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4 Habits Women Need to Break Right Now to Become Better Leaders

The very habits that come natural to us are the ones that hold us back.

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BY Ayse Birsel - 11 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay--and rise!" -- Maya Angelou

Are you a perfectionist? Are you good at multitasking? Are you humble?

If you're a woman leader, these very qualities that make you good at what you do may be holding you back from being great. That was my wake-up call when I recently read How Women Rise.

Written by Sally Helgesen, an expert on women's leadership, and Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, How Women Rise explains 12 habits that hold women back.

Most of these habits are behaviors that help women early in their careers but become roadblocks as they move up. Below are four of the habits that resonated with me the most. They're examples of strengths that become liabilities for women as they rise in corporations.

Habit 1: Reluctance To Claim Your Achievements.

I got a taste of this a few years back when I was talking to Goldsmith, who asked me if I wanted my book, Design the Life You Love, to become a bestseller. Not wanting to look too ambitious, I mumbled something ambivalent. I will never forget what Goldsmith said: Why bother writing it if you don't want it to be a huge success and everyone to read it?

Now reading How Women Rise, I realize I was exhibiting Habit 1. As Helgesen explains, I was ambivalent about the value of my own work and "if you don't value it, why should anyone else?" I have since learned my lesson and am a great promoter of my book, which is in its 3rd print.

Lesson: Take credit by believing in your work.

Habit 4: Building rather than leveraging relationships.

In Give and Take, one of my favorite books by psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant, he explains how, "Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good."

Helgesen and Goldsmith advocate similarly for developing relationships of "mutual exchange of benefits." Women tend to worry about being self-serving or using others, but reframing business relationships as a mutual give and take is both freeing and constructive. In innovation, leveraging relationships among talented people is necessary to success. It is so in leadership as well.

Lesson: Leverage your relationships. Give and take with good people.

Habit 7: Perfection Trap.

In design we talk about evolution or revolution. Evolution is perfecting what you have; revolution is discovering new territory. Helgesen explains that women are prone to fall into the perfection trap and that this approach is stressful and hyper detail oriented. You look for negatives rather than celebrating positives, and it sets you and your team up for disappointment. I like the idea of easing up on being perfect to be more creative and visionary, and to explore new territory and test new ideas.

Lesson: Rather than being perfect, be fearless.

Habit 12: Letting Your Radar Distract You.

Women see the big picture, picking up cues from the environment like a radar, which is a strength. Men focus on a specific point in the knowledge environment, undistracted by what is not necessary. The sweet spot is to do both. Use your radar, your natural strength to think holistically, as you hone your laser focus, your acquired strength, as a leadership skill.

Lesson: Use your natural radar and hone your focus. To get what matters done, you will need both.

Here is my visual map of all 12 habits and lessons learned. It's my daily reminder. If you'd like, print it as your cheat-sheet.

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