women who lead

Why you need to put your blinkers on and stop comparing yourself to others

It’s not who you think you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.
— Teresa Ho

Recently I've been chatting with a range of people about comparing, judging and critiquing - particularly when we judge ourselves and find ourselves lacking in some way. 

In fact, it's the human condition. We all do it. But women are far more tough on themselves than men.

A recent UK study found that;

  • Women criticise themselves at least 8 times per day and that number is increasing,
  • 42% of women admitted to never complimenting themselves, 
  • 46% women said they criticise themselves at least once before 9:30am
  • The top five areas of criticism were weight, appearance, career, finances and relationships. (Weight Watchers UK 2016)


Studies also show that women under rate their own performance across many disciplines ranging from people management right through to more technical expertise. 

The problem for organisations wanting to promote women becomes more obvious when the same studies demonstrate that some men tend to overestimate theirs. (Geoff Trickey, UK, 2016)

So why does underestimating matter?

While self awareness is an admirable leadership trait, underestimation keeps you second guessing and missing out - and self flagellation with self awareness will simply get in the way of any progress.

Whether we are putting ourselves forward for a promotion, asking for a raise or pitching to win a big contract, it's far harder to back yourself and sell the value of you and your idea, if you are secretly doubting yourself.  

And while I don't want to diminish the role of bias and discrimination in keeping women out of leadership roles, being your own harshest critic is going to make it even harder for you to see your own potential objectively or accurately.

More stats

One statistic that sticks in my mind from a report entitled The Unstereoptyped Mindset is this -

  • 77% of men believe that a man is the best person to lead in a high stakes project
  • 55% of women believe the same.

And I'm fairly confident that the feminine tendency to compare herself, and find herself wanting,  contributes to this.

Women could use a little of the shameless confidence men take for granted.
— Annabel Crabb
Make the Friday Formula part of your non-negotiable weekly routine.

Make the Friday Formula part of your non-negotiable weekly routine.

The fix?

  • Put your blinkers on, and just get on with the work you really want to do.
  • Stop looking at how successful other people are on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram - and start focusing on yourself and your plan in real life.
  • Stop comparing yourself to a future idealised version of what might be possible, and start being in the moment and celebrating today.
  • And stop criticising others for the same. If you must judge - critique the project, the policy or the process, not the person. 

Change your mind

You've probably heard of neuroplasticity where your brain begins to change depending on how you think. Well start thinking good things about yourself and change your brain positively.

I recommend the Friday Formula for consistently and routinely documenting evidence of your own wins and achievements (EVERY Friday, never fail from now on until the end of eternity) -

  • What your achievement was this week
  • The benefit you delivered (quantify or qualify) 
  • The core expertise used to deliver that achievement

Then celebrate how grounded and great this makes you feel with trusted friends, colleagues or ambition support network.  Then as soon as you're done celebrating, get on with the business of making a bigger difference again.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition
#success #career #visibility #standout #leadership  #executivewomen #careerfutureproofing

Need help with backing yourself more effectively? Book in for a 45 min phone call to see if one of my programs will help.


Liked this article? Here are a few more from the archives ....


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Enablement functions and the leaky bathtub theory

Many women work in enablement functions inside a business. You know, roles such as sales support, customer support, management support, human resources, marketing support, back end finance or procurement.

Unfortunately these roles are perceived as the opposite of those at the pointy end of the business with direct P&L responsibility. So regrettably, they are typically the first to go with budget cuts, redundancies and efficiency dividends.

Just like trying to fill the bathtub with the plug out, organisations who have diversity targets in place but aren't really focused on cultural change within the organisation to ensure women are included in pointy end business decisions, are losing women at the rate of knots, despite best intentions!

So what can you as an individual do? 

Flick the switch

Flick the switch

  • Flick the switch - from enablement to optimisation. A simple change in language could make all the difference by helping both you and the rest of the business to see yourself and the value of your work differently.  Enablement sounds like a "helper" personal brand, always playing second fiddle.  Optimisation sounds as though it delivers a far better Return On Investment (ROI).
  • Quantify the value and ROI you do deliver - in language and measures the pointy ends of the business understand - regularly, visibly and transparently. After all it costs 4 x more to recruit & train a new staff member than retain and old one. Plus it costs 7 x more to purchase a new customer than retain an old one.

    Keep ready reckoners close to hand, and claim market share where possible for the part your division plays in the success of a project or the business overall where possible. Don't be shy and don't sell yourself short. Back yourself and sell your ideas in ways the business will hear and understand.
  • Dare to challenge the rest of the business to do things differently - instead of simply doing your job well rigorously, thoroughly, properly and appropriately.  Paint a vivid picture of the success that might be possible if the business does get behind your optimisation vision. Paint an even gorier picture of what's in the pipeline for the business if it remains passive or simply focusing on business as usual. Remember, sustainability and relevance are two of the biggest issues facing most organisations today so optimisation is likely to be an ideal solution to both.
  • And remember that one of the biggest benefits of gender diversity is innovation - new ways of solving old problems - new products, new services and new markets. Most businesses aren't inventing new wheels any more. In fact, they're optimising and reinventing variations on old wheels.  And just because it's always been done a certain way before doesn't mean it's got to be like that in the future. So once again, back yourself and your ideas and your willingness to solve things differently.  You and your ideas might just be the secret weapon your organisation needs right now.

In 2015 McKinsey reported that at a minimum $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if we advance women’s equality.  So enablement can't all be bad. It's just the way that others think of it that's skewed. So help them to help you by reframing the perception and taking your newly rebranded 'optimisation' responsibilities seriously.

Feminine leadership superpowers + optimisation = priceless

Vive la révolution!  #ambitionrevolution

Do drop me an email if you've got a great case study or story about how you 'optimised' your business unit!

Curious about programs on offer?


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

3 Rookie CV Errors that Undermine Executive Women

As women with career aspirations we're in the box seat. Not only is there a day for us - International Women's Day (#BeBoldForChange - happy #IWD2017 everyone!) but it would appear (according to the 2016 Future of Jobs Report)  we have the traits and characteristics that will be highly sought after in 2020.  


We're one year on from the Future of Jobs Report: World Economic Forum that did the rounds at Davos in 2016. There was a handy table that itemised and contrasted the critical skills that a range of experts ranked as highly desirable for each of 2015 and 2020.

Notice how even in 2015 the top five skills tend to be more complex, nuanced and require relatively sophisticated human brain power. 

The 2020 top five are even more so with creativity making it into the top five, and emotional intelligence and service orientation moving up the list. Once again, these are nuanced, relatively complicated and subjective type skills and traits.

Selling yourself on your CV

If the future of leadership follows the future of jobs, then it's a no brainer really that you should be talking up and highlighting the complex problems you solve, the critical decisions you make and your abilities to create collaborative pathways.

Yet when I read CVs many of us are still making rookie errors - relying on outdated CV templates, stereotyped notions of leadership from the movies and a language legacy from high school.

Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.
— Anne Sweeney

So to help you develop a brand that's known for the benefits of your higher level expertise, and to land roles where you get to make a bigger difference (i.e. leadership) here are three big things to avoid.

1. Imagining that people will actually read your CV

I have it on good authority that if your CV actually gets read, you get about a 4 second scan. If the reader is interested then that extends by another 10 seconds approximately. If the reader is then interested you are sorted into the pile for a more thorough read. So you definitely need to make sure that you have the important things up front in an easy to read and interpret format, on the first page. Yes, you could list your education and experience upfront, but you might be better off demonstrating and providing evidence of how you apply both your education and experience in solving real world complex problems, and what results you deliver as a result.

My suggestion? BLUF it up. Get your Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) on the front page including real world, tangible practical applications, achievements and results of your expertise on the front page. Make it easy to help you and hard to ignore.

2. Including everything but the kitchen sink

Does this come from a fear that if you don't write it on your CV then people might imagine you haven't actually done it?  Once again, if you focus on your results, highlights and achievements then it will be assumed that you have the higher level expertise required to deliver big picture results, and that you can either do or delegate those lower level tasks that were part and parcel of delivering the bigger overall project. Old/early roles are the worst.  It's as though we have a blind spot on old roles. - meaning we don't even see those lower level early career type responsibilities still listed.

My suggestion? Roll it up.  Make it easy for people to help this newer more leaderly version of yourself. And do a substantive audit of old roles that still list lower level responsibilities. Roll them up into a couple of achievements with a focus on the big picture and your future instead.

3. Using hard working, loyal and conscientious as descriptors

I work with some seriously smart and talented women (and even a few men) who all have bright futures in front of them.  In some of the CVs of women in particular there are some troubling choices of language that we use to describe ourselves.  Words like efficient, hardworking, conscientious and loyal to name a few.

Harding working = a workhorse
Loyal = a Labrador
Conscientious = always colours inside the lines
Efficient = a piece of software
— Avril Henry (paraphrased)

Many of you will know Avril Henry. She is a pretty inspirational speaker who has been focused on, and speaking about, gender equity for many years.  One of the most confronting talks she gives is her language talk. She invites members of the audience (men and women) to describe themselves or their brand in four or five words.

While the men tend to use language like results oriented, driven, strong, dynamic or authoritative, the women more likely use words such as efficient, hard working, loyal and conscientious.

Why is this a problem? If businesses need leaders who can solve complex problems, are critical thinkers, adaptive, consultative, creative and able to make sound judgments in the face of ambiguity or adversity then why are we still describing ourselves as workers from the 80's? We are seriously underselling ourselves and the advantages that our leadership style brings, in a big way.

My advice?  Big it up! Audit your CV immediately and remove references to hard work, loyalty, conscientiousness and efficiency and instead focus on real life examples of the work you did and the results of said work. Efficient is one thing, but effective is far better! Borrow from some of those masculine qualitative labels such as strong, driven, results oriented and remember also to include qualities from the 2020 Future of Work report. Be bold.

Who are you to play small?

When you downplay it's not just you who misses out. It's the others in your remit and beyond as well. We need to be prepared to step up and play our big (sometimes tough) game despite old notions and old ways. Because when we play small, change is really slow. When we play big we are far more likely to make a far bigger difference. 

We've been working hard on gender equality for years. it's time we worked far smarter!  Let's be bold together.

#BeBoldForChange #IWD2017

Your thoughts? Would love to hear from you. Get in touch and let me know how you might embrace bold this year.

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Executive women challenging the C-suite to embrace "yes and" thinking

Last week I emceed the Aventage Women in Leadership Summit in Brisbane. The line up of speakers was great - a veritable smorgasbord of who's who in Queensland business and government - CEOs, CFOs, Directors and COOs.

As always, there were a couple of standout performances including two women from the defence force whose stories were enough to make your toes curl - and almost want to make you sign up to be a pilot in the airforce! I hear they are recruiting.

And delegates weren't afraid to ask curly questions of the panelists and speakers.  (For those looking to increase your visibility in industry - asking questions from the floor is a great first step. Then getting on the panel circuit is the next step. Pop me a note to learn more...  )


Targets and quotas vs cultural change
One of the issues that came up time and time again was the topic of quotas. Should we implement quotas and targets to help us achieve gender balance?

Interestingly, most of the female speakers and panelists saw them as an important tool to redress the balance, implemented for a period of time. The biggest opponents of targets and quotas were the male business leaders - some of whom were Male Champions of Change. Nearly every single one said they'd rather use cultural change to effect change.

Fair enough. No-one would dispute the benefits of cultural change and to quote Peter Drucker:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

But even in the Peter Drucker world, the debate goes on to qualify that you don't want to disconnect the two. Cultural change can, and should, be linked intimately with strategy.

So here's a radical thought - why don't we implement cultural change PLUS quotas and targets?

  • Why does it have to be either/or?
  • Why can't it be yes/and?
  • Surely a combined approach would deliver better benefits far faster?

Dualistic thinking
Most of us tend to think dualistically:

  • Either/or,
  • Good or bad,
  • Black or white,
  • This method, or that method, or even ..,
  • This year we'll go on the cruise of our dreams or we go to the retreat in Bali.

This old school type of thinking comes from the rigour of scientific experiments where we eliminate one method before we test another in order to work out which is most effective.  It also driven by scarcity thinking where we think we should only have the luxury of one option at a time.

A more contemporary approach (thanks Ros) would be to implement a "yes and" approach, where we try a range of methods, all at once.

Obviously this would mean we might not be sure which part of the program worked:

  • Was it the targets or quotas?
  • Was it the cultural change program?
  • Was it something else entirely?

But who cares?  We now have mountains of evidence and research backing up the business case for diversity.  Organisations are leaving money on the table by going slow on diversity measures. Surely organisations and governments should be using a range of mechanisms to bring balance into workplaces - and not one or the other?  

"Yes and" thinking and your career

"Yes and" thinking can be applied in a range of situations. With the rise of popularity of people owning up to be multipotentialites "yes and" thinking is incredibly liberating. To quote Emilie Wapnik on TED, a multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do.

Some of my clients get really excited about the possibilities that "yes and" thinking brings up for them as well as they head toward a world of the portfolio career.

I'm sure that there are organisations out there who have seen the light and are implementing multi pronged "yes/and" type approaches, and if yours is, I'd love to hear.

I'm even sure that most of us would benefit from laying a "yes and" lens across a range of areas of our lives, and finding options that make it more fulfilling as well.

Let's ditch professional silos and competition between business units and embrace a smorgasbord of inclusive thinking, collaborative problem solving and cross functional, holistic, change management instead. After all - individuals and organisations who do are going to be relevant far longer than those who don't.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Drop me an email and get in contact.

Vive la révolution!
#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition #careerfutureproofing #visibility


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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Stereotypes, advertising and being prepared to stand out

I like to describe myself as a proudly visible member of the most invisible segments of our society - older women.
— Cindy Gallop

As I begin to unpack the issue of visibility for women in leadership, I can't help but reflect on the advertising industry. Cindy Gallop, the British self described 'visible older woman' advertising industry executive quoted above, is an extremely vocal advocate of change. Change, not just about the women and men who work in the sector, but because of the key messages this powerful industry perpetuates in society. In a nutshell, the advertising industry sells and perpetuates stereotypes - what it is to be a bloke, a woman, to be young, old, successful - and these stereotypes become then norm.

Relevantly, a recent global study of the advertising industry found that -

"just 2% of adverts featured women who could be described as “intelligent”; just 3% were shown in leadership roles."

The advertising industry is just the tip of the iceberg with the media and entertainment industries, all such powerful influencers of our socialisation, compounding the problem and promoting and reinforcing a lack of 'visibility' for women as leaders.


Real life statistics
Real life statistics aren't much better off with the recent McKinsey and Lean In global research highlighting that women only make up 19% of those in the C-suite despite intense focus and huge effort in the last 50 years.

The survey also found that the roadblocks, brick walls and glass ceilings that more mature women have battled for years are still having impact on younger generations - with 23% of millennial women believe their gender has prevented them from getting ahead at work (compared to 26% non-millennials), and with a more than 14% ambition gap between millennial women vs men (compared to 17% non-millennial).

You cannot be who you cannot see.
— Cindy Gallop

It's not that women aren't getting there because we're/they're not good enough. In fact, there is now overwhelming evidence to the contrary including analysis of performance during the GFC demonstrating that organisations with mixed gender Boards performed better at that time.  It's just that perception and biases get in the way of us seeing (women included) that women also make great leaders.

Bias is bad for business
Bias is a huge issue for those who aspire to leadership roles but don't fit the stereotype. It's also a huge issue for those industries and organisations who have yet to embrace the benefits that diversity brings in order to meet 2020 business challenges and remain competitive.

Relevance and sustainability in a modern and ever changing business environment are some of the greatest obstacles in any industry. If organisations want to remain relevant and be around in the future, they need to ensure that women are seen as leadership potential. Put simply, invisibility and the biases that surround it, are a problem for both the individual and the organisation. And to quote Jonathan Segal;

"Bias is bad for business."

When ambitious women don't fit in easily (don't always get the jokes, don't look the same, don't play golf, don't know the unwritten ground rules, other women think we're bossy and men may feel threatened) we may accidentally find ourselves becoming invisible in the leadership talent pipeline despite targets, quotas and best intentions.

Taking a stand makes companies stand out
Recently we've seen several brands come out and really embrace the benefits that diversity brings. Earlier in the year we saw Lynx parent company Unilever come out publicly and vow to drop advertising that promotes stereotypes.  Yes, this makes them far more visible in a crowded market place. Plus the lamb diversity campaign by the MLA in Australia is a great example of turning diversity into a competitive advantage.  

In a modern world, future focused successful organisations are also embracing diversity as a competitive advantage in terms of attracting talent, creating new markets and mechanisms to innovate.  

Why not be a stand out individual?

For the individual, this represents an opportunity to really stand out as well. This is an opportunity for you as an individual to let go of the old ways of getting ahead - fitting in, playing the game and playing by the rules. They aren't going to work much longer anyway.

Instead embrace the new rules of the portfolio career, personal branding and self promotion. Leadership opportunities will go to those who are prepared to Step Up, Speak Out and Take Charge. And the best bit? This then becomes a competitive advantage for those who don't fit the mold.

Some rules of thumb to remember in your quest for leadership:

  • Back yourself and be prepared to have a crack at it - women have a tendency to underestimate our future performance as compared to men. Don't let that tendency stand in your way.
  • You shouldn't have to fit in in order to lead - in fact it might be more helpful if you stand out
  • Invisible might feel comfortable, but visibility is the new black
  • Results don't speak for themselves, you need to speak to them
  • Your future leadership personal brand is your key differentiator
  • It's your job to sell brand you, not someone else's

While the advertising industry itself still has a long way to go, there are great lessons emerging for us all. And as Oscar Wild once wrote;

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."

Your thoughts?

  • Does your organisation promote the same old tired stereotype? Or are you seeing fresh ideas and different thinking championed and celebrated throughout the business? 
  • If you are seeing fresh ideas and different thinking championed - what are the results to date?
  • What mechanisms does your organisation have in place in order to encourage different thinking, diverse ideas and innovation?  
  • Have you tried to stand out and did it work (yet)?
Why not BYO chair? The view from the top is great.

Why not BYO chair? The view from the top is great.

Let me know.  I love receiving emails from you with your own ideas and insights.
And by the way - still don't have a seat at the table?  Why don't you BYO chair?  The view is great from where I'm sitting!

Vive la révolution!

#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition


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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months