Written by Maria Connolly. Posted in Embodied Leadership, Women in Leadership.
“It is a grand thing to rise in the world. The ambition to do so is the very salt of the earth. It is the parent of all enterprise, and the cause of all improvement.” ~ Anthony Trollope
There is an ingrained, cultural bias to think it’s wrong to feed your ambition, if you’re a woman. Women with ambition have gotten a bad rep…they’re called selfish, b**chy, pushy, and unlikable. For example, there was a very revealing study conducted by the Columbia Business School. Half the class received a case study about a venture capitalist named “Heidi”; and the other half received the same case study with the name changed to “Howard.” While everyone in the class judged the content to be equally important, the ones reading about “Heidi” said she wasn’t likable, whereas the ones reading about “Howard” said he was likable.
It also illustrates the fundamental challenge to women’s leadership…qualities traditionally associated with leaders (assertive and authoritative) are not traditionally viewed as attractive in women. Both men and women are making judgments from this outdated paradigm. It’s time for a more expansive worldview that begins with finding the answer to this question:
How can you maintain joy and balance, as you feed your ambition?
While there’s a place for networking and finding support among “women’s only” groups, this exclusivity can reinforce the gender divide. A more integrative approach allows women who have extraordinary leadership qualities to do extraordinary work within any organization. Women don’t have to try to be like their male counterparts. They simply need to nurture and recognize their leader within and make that their strongpoint.
As I practice this within my own life and career, I’ve formed deeply meaningful leadership connections with men and women. I’ve partnered with Louise Santiago to lead an annual all-woman retreat in Mindo, Ecuador.
Would this have happened if I was pretending to be what I’m not? No. These connections are based on being our authentic selves and bringing our unique talents and gifts to the table. We’re successful because our focus is on being the best leaders we can be, not making an issue over gender.
While the world, in general, is still dismissive of women with ambition, there are shifts in accepting people who feed their ambition in an authentic way. I recommend reading an inspiring article about three very ambitious women, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Tory Burch. Here are three very transformative messages I gleaned from their struggles and successes that will help you feed your ambition in a sustainable way:
1. Feed your ambition, by believing in yourself. If you see an opportunity, don’t hold back. Trust your instincts; learn all you can about your topic; and create a step-by-step plan for making it work. Don’t take no for an answer.
2. Feed your ambition, by deeply knowing you deserve success. While it’s helpful to look for role models, don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to them and putting yourself down before you even get started. This is where the issue of deserving it or not rears its ugly head. If you put in the work, you deserve the success. Believe that with all your heart, because it’s true.
Stop worrying about what others will say. Don’t ask for permission or be apologetic. Erase from your vocabulary hesitant words like, “Is this Okay?” “It’s not as good as I’d hoped.” “I wish it was better, but…” If there’s room for improvement, make it! Don’t apologize for a job half done. Finish it. Polish it. Make it shine! However, beware of stalling out on the fine line between being a perfectionist and being good enough to put it out there into the world. You can adjust and tweak as time goes along.
3. Feed your ambition, by owning your success. We’re taught that it’s not polite to brag, so we hold back from speaking about our successes. Here’s a much healthier mindset to adopt: it’s not bragging; it’s sharing information that can help others to succeed too. Become more mindful and notice what internal shifts and external actions led to moments of success, whether small or large. Then you can turn these steps into a success story that has real value for those who listen to you. This, in turn, grows your own confidence immeasurably.
Are you ready to feed you ambition? Within days, my colleague, Louise Santiago, and I will be traveling to our annual retreat entitled: “Women, Wisdom & Presence – Evolving our presence in the world.” Make plans now to join us next year. Together, we’ll be exploring how to recognize, name, and support the leader within you. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.