Women in Business: 10 Ways to Be Strategic in Building Your Career

What do I mean by being “strategic”? I believe there are three different kinds of women in business when it comes to managing their career progression and their life at the office in general: the expressives, the conventionals and the strategic.

If you are of the “expressive” kind, you’ll be spontaneous, natural, and living the emotion of the moment with little or no filtering of your communication. Your thoughts come like gum balls out of machine. Your “career management” is authentic and honest. You spend little time on office politics. The moment you think it, they’ve got it.

The “conventional” type is driven by the question: What’s the right thing to do? We learn that we are supposed to behave in certain ways in certain situations, worry about the “appropriate,” about conventions, etc. What are the conventions in your organization, and how are they different from other places you’ve worked? Convention is a safe place to go – no one will hate you but it may not get you to the top. Another possible downside is that you’re seen as boring, or at least dry.

Now if you are “strategic,” you are aware of conventions but don’t always follow them. “Strategic” means asking: What outcomes do I want to produce and what “ABCs” (appearance, behavior and communication) will get me there? What are the consequences of x, y or z? How do I want to be seen? Some people do this more intuitively, others explicitly.

A word of caution: it’s easy to get “strategic” wrong – by being deliberate in a manipulative way, or too intentional at the expense of integrity, or being “real.” The trick is to be strategic and real at the same time – smart, aware of the consequences…and authentic.

So what are some of the more “strategic” things to do for women in business who want to get ahead and build their power to influence? I’m going to differentiate here between “the inner game of career success” and the “outer game.” “Inner” refers to the invisible thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, ideas etc. that lead to the “outer” elements such as visible behaviors and the tangible environment in which we operate. The “inner” creates the “outer” so we can’t talk about one without examining the other. Lastly, the word “game” reminds us that there are certain rules involved, but that the process shouldn’t be taken too seriously and that the whole thing consists of learnable skills (good news!). So are you ready?

TOP 10 STRATEGIC ACTIONS FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS

(note: points 1-5 refer to the “inner game”, points 6-10 to the “outer game”).

  1. Examine your beliefs about your potential – whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right (Henry Ford). We act in accordance with our predominant beliefs, and those actions create our results. If your beliefs about yourself, about your abilities or about others do not empower you, ask yourself why you are holding on to them. Beliefs are built on the past: on things we have heard, seen or experienced. They are not right or wrong, they are only opinions. Become aware of your beliefs, understand where they come from and disassociate from them if they no longer serve you.
  2. Build self-confidence – handle your inner critic. We all have it, that little voice inside our heads that tells us that “we can’t”. You need to understand that you are not that voice, in the same way that you are not your foot or your hand. You are more than that. The little voice, your mind, has good intentions: it wants to protect you, to keep you safe. In order to keep you safe it will tell you to stay where you are, to not step out of your comfort zone. Self-confidence comes from “feeling the fear but doing it anyway” (Susan Jeffers), in spite of the little voice, seeing it for what it is: an over protective mother smothering you with advice (add vice?).
  3. Choose your thoughts carefully – what we focus on, expands. You may have heard the saying “energy flows where attention goes.” Truer words were never spoken. What words do you use to describe your experiences? Your life at the office will reflect those words! Want more positivity? Think more positive thoughts. If you think your thoughts express your truth, you’re wrong. They only express one truth about you and the world you live in. You affect your world with your thoughts. Don’t like what you see? Change what you think!
  4. Be open to change – everything flows, nothing stands still (Heraclitus). It’s been said that our mind is like a parachute: it simply works better when it’s open! How open to change are you? Many of us will resist change, we will even negate it if given the chance. The trick is to explore the new opportunities that come with change until we eventually come to accept it (which doesn’t mean you have to like it). Roles, responsibilities, challenges etc. will continue to change as more and more women take center stage in our corporations. If you find yourself resisting those changes, ask yourself if you want to be right, or if you want to be happy.
  5. Know what you want – clarity leads to power. The number one reason most people don’t get what they want is because they don’t know what they want. Make sure you have a clear picture in your mind as to where you’re heading. s your career vision clear? Is it compelling? Can you feel, smell, hear, see and almost taste what lies ahead in your desired future? If so, great, you’re on track! If not, spend some time formulating a clear picture of what it is you want to achieve. Set yourself some deadlines. Invent a slogan, a mantra if you’re so inclined, that will keep you connected to your desired outcome and you’ll be beating the odd
  6. Fake it ’til you make it – our attitudes follow our behavior. What skills do you want to develop? What would you like to change about yourself? Start acting as if you were already the person you want to be around the office. It has been proven countless times that in our desire for internal consistency (the psychologists call it cognitive dissonance) our being will align with our doing. Want to be more influential? Start acting influential. Soon you’ll feel more influential. Others will see it. They’ll start treating you as an influential person. Soon you won’t have to “fake it” anymore, you will have become more influential.
  7. Self-promote – “brag” is not a 4-letter word. Most of us were taught not to toot our own horn, so self-promotion make not come easily, and yes, it’s easy to get it wrong by overdoing it. Yet when it comes to life in the office, it’s not just what you do but also who sees you doing it, i.e. who knows about how great you are, that will determine how far you’ll make it in your field. In the increasingly transparent and flat world economy, your reputation will come to matter as much as your skills and achievements – no matter how junior or senior you are. Are you strategic about the kind of reputation you are building? What is your reputation and how do you know? Do take care of your reputation – and it will take care of you.
  8. Know your ABC’s – master your appearance, behaviors and communication. It’s not who you are, it’s how you’re seen to be. Advertisers know that today’s perception is tomorrow’s reality. Make sure that the way you look, behave and speak reflect the part you’re aiming to play at work. If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust for some honest feedback. Your appearance, behaviors and communication will either be your allies or your biggest stumbling block, no matter how good you are at your job. Not fair? Who said life at the office was fair!
  9. Stay in your circle of control – be happy, don’t worry. Certain aspects of life at the office fall directly under our control. What to wear, how to behave, who to treat well, when to speak, when to shut up etc. Other elements of work lie beyond our circle of control, in our circle of concern. Focus on the things you can do. There’s always something you can do. When you do get concerned about something and worry about it, ask yourself what you can do about it. Then do it, and stop worrying. Your worrying serves no one. And here’s a secret: the more time you spend in your circle of control, the bigger it get. And similarly, the more time you wander around in worryland, the more disempowered you become.
  10. Network – it’s not what you know, but who you know (and who knows you!). I already said life at the office isn’t fair so I won’t say it again. We live in a hyper connected world that has been called a “relationship economy” (2008, Scott Allen et al.). You have to become a relationship manager. Evaluate the strength of your professional network. Are you happy with the people in it? How can they help you? What have you done for them lately? Being strategic also means developing the right relationships, where others become a stepping stone for you and vice versa. And make sure your network is not “limited” to people exactly like you. New ideas and learning often come from those we see as very different from ourselves.

As you will have noticed, this list does not include “doing a good job” and there are two reasons for this. First of all, the fact that you need to be good at what you do is implied, your performance is a given. Secondly, and more importantly, being (very) good at what you do is no longer enough. In the evolving world of work you’ll be required to leverage your performance, to publicize and fully own it. The pervasiveness of the “just world” syndrome (described by Melvin Lerner in the 80′s) would have us believe that the good get rewarded and the bad get struck down. Well, you and I know that doesn’t always happen, far from it. So who does get rewarded? More often than not, it’s the strategic ones! I hope the above helps you become more strategic, more purposeful and more in resolute about your career and what it is you want to achieve.