Leading Women: Flexing your 'standing-up-for-myself-muscle' for your next career step
A few years ago, I coached Carolyn, the Head of Global Campaign coordination for a small NGO. She had previously worked for a large non-profit organization, where she had developed a a wealth of expertise and leadership experience, fueled by her deep passion to make a difference.
Carolyn was extremely unhappy; not only because her current job did not leverage her talents and provide any opportunity for growth, but also because the demands of work and travel far exceeded the assurances she had been given when she was hired. As the mother of two young children, the long hours and extended trips away from home were having a detrimental effect on her family life. Carolyn knew she had to make a change, but she was deeply insecure about her abilities to get another job. Her biggest desire was to find out what would make her happy and enable her to use her strengths and talents in a positive way.
While every job has its down sides, I was struck by how out of balance the tradeoffs seemed to be in Carolyn’s case. She was getting too little of what was important to her and too much of what was draining and uninteresting. It made sense that she wanted to re-asses her values, and talents, in order to determine what kind of professional role would be rewarding now. Yet I was also curious to better understand what drove her to make the compromises she did in the first place. She complained often that her boss promised her things and didn’t come through, while at the same time he kept asking more and more of her time and energy. I sensed that the ‘Pleaser’ side of her was taking charge, preventing her from setting boundaries while boosting unrealistic high expectations of herself.
With Carolyn’s permission, I interviewed the ‘Pleaser’ through Voice Dialogue. What we discovered was that the Pleaser’s behavior was often driven by a need to prove herself to others. By holding the bar high, so as make others happy, she repeatedly over-extended herself. She felt more comfortable making excuses for others and taking on their tasks herself instead of setting boundaries of responsibility. It became clear that Carolyn needed to connect with other parts of herself in order to practice assertiveness and direct communication. Her breakthrough came with the insight that if she was going to create more balance in her life at any job, she needed to learn to hold others accountable.
After addressing Carolyn’s issues with boundary setting, we shifted the focus back to her goal of creating a vision for a job that would make her happy. In response to a series of questions on the topic of 'Who am I?’ and 'Ideal job description’, Carolyn was able to reflect on her priorities and desires in a way that helped to shape a new direction for her career.
Carolyn was surprised at how easy it was to get immediate agreement from her boss once she clearly expressed her needs. She succeeded to extend her family vacation and cancel a non-essential business trip. When she informed her boss that the work load was too much, he immediately responded with an offer to raise money to hire an assistant for her. Carolyn called it her 'standing-up-for-myself muscle' and she enjoyed flexing it. Her newfound self-empowerment gave her the courage to turn down a new job offer which was below her level. Although she was determined to leave her present job, she now had the confidence and patience to wait until the right opportunity came along.
Ultimately Carolyn decided to take the step to establish her own consulting firm to support other NGO’s.
In her own words: I am living this dream now and it is making me super happy!
Author: Lisa Ross-Marcus is a leadership coach and intercultural consultant. Her primary focus is empowering women to lead in organizations or as founders of their own enterprises.