The Perfect Storm for Balanced Leadership

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The Perfect Storm for Balanced Leadership

Last week, I gave a keynote at UC Berkeley’s Women’s Summit. During this speech, I shared the following fundamental principles that SHAMBAUGH believes every company and executive must understand regarding the importance of diversity and women at the table—initiatives that can no longer be considered just a “nice thing to do” but have become multipliers for driving greater business results, performance, and innovation. I also called out the importance of women developing a high comfort level with knowing and leading from their natural strengths, as these are necessary as balance to address today’s new marketplace and work environment.  

First, there are two market factors that we believe have created a perfect storm for balanced, inclusive leadership. These factors underscore how underutilization of female talent impacts business performance: 

  • Fact #1: Women represent half if not more of the thinking, skills, and perspective that are essential to ensure that teams and the organization can draw from balanced decision-making and problem-solving approaches. Women bring many important traits that are critical for companies to thrive in the current work environment and marketplace, such as actively listening to others, collaboration, ability to “read the room” through astute observation, and inclusive leadership style.  

  • Fact #2: Just as important, having gender equity at the leadership level helps companies challenge rational assumptions and tap into a wider range of creative ways to approach solutions and services that maps directly back to customers. Since women represent 51 percent of the wealth in the United States (approximately $14 trillion), that means they account for the majority of the nation’s wealth. Clearly, companies that ignore this fact will hurt their bottom line.

The market conditions are right for women and companies to take advantage of this “perfect storm” for balanced leadership by following the steps below: 

Identify “Sticky Floors.” A first step is to recognize that certain self-defeating beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors can hold women back from reaching their full potential and keep them from having their greatest impact as a leader. SHAMBAUGH wrote the book (literally) on these common behaviors and coined the term “Sticky Floors” to describe them. While I am not suggesting that women change who they are, it’s important for any leader, male or female, to continually look inward and examine his or her own internal narrative and belief system. By identifying and reprogramming limiting messages, high potential women can pave the way toward tapping into their greatest strengths, bolstering their confidence, and ultimately taking the lead.

Invest in relationship currency. While women work on fine-tuning their Central Navigation System to gain an accurate self-assessment of their strengths, Sticky Floors, and blind spots, they can also gain leadership leverage by cultivating and investing in “relationship currency.” The reality is that performance is of course still important, but in recent years it has evolved into more of a commodity. When you look around, you’ll see a number of people doing similar work or having the same skills. On a more level playing field like this, what gets people ahead? It often comes down to who you know, which requires savvy networking skills. 

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s a step that women often try to avoid in favor of putting their head down and minding every detail of their job, isolating themselves and working in a silo. Many women leaders who attend SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning Program (WILL) or our Coaching Program for Women have told me, “I don’t have time for building my network. I need to get my job done first, and then I will build relationships.” These women often end up learning the hard way that building relationships is part of the job, and the perfectionistic “busy bee” narrative can ground you in a Sticky Floor, limiting your potential, your opportunities, and your visibility and reputation as a leader. 

You can circumvent this Sticky Floor and facilitate advancement to the next level by fostering trusted relationships. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have all the ideas that I need, so the next best thing is to build a Personal Board of Directors around me. I invite you, too, to move out of your comfort zone, identifying people who you may not affiliate with on a regular basis, including those who are more senior-level and influential. Your goal in creating a Board of Directors is to build alliances with people who represent a diverse network that:

  • Complements your own skills and experience, balancing out your strengths and weaknesses
  • Provides truthful and constructive feedback 
  • Offers a wider vision of you than you have of yourself  
  • Helps with “bridge building,” connecting you to their own network
  • Opens the door to sponsorship opportunities and new pathways that will grow your portfolio of experiences and elevate you to greater levels of leadership. The fact is that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored, so be sure that you’re getting a high ROI from your Personal Board of Directors, rather than just surrounding yourself with peers and sounding boards.

Advocate for other women. One of the speakers at the conference shared her personal story that her male colleagues had reached out and supported her more than her female colleagues had, estimating that around 70 percent of the women in her company had failed to support her. That’s a huge loss and contributes to the slow pace toward achieving gender equity at the leadership level. If you’re in a position to sponsor other women, then do it. Take the initiative to give your women colleagues and direct reports helpful feedback. Show them specifically how to amplify their voice and presence. Women need to see their role as supporting other women and invite them in.   

The perfect storm of market factors discussed above means that women can let go of the need to fit into outdated leadership models. The women I see soar and reach their highest career potential are those who realize their natural strengths, leveraging their unique talents in ways that bring a needed value proposition to the customer base. The day that a critical mass of women do this is the day that we will finally see real change that everyone, and every organization, can benefit from.

SHAMBAUGH helps women strengthen their power base and accelerate their career growth. To learn more about our programs in leadership development for women, including SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning Program (WILL) and our Coaching Program for Women, contact me at

Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebecca is 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

SHAMBAUGH’s Mission: We’re on a mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive

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