How Women Rise – Book Review

Break the 12 Habits Holding you Back by Marshal Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen

This book is a good companion to Goldsmith’s earlier book ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’. That book addressed male tendencies that block career growth. This one identifies the most common habits that trip women up from progressing their careers. The book is titled ‘How Women Rise’. It woudl be more accurate to title it ‘What Stops Women from Rising’. Admittedly, much less interesting title for a book!

Goldsmith and Helgesen are well qualified to write his book given their experience. They have both worked extensively with women leaders around the world.

After setting a general framework, the book lays out the 12 habits they identified. They clearly explain each habit and use case studies to illustrate how it plays out in the real world. The final section of the book provides generic tips on how to get started with the habit change.

Here are the 12 habits discussed:

  1. Not Blowing your Trumpet
  2. Expecting others to notice your good work
  3. Overvaluing your expertise
  4. Building instead of leveraging relationships
  5. Failing to enlist allies from day one
  6. Putting your job before your career
  7. Perfectionism
  8. Pleasing
  9. Playing small, and giving credit to others
  10. Being over-emotional and verbose
  11. Overthinking
  12. Easily distracted

In general, I found the book is easy to read and the case studies really help to bring home the points they make.

Here is an example:

In one chapter they talk about how women tend to share credit with others. They explain how they tend you underplay their own contributions. Instead, women tend to claim it on behalf of their team and others they collaborate with.

They give the case of a woman who headed up a Not-for-Profit. She collaborated on a major fundraising event with a male leader of a similar organisation. They were both later interviewed by the local press. The woman focused on the great collaboration with her counterpart. Meanwhile, the man talked about the great work HE had done and the important work of his organisation. He did not even mention the collaboration or what she and her team had contributed.

It turns out that each of them had assumed that the other would use the interview in the same way they had! She was expecting him to laud her and he was expecting her to praise herself! But instead, it was the man got all the credit for their shared effort…. Perhaps you can relate?

I found the section on how to change the habits was useful but much too brief and generic. They tell you to start small, ask for feedback, let others know what you are doing and so on. There was very little specifically on how, actually, to change those habits. To be fair, you could probably write a whole book on many of these topics!

The book affirmed for me many of the things that I have been noticing from my own work with women in leadership. If you are struggling to progress your career as well as you want I recommend this book.


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