on how they impact the overall outcomes of the business.)
  • How closely you align your role in the organization with the business strategy. (Can you answer why the company is paying your salary? Hint: Think of the “why” you do what you do.  Not the “what” it is you do.)
  • How much financial acumen you have. (Do you know how to affect the company’s bottom line within your own role? At any level, it’s important to understand how what you do affects the financials of the overall company.)
Check out Susan Colantuono’s brilliant book on this topic!

Mastering these three aspects will make it easier for women climbing the ladder to get to the very top. If you are a manager, supervisor or an executive, you may need to start sharing this type of advice with your subordinates. Offer them coaching and training programs to fill-in any gaps in knowledge. If you are an individual contributor, this is your call to action. Don’t let one more day go by without seeking help in this area. Here is a great, very inexpensive Business Foundations online course, taught by Wharton Business School.

It's important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

It’s important to understand how your role supports the overall business strategy.

As women, we already have many of the advantageous characteristics that make for a successful 21st Century executive. Make sure you don’t overlook the business, financial, and strategic abilities that are taken for granted at higher levels. You may not have thought about them much along the way and they may be the one thing that’s holding you back.

 

 

 

 

 

Cross Cultural Mentoring: Mentoring 2.0!

Cross cultural mentoring relationships offer unique opportunities to broaden perspectives and reduce unconscious biases. Here’s how they work.

Given the rapid changes in workforce demographics, understanding the potential challenges and opportunities created by a cross cultural mentoring relationship has become as critical as finding a compatible mentor.

Try cross cultural mentoring to receive insights into your unconscious biases.

Try cross cultural mentoring to receive insights into your unconscious biases.

The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring defines cross cultural mentoring as “relationships where mentors and protégés differ on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, socio-economic class, or other group memberships.” Note the definition goes beyond race and ethnicity to include other social factors that shape mentors and mentees values, beliefs, and behaviors. This broader, more comprehensive way to define cross-cultural mentoring is the core factor to identify the challenges and opportunities this new scenario presents.

Why is this important? Gaining a clear understanding of the dynamics of cross cultural mentoring provides a layer of information that could enrich the development and launch of mentoring programs and proactively address potential blind spots.

Challenges of Cross Cultural Mentoring 

Any type of mentoring relationship– from peer mentoring to a more formal set up (i.e. experienced and junior individuals)—will encounter the challenges of starting a new relationship. It takes time to develop and cultivate trust. Interactions between mentors and mentees are influenced by underlying biases, assumptions, and beliefs. When you add the element of culture to the mentoring experience, unforeseen challenges could emerge. Two challenges come to mind:

  • If you are looking for an honest cross cultural mentoring relationship, you definitely have to go beyond the food. But going out for a bite is a great way to get the conversation going!

    If you are looking for an honest cross cultural mentoring relationship, you definitely have to go beyond the food. But going out for a bite is a great way to get the conversation going!

    Biases and Assumptions. Research shows that every single individual has unconscious biases. The ability to be biased allows individuals to discern information and make decisions. Biases could jeopardize a cross cultural mentoring relationship when either mentor or mentee make wrong assumptions about each other because of their biases. For example, a mentee could assume that her mentor—because he is older—is less experienced and tech-savvy. A mentor could assume that her mentee is unfamiliar with American popular culture because she was born outside the U.S. Both circumstances could lead to condescending behaviors—also known as micro aggressions. Behaviors based on unfounded biases can take many forms. A senior leader in the financial services industry said when asked about her current mentee, “I don’t see her as Indian because she has no accent.”

  • Differences in values, beliefs and expectations. Historically, mentoring programs have relied on matching pairs who are as similar as possible. The logic was that people who are alike (i.e. same race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) would have a higher degree of fit and compatibility. Once pairs are matched, the focus shifts to setting expectations and goals. A mentoring pair that is cross cultural would benefit from taking a step back and learning what expectations and goals look like to each other individually. For example, an expectation is to have an open door policy. The mentee, however, places a high value on formal authority and believes that rank trumps any other directive. Her expectation is that the mentor will initiate communication despite the open door expectation. This could lead to frustration and create an unnecessary distraction if not addressed proactively.

Opportunities of Cross Cultural Mentoring

Ready to move to the next level of your career? Experience what it means to be supported by thousands of professionals like yourself!

Ready to move to the next level of your career? Experience what it means to be supported by thousands of professionals like yourself!

Despite potential challenges presented by a cross cultural mentoring relationship, there are opportunities to consider:

  • Perspective and mindset tune up. Engaging in a cross cultural mentoring relationship provides a rare opportunity to broaden perspectives and mindsets for both parties. The mentee—from the previous example–who identifies herself as Indian but has no accent could leverage that exchange to discuss with her mentor that the lack of accent does not determine her cultural affiliation. The mentor, in turn, has the opportunity to become aware of this bias of assigning an American identity to those with no accent.
  • Innovation partnership. When two people with different backgrounds are invested in a mentoring program, the benefits of mutual mentoring become clear. What a better chance to brainstorm on new ideas than with a trusted thinking partner. Building on the trust cultivated through comparing and contrasting their beliefs and assumptions, mentors and mentees could strengthen their bond by directing their conversations to topics beyond career advancement and office politics. They could consult each other on business issues. Their different perspectives become a potential asset to fuel out-of-the box solutions.

Engaging in an effective cross cultural mentoring experience (HBR: Race Matters) goes beyond going out for mojitos or Thai food. Cross-cultural mentoring not only offers the opportunity to learn about others perspectives and expand your own. It also helps mentors and mentees become more agile in their thinking as decision makers and leaders.

Self Promotion is a Leadership Competency – Striking the right tone

Effective self-promotion, is essential for success, yet one of the main hurdles for women in business to overcome.

Most women have grown up with the idea that hard work will get them noticed. When in fact it is the strategic, effective, and explicit promotion of their achievements and their potential what gets women’s hard work noticed. The key, of course, is that all of it must be presented in an appropriate manner and context.

Unfortunately, this misconception around self-promotion is pervasive throughout all levels of an organization. A study on senior executive women conducted by Women of Influence suggests that the same challenges faced by many women in middle management still surface among women in senior management roles. The well-known secret for the sustainability of a successful career (regardless of gender or level in the organization,) however, is in fact ongoing self-promotion paired with political shrewdness.

Self promotion inspirational quote by Lily Benjamin - Communicating your accomplishments and value proposition doesn't only benefit you; it also benefits your team, peers and the organization

Understanding the real definition of self-promotion enables you to take full advantage of its power for career growth.

Redefining self-promotion

So it’s time to redefine self-promotion in order to really understand what it entails and learn how to do it gracefully, strategically, and effectively.

First, self-promotion is a leadership competency

The competency of self-promotion encompasses acting with intent, being assertive, and negotiating along the way. These are all fundamental leadership skills to influence vital stakeholders and gain access to networks in order to advance shared business goals.

Second, it’s not just about you

Communicating your accomplishments and value proposition doesn’t only benefit you; it also benefits your team, peers, and the organization. Any leader without this competency cannot actively engage others when promoting and selling her/his vision. The impact of a team is a clear indication of its leader’s abilities. Hence, when a leader promotes the accomplishment of their team, they are not only motivating their people but they are also indirectly promoting their own leadership capabilities.

Get over fear of speaking in public so you can effectively use self-promotion anywhere.

The challenge of self-promotion for women

Charlotte du Val d'Ognes by Marie Denise Villers from the MetMuseum Collection

Women were not raised to self-promote. We need to change that! Painting: Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie Denise Villers from the MetMuseum Collection-

The concept of self-promotion is particularly taxing for women because they are not only challenged with the genetic predisposition to ‘tend or befriend’ that results in them putting others before themselves, but also with social norms of humility and modesty. This is very different from what men experience. Their genetic predisposition drives them to ‘fight or flight’, which generally means they put themselves before others, while social norms encourage their bragging rights. These are some of the main reasons why men are not only inclined to self-promote but when they do, they are perceived as competent and impressive. Whereas when women do the same they are perceived negatively as showoffs.

Being gender intelligent is essential to break through this inevitable genetic and social conundrum, as self-promotion is critical for a successful career path and for greater impact on business results.

Though we can’t change genetic predispositions, through awareness and behavior modification we can address social norms to successfully display a sense of self-worth, confidence, and competence.

Learning about being more assertive can help you master self-promotion.

Myths

Generally speaking, women admit that often the greatest barriers to effectively self-promote are themselves. But it’s also true that a lot of the social norms and myths reinforce these obstacles. So, let’s debunk several of those myths about self-promotion.

Myths about self-promotion
Myth Rationalization Fact
The Bitch “Self promotion will make me look arrogant.” Self-promotion done well is essential to a successful career. It gives the opportunity for others to learn and benefit from your contributions.
The Princess “If I’m good enough, people will hear about it.” (The princess waits for her knight…) Women need to take action to promote their contributions, rather than wait for the recognition to come to them. People are too busy to notice the contributions of others. No one can advocate better for your attributes than you can.
The Friends and Family ”Others (people who know me) should talk about my accomplishments, not me.” Relying on word of mouth alone, without influencing the key messages can be counter productive.   Effectively owning and promoting your personal brand and value to others, pays off big dividends.
The Martyr “You can’t control what people think anyway.” Women can influence what others think of them, by believing in themselves and displaying confidence through the quality of your work. The impact they have on other people, their teams, and organizations will strengthen your personal brand.
Self Promotion quote by Lily Benjamin

Achieving the competency of self-promotion is key to your career success

Your take away on self-promotion…

Self-promotion is an essential leadership skill. Learn how to believe on your strengths and attributes, while observing the impact you have on others and on business results. Then, share the value you and others add. Strengthen this leadership skill to further strengthen your confidence and reputation, while enjoying your continued success!

Look out for my upcoming post on successful self-promotion strategies!

5 Tips for Dealing with Emotional Outbursts at Work

Supporting someone’s ambitions when they have emotional outbursts at work is a challenge. But that’s exactly the time when you get to show your leadership.

Dealing with emotional outbursts at work is never easy. I give you that. But it’s a chance to show your leadership chops. Will you put the good of the team above your own ego or will you give into your own need to establish your authority?

Parody of The Scream by artist Meowza

Parody of The Scream by artist Meowza

Emotional outbursts have a way of arising in the least practical moments. Naturally, when people are most stressed over important deadlines or key decisions or situations, there’s a tendency for emotions to flare up. Or for any little thing to become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, which results in an unpleasant emotional outburst.

I recently finished a mayor project, a milestone in my career. A day 20 years in the making, let alone the several weeks leading to the celebration for which I had invested lots of preparation and energy. The day was here and everything was going smoothly. Then suddenly, one of my team members confronted me with the fact that I was not treating her the way she expected to be treated. She was having an emotional breakdown over this. It stopped me in my tracks. Really? At the very moment when I was celebrating a major achievement I had to deal with an emotional outburst? Well, that’s exactly how it usually goes, isn’t it? When you least need it… But then again, what is the right time for emotional outbursts in the workplace?

Here’s a post on Recognizing a Hostile Work Environment you might like.
Resolving conflict inspirational quote - Listening, honestly listening, is a critical piece of resolving conflict

How good a listener are you?

I realized immediately that to deal with my own stress that day I had adopted a “shorthand” style of communication that came across as imperative. I trusted that my colleague would be able to decode the fact that this was a temporary style change due to the demanding circumstances I was facing. (My bad, because we didn’t know each other that well yet.) I apologized right away. But she wouldn’t stop.

I could see that something else was at play with her. Regardless of what her perception was of how I treated her, I’m also aware that nothing I did deserved such an overreaction. I may have been short. Never abusive. And nothing that would justify such an emotional outburst. Nothing that couldn’t have waited a couple of hours to get resolved.

5 tips for dealing with emotional outbursts in your organization

This topic is particularly relevant when managing Latinos and other ethnicities who are known to have a more passionate communication style. At times that passion may come across as an emotional outburst when it’s only an expression of what they care about. And the truth is that you don’t want to eliminate passion from the workplace because it is what moves people and in the end, what makes it an interesting place to work. But there’s a difference between expressing your emotions and having an emotional outburst. So your role is to help people learn to modulate their emotional temperature to be more effective communicators.

These are 5 of the actions that have served me well whenever confronted by emotional outbursts in a professional setting.

1Breathe

Yup, that’s my first suggestion. Breathe and center yourself. Be present. Let go of whatever else is going on and focus on the here and now. On this person in front of you (or on the phone) who, if not dealt with in an adequate fashion, might turn a bad situation into a much worse one. After you focus for a moment you might decide this is not your biggest problem right now, and that’s fine. But you need to take a couple of breaths to decide that.

2Give people the benefit of the doubt

Head of a Woman by Pablo Picasso at the Met

Allowing the expression of emotions in the workplace is important. It’s emotional outbursts that we must learn to control.

All of us, particularly women, are subject to so many pressures from so many fronts all the time that there are likely many aspects of their lives you ignore. We expect people to leave their personal problems at the door but if people did that, you’d be working with robots. So you have to take individuals as a whole. And again, emotions are good indicators of what people care about. We are only talking about their most extreme expression. That’s why my next suggestion is that when someone behaves inappropriately you give them the benefit of the doubt at least once.

Faced with emotional outbursts or overreactions, stop for a second and entertain the possibility that there might be something else at play that has nothing to do with you. Not that this gives people a pass to have an emotional flare up at work but it may help you better understand their circumstances and be more lenient. You still will need to have a conversation about modulating emotional temperature and not taking things so personally. But it will help you put away your own feelings and temptation to overreact yourself.

3Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Emotions quote by Maya Angelou - People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

When an emotional outburst makes someone feel horrible, they will remember and it will affect your professional future.

Listening, honestly listening, is always a critical piece of resolving conflicts. And for that to happen, the person who is having the emotional outburst needs to feel she’s not being ignored. At this point, avoid debating, contradicting or asking for explanations. Admit that you hear what they are saying and that this is not the right time to discuss the topic any further. Make sure the person understands this is not a delay tactic but a commitment to address the issue at a more appropriate time. Then, follow through.

4Don’t draw lines in the sand.

When someone is pushing your buttons at the wrong time it obviously requires a good amount of self-control to avoid the need to give ultimatums and draw lines in the sand. Once again, a trait shared by strong leaders and which reveals solid executive presence in those aspiring to be leaders. So exercise self-control for a better outcome.

5Have the conversation

Set up the meeting to have the conversation you promised them and calmly ask the person to reflect on what happened that day. Let them come to the realization that regardless of who was right or wrong, there is no room for emotional outbursts at work. This is a chance for them to identify their own triggers and find ways to better manage stress and deal with conflicts to avoid future emotional outbursts.

Overcoming emotional outbursts quote - This too shall pass... so take a deep breath

Leaders have a chance to show their skills when they deal well with emotional outbursts

During this conversation, you might want to share some of the consequences of emotional outbursts in a professional setting:

  • Erosion of professional reputation
  • Perception that she lacks self control, therefore executive presence and potential loss of future opportunities
  • Damage to one’s personal brand
  • Damage to team morale
  • Don’t miss this HBR wonderful piece on emotional outbursts!

Since the day of the emotional outburst my colleague has produced great work for me. It was a learning occasion for both of us but it has undoubtedly planted red flags in my mind in regards to assigning her future high stakes projects. And this is the message you must strive to convey to women in your team. When you give into the heat of the moment and have an emotional outburst at work, you impacting your career long term. So think twice before you jump off the deep end.