Increase Your Personal Pride

By: Will Marré

There is no doubt about it; unconscious bias is a huge problem in the workplace. It is the invisible sand in the gears of nearly every corporation that I have consulted with over the last 35 years. In fact, most of my work coaching women to successfully lead at the highest levels directly deals with the invisible forces that marginalize women’s strengths in hierarchical organizations. After all, most large organizations are led by white heterosexual men, and leaders that do not act a lot like white heterosexual men are not usually considered executive material. Most often this is not intentional. It is the result of how our brains work.

Harvard researcher Dr. Mahzarin Banaji makes a compelling case in her book Blindspot that our brains are wired for efficiency.

We like to make fast judgments based on mental models that are deeply wired into our subconscious. Dr. Banaji has developed many scientific techniques that demonstrate we’re all attracted to and trust people who are most like us. We also cling to stereotypes that link external or behavioral characteristics with success in certain roles. Her research confirms that most people think all African-Americans ought to be able to dance and play sports extraordinarily well.We also tend to assume that white men over six feet tall with gray hair and dressed in a suit are likely competent leaders.

Meanwhile, Banaji explains, thousands of years of social stereotyping cause many leaders to assume that most women are better suited to supporting.

In my executive coaching, the bias against women must be confronted directly. Many male executives tell me there is no glass ceiling. They assert that if women would just act more like men, they would have no problem reaching the highest levels of leadership. This viewpoint, I am quick to point out, is the very problem.

There is ample research showing the best ideas come from considering the highest number of different ideas. Any of us who’ve worked in large organizations know that “groupthink” is a terrible problem that stifles innovation and value creation. Yet so many leaders only promote diversity and inclusion as the right thing to do rather than the SMART thing to do.

My direct experience in working with senior leadership teams is that WHEN WOMEN LEAD LIKE WOMEN THEY MAKE MEN BETTER LEADERS. MIT researcher Thomas Malone has proven that Group Intelligence dramatically rises when women are added to work teams. He notes that the gender-specific traits and strengths of the female brain generally fuel higher levels of social intelligence and empathy-guided innovation. However, almost all of these advantages are lost, unless leaders actively acknowledge that a diversity of perspectives, experience, cultural background, personality and brain strengths improve an organization’s ability to innovate, adapt and execute more quickly. That acknowledgment is all too rare.

The women I personally coach often express self-doubt because they feel the pervasive bias against their thoughts, feelings and ideas. My counsel is always the same.

Increase your personal pride.

Be clear, calm and committed to your vision. Just like a trainer who is helping someone become stronger through weightlifting, I help women strengthen their confidence by digging deep into the three sources of healthy personal pride.

  1. 1. PRIDE IN YOUR IDENTITY. The first source of our identity is the ‘tribe’ to which we belong. Our tribes are identified by our gender, race, family origin, educational background and other factors that form our outer identity. All of these attributes are like threads in a personal tapestry, which is the basis of our unique worldview. If we feel ashamed of any of these pieces forming our identity, shame will erode our confidence. I am constantly reminding women to lead like women and not mimic men. The simple message is to magnify all the strengths that your external identity provides.
  2. 2. PRIDE IN YOUR WORK. You may never happy spending your life trying to fulfill other people’s goals. Reaching milestones others have set may make you feel relieved; but rarely fulfilled. What you’re seeking is your true work. The purpose of work is to add value. You are uniquely designed to create value through developing extreme expertise and social intelligence. Invest in becoming great at something that interests you. Pay the price to learn what’s hard for you to learn so you can do what you really want to do. Additionally, to amplify the impact of your expertise, you will need to become an expert communicator and persuader. Persuasion is the most essential social skill of a leader. Persuasion is magnified when you connect your empathy for others concerns to your vision of a better future. Work is an important source of life satisfaction, so persuading others to enable you to do the great work you most deeply desire to is vital to your sense of pride.
  3. 3. PRIDE IN YOUR INTRINISIC SELF. Your deepest identity is intensely personal. It’s far deeper than your tribal connections or your work. Mindfulness and meditation are proven ways to access your intrinsic core. This is your awareness that you are more than your achievements, roles, body type, or net worth. You have nothing to prove. You have nothing to fear.

The summary of all my coaching advice to women or anyone who may feel unheard or undervalued is to be clear on who you are and what you want. Then, stay calm. It is your inner calm that will enable you to see opportunities. You are here for a reason. You uniquely matter. Make your difference.

Will Marré (rhymes with “Hooray!”) is the co-founder and former president of the Covey Leadership Center which brought The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to millions worldwide. Today he is CEO of the REALeadership Alliance which conducts global research on business innovation strategies of today’s most admired leaders. Will is also the founder and force behind The Leadership SPA (Smart Power Academy), a revolutionary program that trains women leaders how to develop and use SMART Power to magnify their positive leadership impact. This vision spurred Will to collaborate with an accomplished team of women leaders to develop a unique leadership development process designed to vastly improve women’s leadership effectiveness and opportunities.

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