I’m a “doer.” I’ve always taken pride in this title. People know they can count on me to get things done. This served me well, until it didn’t. Let me explain.
There is a natural tendency for women to “over-row the boat,” as Susan MacKenty Brady, chief strategist with Linkage Inc., likes to say. This is partly due to gender bias and partly due to our own belief systems. A well-known illustration of gender bias at play is the 2012 study by Yale University where 100 fictional, identical resumes for a lab manager position were sent to 100 faculty members nationwide to assess what their hiring decisions would be based solely on the resumes. The only difference between the resumes was that half bore the name “John” and the other half said “Jennifer.” You probably know the story. John was rated more competent and hirable, and he was given a salary of $4,000 more annually than Jennifer.
But, gender bias is only part of the problem. Our false beliefs about work, worth and competence also play a role in why we over-row the boat. Here are two beliefs that tend to give us trouble.
False Belief #1: Work-Life Balance Exists
Many women believe that work-life balance is attainable. I don’t think it is — at least, not in the way we usually think of it. We imagine a world where we can apply exactly the right amount of energy to all that we value during a day or week and still come home refreshed and energized, ready to be the perfect partner or mother.
In other words, we imagine from day to day or from week to week that we should be able to feel in complete balance, and if we don’t feel that way — if we’ve spent the day with our kids, but the house is a mess and we are behind on our email — then we are doing something wrong. The idea that we will be able to fit everything in at an optimal level is just unrealistic. To believe otherwise sets us up to feel defeated and as if we are failing. That’s just no way to be, especially because if we set that well-intentioned but faulty belief aside, we can accomplish so much more in this world. In reality, we can have it all, just not necessarily at the same time. And, as Brady puts it, we certainly can’t have it all if we are too busy doing it all.
False Belief #2: Competence and Hard Work Will Get Me There
Women often think that our sweat alone is the primary driver for success. People will see our abilities for what they are based on our work product and the amount of effort we extend. We work hard to prove our competence and to show that we bring value. This works great in school. Work hard, get the good grade. Work hard, get into the good school. Work hard, get the good grade on the group project. You see where I am going. It works…until it doesn’t.
These beliefs feed into our over-performing and over-rowing the boat behaviors. Inside, we may secretly wish that someone else, our spouse, our boss, our coworker, will see what we are doing, thank us for our hard work and then jump in to help. And when they don’t, we may even get a little resentful.
Throughout my career, I played this very tune. I worked hard, doing more than my fair share and assuming the responsibilities of others when they were quite capable of doing it themselves. Then, I would feel resentful when others didn’t acknowledge what I was doing or step in to take some of the work off my plate. Prior to a leadership role, this was a personal aggravation. But, once I was heading up a team, it became a massive roadblock. Instead of empowering my team, my actions said “I don’t believe in you to do this work, so I will do it myself” or “You don’t have to do this work. I will take care of it for you.” Meanwhile, my approach of burning the candle at both ends was standing in the way of my business success and causing me to burn out, and it certainly was not scalable.
The “do it all at 110%” approach that got us the job or powered us through starting our business and hiring employees will sabotage us as leaders. Midway through our careers, instead of hitting our stride and putting our accumulated knowledge and skills to work, we feel exhausted and just want a break. If we want to be successful as female leaders and truly make an impact, we must change that approach, and to do that, we need to draw on our other skills, like collaboration and communication.
Stop Hyper-Performing and Start Delegating
Hyper-performing will certainly help us to a point, but it isn’t scalable. The shift here is to learn how to leverage the talents and gifts of those around us. This is what will move us past the thought of, “I want to advance my career, take on this role, grow this business by doing X, but I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done.”
The answer is that we don’t do it all. We enlist others. We empower others to do their jobs. We ask others to help. And most importantly, we recognize that our delegation is not just self-serving. By easing our burden so that we can focus on our true priorities in a way that best utilizes our skills, we are driving our entire team forward and scaling our impact. Whether you are dealing with team work or team family, the answer to increasing your reach and impact is the same, stop doing it all. Recruit assistance and delegate.
The answer is that we don’t do it all. We enlist others. We empower others to do their jobs. We ask others to help. And most importantly, we recognize that our delegation is not just self-serving.
About the Writer:
Heather Parbst is a business consultant and founder of Clarity3 Consulting, a company helping organizations solve their operations, culture and leadership challenges. Heather uses her past experience owning, leading, growing, and selling a technology company along with a background in psychology to help her clients execute on their objectives, move toward organizational excellence and increase their impact.