How Coaching Brings on the Power and Promotions

joanna barshWhat’s not to admire about Joanna Barsh? Not only is she smart. Not only has she devoted her career at consulting giant McKinsey & Company to accelerating the development of women leaders. What’s more, she’s still an active learner, and happy to share her own lessons learned.

When I asked her in a recent interview about women’s general reluctance to partake in the give-and-take (“reciprocity”) of workplace politics, she used herself as an example of how we can work through our reluctance to informal networking:

I am a painfully shy introvert. In one of our leadership workshops in 2009, I voiced a frightening thing, that “I don’t want to meet with people because they are going to hurt me.” It’s all about making your mindset explicit. When I did that, I was reassured, “You’ll prevent that from happening, or you’ll bounce back from it.” I was able to shift my mindset to: “I’m excited to meet them because I’m bringing a gift and they will open their arms to me.” It defanged them for me. I’m no longer afraid. I consider it a mutual learning experience, so I walk in as a peer. Your mindset decides how you walk in, sit, and talk.

As co-author of McKinsey’s recent report on women in the workplace, Barsh has been vocal in supporting the kind of on-the-ground strategies (coaching, leadership training, job rotations) that women themselves can take in hand, instead of waiting for the latest top-down corporate initiative that may or may not succeed.

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While a man is admired for his strength, Barsh reminds us, a woman may be labelled a bitch. “Women need effective strategies.” A director in McKinsey’s New York office, she is the co-author (with Susie Cranston and Geoffrey Lewis) of a terrific book, How Remarkable Women Lead.

Coaching works, she says, because it helps women gain the self-awareness that is the essential first step to claiming their own power. “On day two or three of one of our Centered Leadership workshops, a woman got up and said, ‘Joanna, you used the word ‘power.’ You’ve given me permission to be powerful. I’m so excited!”

How does power happen? Barsh sees a clear pathway:

  1. Increase your self-awareness
  2. Shift your mindset
  3. Master the requisite skills and techniques
  4. Enact new behavior

What follows, she says, are promotions, happiness, and a sense of contribution.

A coach helps all along the way, says Barsh, by:

  • seeing the strengths and weaknesses you may not see yourself
  • developing your “internal calibration”
  • offering encouragement

Barsh’s research among advanced leaders shows no gender differences. Those women and men, she says, share leadership effectiveness and ability. “If you learn self-awareness and personal mastery in pursuit of a vision, you’re going to get there. There’s no innate reason why a woman can’t.”

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