Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege to speak with dozens of professional women (and a handful of enlightened men) about the unique challenges and experiences women face in the workplace.
Much of what I heard echoed my own experiences working in Corporate America for 15 years, running my business for the last 2 years, and mentoring countless women and entrepreneurs.
Most notably, there are a number of commonalities among successful women – the things they do to get ahead as well as what they intentionally DON'T do.
The latter category includes the toxic behaviors, people and thoughts that can sabotage our momentum and ultimate success.
How can you adopt the practices, habits and mindsets to unleash your inner boss and take command of your career?
You can start by understanding the 7 key behaviors that badass professional women don’t do:
- Don’t Put Your Head Down and Work Harder
- Don’t Compare Yourself
- Don’t Say Yes
- Don’t Accept the Hand You’re Dealt
- Don’t Feel Guilty
- Don’t Be a Tough Guy
- Don’t Pull All-Nighters
1: Don’t Put Your Head Down and Work Harder
At some point, we’ve all been taught that if we work hard and do a good job, we’ll be rewarded.
This belief is instilled in us from a young age.
Maybe your parents rewarded you for getting good grades or your high SAT score helped get you into the school of your choice.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the professional world.
You very rarely get noticed for hard work alone.
Yes, there’s a place for hard work, drive and commitment to excellence, but it’s your relationships and ability to promote yourself that are far more critical to your success in moving up the corporate ladder and achieving recognition.
Too often, women fall into this trap: We put in long hours at our desk trying to create the most perfect work product, but we miss out on the opportunity to really differentiate ourselves and stand out – by getting out there and showing people who we really are.
People need to know you, not just your work.
We all have qualities that fascinate other people. It’s your responsibility to promote yourself and show people what’s so great about you.
The workplace is not the place to be humble or let others take credit for your accomplishments.
This doesn’t mean that you need to dominate meetings or brag about your accomplishments.
Rather, there are a number of strategic ways you can build your profile.
- Focus on the key relationships that are critical to your growth and success. Think about it like building a board – who are the people you can learn from and can facilitate your growth and success?
- Find sponsors and mentors who will help you gain greater visibility and open doors for you.
- Have lunch with your colleagues. Go to happy hour with them. Even if you don’t want to. :)
Over time you will find that building genuine relationships with the right peers and influencers will make your job easier.
You won’t have to work so hard because people already know what you bring to the table and they trust you.
2: Don't Compare Yourself
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Yet we all do it at some point.
But unless you’re extremely motivated by seeing someone more successful than you, comparing yourself to others is not likely to serve you at work.
This is because we each have a unique set of personality traits and competencies that fascinate others.
For me, my ambition, focus and confidence have often set me apart from my peers.
If I compared myself to someone with a different mix of advantages, I would be frustrated and probably couldn’t replicate their results.
So what can you do instead?
- Observe others you admire (i.e., watch, don’t judge) and think about what makes them successful.
- Consider your own strengths and weaknesses and how comfortable you are pushing those boundaries.
This last part is key – while it’s great to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it needs to be authentic and realistic.
Take this example:
If you’re trying to emulate the best public speaker in your firm, but you have never given a public talk or you get extreme stage fright…
Then it may not be realistic to think you are going to be an amazing public speaker without some significant time, practice and effort.
It may look like that skill comes naturally to someone else, but it probably took them years to master.
But all you see is the polished result.
This is why comparison can be so dangerous.
Not only do we lack insight into what it took that person to get there, but we may not even possess the innate natural talents that would facilitate our success in that area.
So we could just be setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Before you compare yourself to someone else, assess your own natural talents and non-talents.
Consider whether they are well-aligned to your pursuits and if you’re committed to putting in the hard work and time to get there.
3: Don't Say Yes
By nature, many women are people pleasers.
We want to make others happy and we want people to like us.
We want to say yes to our boss’s last minute request to get that report in by Friday.
We want to volunteer for that extra assignment because we will do a great job and it’s a way to get noticed.
And we also want to mentor the three people who have reached out to us because they admire us and want to learn from us.
Suddenly, we’ve agreed to a ton of extra tasks and we’re overcommitted.
There’s absolutely a time and place in your career for saying yes as much as possible.
Only you know when that time is right…
For me, I did this early on in my career, when I was younger (and had boundless energy and fewer personal commitments) and hungry for as many new experiences as possible to help me develop my niche and natural talents.
Beyond that, saying no becomes a critical way to set boundaries and protect your creativity and your sanity.
If you’re any good at what you do, you will undoubtedly have people asking a lot of you.
You aren’t obligated to say yes to everything.
You also don’t need to apologize.
Setting boundaries is part of being mature and also allows you to take time for self-care.
4: Don't Accept The Hand You're Dealt
Most things in life are negotiable.
Even if you think they aren’t.
There’s no reason you have to accept something just because that’s the way it’s always been or if you’re unhappy.
You always have a choice.
It may not be easy, but the least effective thing you can do is just accept a mediocre situation.
Powerful women play the long game.
They think about their end goal and the small steps they need to take to get there.
- They understand the connections and relationships they need to build over time.
- They take up space both mentally and physically – they can’t be ignored.
- They don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves or make excuses about why they are stuck in their current situation.
- They don’t let self-doubt cripple their ability to move forward.
They resist stagnation.
5: Don't Feel Guilty
We feel bad missing work if we’re sick.
We feel bad leaving early to pick up our kids.
We feel bad asking for too much time off.
We feel bad if we’re too exhausted to stay up all night working on a proposal.
And we need to stop!
Women are often guilt-ridden, but the most successful professional women don’t let feelings of anguish or remorse hold them back.
Personally, guilt has been the hardest feeling for me to overcome.
I never want to let anyone down.
But sometimes we have to in order to choose ourselves.
The key is to own our choices and stand behind them.
Be transparent and upfront about your boundaries.
No one is perfect, but being clear about your choices means you don’t have to apologize or feel bad when you say no.
6: Don't Be a Tough Guy
We know that badass professional women set boundaries, negotiate for what they want and don’t feel guilty, but they also do this with finesse and grace.
They don’t steamroll over people or act like a tough guy.
And this can be a difficult balance for many women.
Women have to walk a tightrope of being authentic to themselves and embracing their femininity and being assertive enough to command respect.
The most successful women have figured out this balancing act.
They speak up, are confident and can be forceful.
But they have put in time building social capital with their colleagues by fostering genuine relationships.
They are likeable and this increases their influence.
7: Don't Pull All-Nighters
I see plenty of successful women who never seem to sleep.
I am not one of them.
Sleep has repeatedly been proven to improve your memory and focus, reduce stress and depression, help maintain your weight and increase your overall quality of life.
Being well-rested helps us keep the composure we need to deal with all the challenging situations and BS we face at work.
Sleep is a game-changer.
Eliminating these 7 behaviors from your day-to-day professional life will have a big impact.
And the benefits from these behaviors often compound over time.
I encourage you to start today and embrace the badass professional woman you are.