This past week was a chaotic one for me in my personal life, which meant that it was a difficult professional week also. But I read one article that made good sense to me – Don’t Ask Permission, Ladies, by Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath and Mary Davis Holt, co-authors of Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Paths to Power (Jossey-Bass, September 2011).
Most of the advice these authors give the women they coach on how to succeed in business rang true for me and my career:
1. Don’t wait for permission
The authors of Break Your Own Rules say not to wait for a boss to tell you what to do. I was never one to wait for a boss’ permission. I typically did what I thought best in my professional life, and hoped it would work out. Usually, it did. In fact, the times when I got into the most trouble were when I did what someone else told me to do against my better judgment.
2. Act like you mean it
Flynn, Heath and Holt advise that women speak honestly and directly, without qualifications. This suggestion has never been a problem for me – I’ve always been pretty direct with people. Maybe too direct sometimes, but I didn’t get in much trouble, because I did try to be respectful, even when talking to someone for whom I didn’t have much respect.
3. Break a few rules
The writers of Break Your Own Rules suggest doing things your way, rather than following the rules. This is one piece of advice that it took me many years to learn – I’ve always been a “by the book” person. But I did get to the point in my career where I had to do things my way, because no one was giving me the kind of direction I felt I needed to advance. The only solution was to make it up as I went along.
4. Be the best (or best-known) at something
Flynn, Heath and Holt say to develop deep technical skills, or good sales ability, or something else that makes you unique in the workplace. For me, being a technical expert – being a “go to” person” gave me great satisfaction. But then I changed careers, and was at a loss on how to stand out until I developed new skills.
Along with being best known for something, the authors of Break Your Own Rules suggest that you toot your own horn, to let people know what you are good at. I wasn’t as skilled at that, and I was overlooked sometimes as a result.
5. Be the dissenter
To be assertive, you also need to take opposing positions sometimes. But you had better have your arguments lined up to support your opinion. Along with being direct, I was able to do this reasonably well. Sometimes, however, your superiors will not go along with your position. You need to know when to cut your losses and decide whether you are comfortable following a course of action that isn’t your first choice.
6. Don’t overdo it
The last point Flynn, Heath and Holt make in the portfolio.com article is to be assertive, but not aggressive. Stand up for yourself, but don’t be mean-spirited. I think I did all right in that regard.
What about you? Which of these pieces of advice are easy for you, and which are difficult?