It’s a funny thing about human nature: believing we can do something that seems difficult to us is often more than half the battle. The 4 Minute Mile is a case in point. Until May 6, 1954, many believed that no human being could run a mile in less than 4 minutes. But on that day, Roger Bannister, a British medical student and amateur athlete did just that — ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec. While times on the mile had been decreasing steadily over time, the 4 minute mark had become a psychological barrier for many and a goal for some. Exactly 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Australian John Landy beat his record by a split second, and in the coming years the record time shrunk even further still, as seen in the chart below. Psychologically, the other runners essentially said to themselves “If he can do it, I can do it.” And then they did.
Every day in our practice we see the same thing. It’s why we use so much demonstration as well as individual practice. When students see someone else demonstrating a behavior, even one that appears very difficult — for example, they see someone start a meeting in Partner mode, coming across as both warm and competent — it gives them the knowledge that they, too, can master those communication skills. As one student put it, “If she can do that, I can do that.” We live for those breakthrough moments.
World Records for the Mile Run, 1850 – Present Day, Men, Amateurs, Professionals, and IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation).
“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” — Roger Bannister
The Gender Trap, an article published in the European Business Review in 2013, ably outlines the double bind women in leadership positions face. It’s recommended reading for anyone struggling with the dilemma of how strong, smart women in the workplace can emerge as effective leaders. The article points out the heart of the problem bluntly:
“A woman who adopts a command-and-control style or behaves in an overly assertive way is vulnerable to being labeled a “bitch”. As Penelope Trunk, a columnist for Business 2.0 magazine notes acerbically: “There is no male counterpart to this term, because men who exhibit such traits are promoted.””
Key for women leaders is to balance competence and likability, in a way that works within cultural norms. As the authors note, the self-aware, self-monitoring female leader can make great strides in increasing her influence on both counts by avoiding extremes of both ends of the behavioral spectrum, illustrated in the magazine’s first table:
Self-awareness and self-monitoring, often aided by personal and small group coaching, pay off in another way. They help female leaders overcome another challenge that seems to come with the territory: self-doubt. As the authors note: “Ambitious women certainly face barriers that their male colleagues do not, but some of those barriers are in their heads.”
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It was my distinct pleasure to speak at the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Minneapolis, MN, Oct 2 – 5, 2013. What a jolt of positive energy! The conference was attended by a diverse group of more than 4,000 women who defy the notion that to be a computer professional means being “a geeky guy with no life” and sub-par communication skills.
The conference, presented by the Anita Borg Institute and the Association for Computer Machinery sold out this year! Connect with the Facebook Page for the event to get info as soon as possible about the next event. Or follow the Anita Borg Institute on Twitter — @AnitasQuilt.
Better yet, explore joining a LeanIn.org circle, run on Mightybell – a technology platform that makes it easy for you to join existing ABI Circles or start your own. As a bonus, Mightybell is run by Gina Bianchini, the co-founder of LeanIn.Org and a successful (female) tech entrepreneur!