Kalika Yap, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Los Angeles, is founder and CEO of both Citrus Studios, a branding and design agency, and Orange & Bergamot, a creative agency for female founders. As the host of EO's Wonder podcast, Kalika interviewed executive coaches Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen, who discussed 12 habits that hold women back from career success. Kalika shared some highlights:

"Hey--sorry to bother you--this won't take a minute. And, even though you may not agree with me, um, it would be great if you could just take a few seconds to, um, read this article?"

Isn't that the worst lead paragraph ever? Unfortunately, it's also precisely how many women preface remarks at work, according to Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, authors of How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job. That opening paragraph reflects habit No. 9, Minimizing: Using words or body language that diminish the value of what you have to say. 

Helgesen and Goldsmith know about getting what you want out of work. Helgesen has consulted and lectured on women's leadership since 1990 when she wrote the bestseller, The Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership, which has been in print ever since. Goldsmith is an executive coach extraordinaire, and the author or editor of 36 books on the subject. They teamed up for the first time on How Women Rise

The perfection trap

The good news for female managers, they say, is that the average woman garners better 360-degree feedback as a leader than the average man. Of the 12 bad habits they discuss, the one that comes up most often is perfectionism.               

"Women are much harder on themselves than men," Goldsmith says on EO's Wonder podcast with host Kalika Yap.                

They call it the "Perfection Trap," and it's No. 7 on their list.

"It's the kind of habit that can serve you well early on because you do a fantastic job and show your commitment," Helgesen explains. "But as you move higher, it makes it very difficult to delegate because delegating feels dangerous." 

More women in leadership, please

Helgesen and Goldsmith's book is important because women are woefully underrepresented in the corporate world. In 2019, there were only 33 women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, according to Fortune--just 6.6 percent of the total. 

But things are looking up. In 2018, 1,183 US companies in business for at least two years and with at least 10 employees installed new CEOs, according to the annual Women CEO Report. Of those, 264, or 22.3 percent, were women, up from 18 percent in 2017.

Women fared much better in the government and non-profit sector, with about 100 new women CEOs in 2018--about 51 percent of the total.

Women's habits differ from men's

Helgesen and Goldsmith aim to remedy these disparities by isolating the habits that keep women from advancing. Their unproductive habits are much different from men's, including:

  • Women don't tell the world how smart they are.
  • Women don't use anger as a management tool.
  • Women don't claim credit they don't deserve.
  • Women are reluctant to claim their achievements.

"If our good work spoke for itself, there would be no need for marketing," Goldsmith says. "Yet every company has a marketing function. You can't expect the world to have a mission to recognize your good work."

Women are also more reluctant to leverage relationships and often fail to enlist allies until it's too late. "Build the relationships that will get you noticed for what you're doing, helping you create visibility," Helgesen says. "Start doing that on day one, even when you don't have a grasp on the expertise part of the job."

Avoid the 'disease to please'

Where men fail by passing the buck, women stumble with the "disease to please." They end up doing work that others should, often underlings. So those people don't develop skills. 

"For entrepreneurs, this is the killer," Helgesen says. "We've both seen entrepreneurs who were so focused on pleasing other people that they made catastrophic decisions in their business. This is one you want to watch out for."

More emphasis on professional development

It's counter-intuitive, but Helgesen and Goldsmith recommend "putting your job before your career." In a perfect world, doing well at your job should cause career advancement. But that's not the case.

"If you want to move to that next job, you need to look at different skills, and different ways of being," Goldsmith says. "Women, much more so than men, are so focused on doing the perfect job that they spend an inordinate amount of time at the expense of long-term development activities."

Hone your radar

Another skill that can cause problems? Good radar. Women notice more things at once, Helgesen and Goldsmith say. Their attention is more like a radar than men's, which is more like a laser because they notice things in sequence. Radar is good unless the myriad things you pick up distract from the task at hand.

"This can be a great gift for women," Helgesen says. "You can bring a lot of information into an organization. But you can be standing up, sharing information, giving a speech, and get distracted. You think, `Oh, that person in the back doesn't seem interested. Am I boring? Maybe they're having a bad day.' "

Pretty soon, you're off the rails.

Ruminating is for cows

Twelve bad habits are a lot to remember on a given day. If women forget a few, they're more likely than men to ruminate over the mistake, the authors say.

If nothing else, don't do that. As Helgesen says: "Ruminating is for cows." They chew grass, swallow it, then bring it up and chew it over again. That's a fine way to digest tough grass in the field, but it's no way to run a business."