To Become Leaders, Women First Must Believe They Can Lead

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To Become Leaders, Women First Must Believe They Can Lead

I received a call last week from a woman who had participated in SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) Program nearly two decades ago, soon after the program was founded. The participant, Carol, shared with me that the insights, tools, and coaching that she had gained during the session had made an incredible difference in how she approached her career. As a result of what she learned in WILL, she was able to tap into her true potential and ultimately be promoted to a leadership role as an executive in a male-dominated industry.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear about Carol’s career success, but not surprised. We developed WILL because we know that women have plenty of leadership potential and power within them—power that can be activated once they believe in themselves and step into it. In the research that SHAMBAUGH has done on Sticky Floors, we discovered that women often act in ways at work that sabotage their success. WILL helps participants uncover these sometimes hidden behaviors so that they become aware of them and can change them if needed, learning to communicate with more confidence, enhance their executive presence, and strengthen their power base in general.

In Carol’s case, prior to participating in WILL, she had spent much of her career focusing on the fact that in terms of education and experience level, she wasn’t yet technically “qualified” to do the work she was doing. WILL helped her overcome these self-doubts to ultimately advance in her career despite any perceived limitations, relying more on her own insights and less on others telling her that she was OK. “One of the things I learned at WILL is that I have strength as a leader and that leadership transcends; therefore I should step out with more confidence,” explained Carol. “WILL helped me understand my belief system and values, that it was good to be me—just a very ‘aware’ me. It reaffirmed what my strengths are and how better to leverage them.”

In other words, just as many other WILL participants have told me over the years, Carol discovered and leveraged a greater level of confidence in herself by practicing on the job what she had learned during the program. With the WILL framework for support and guidance, Carol was able to identify her own power, letting go of her previous need to adapt to a way of doing things simply to meet someone else’s expectations. With her new level of insight, Carol was able to first recognize, and then free herself from, the Sticky Floors that had been holding her back. This involved getting out of her comfort zone and tapping into her greatest strengths, which included listening to and believing in her own voice. It also involved realizing that she didn’t need to ask for permission or wait until she was asked—she just started decisively taking action, as that is what leaders do.

“The most sustaining part of the investment was learning my ‘Sticky Floors,’—the awareness carries through to this day,” said Carol. “They don’t ever leave, it’s more that you really get to ‘know’ them—and you gain the know-how of how to unstick yourself. I’ve been successful in some areas and unsuccessful in others, but at least I know where to focus now.”

Not only did Carol learn how to break free from her own Sticky Floors, but she also now recognizes when other women are struggling with the same issues so that she can lead, coach, and mentor them. “Over time as a leader, I’ve been able to see women get ‘stuck’ with the same key issues WILL outlined for us,” said Carol. “I use that to reframe the coaching and development—to put the control in their hands versus continuing to focus on things that are outside of their control.”

When I asked Carol about other specific ways that the WILL experience helped her grow and continue to succeed in leadership, she emphasized the role of strength-based development as an important reinforcement for her as an executive. “The investment that my company made in me to attend with colleagues and dedicate time specifically for my own development was critical,” said Carol. “Attending with colleagues allowed us to verify artifacts of organizational culture and support each other in changing behaviors.”

She added that the extended time frame of the program (not just an hour-long “one-and-done” coaching event)—plus the ability to participate with women from other industries as well as her colleagues—were particularly valuable aspects of WILL. “When companies approach development this way, I believe they will be more successful,” said Carol. “This was truly strength-based coaching, versus traditional coaching, the latter of which is about improving in an identified development area or ‘shortfall.’ Strength-based coaching, on the other hand, is inherently positive and a privilege.”

What stands out to me from Carol’s WILL experience and message is that more women need to recognize that they already have the power to become the leaders that organizations in every industry need. The key is for women to believe it and embrace these capabilities. WILL offers a toolbox to jumpstart this process, so that women can learn how to show up as leaders, articulate their ideas, speak with authority, and strengthen their power base—and in the process, help their companies and everyone in them to be more successful.

Is your organization ready to increase the retention of top female talent, accelerate growth and advancement of women leaders, and bring greater value to your teams and organizations? Click here to learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership Learning Program (WILL) or contact us at

Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebeccais the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

At SHAMBAUGH we’re on mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive. Find out more about us at:

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