Women leaders' Perceived Development Gaps

Am I Different? Women Leaders' Perceived Development Gaps

When designing your women’s leadership development programme, it is critical to understand the biggest personal development gaps that our women leaders perceive. In this second blog of the series about women’s development and coaching needs, I’ll explore the question “What are your biggest personal development gaps”.

1. Dealing with Inner Game

The responses to this question were really insightful, yet not that surprising. The majority of responses were related to what we called “inner game”.  Things like thoughts, emotions, feelings, beliefs, courage, adaptability and motivation. This broad basket of items contained a number of clear sub-themes of which assertiveness and confidence were the two most prominent ones. Confidence included “self-confidence” and “the confidence to push back against unreasonable requests”. Some assertiveness statements were “fighting back when treated unfairly”, “not being too nice all the time” and “being assertive rather than being aggressive. Other inner game issues worth mentioning were “positive thinking”, “not overthinking things”, “not be too nice” “adapting to change” and “willingness to experience new things”. So, most personal challenges women face clearly have to do with inner resources – strength, courage and personal power. This may also explain why the vast majority of women in the study indicated that they would be interested in taking assessments that would enhance their self-awareness.


2. Communicate with impact

The second big theme, although minute compared to the inner game category, was communication. Specifically, the need to communicate with impact. When combined with issues such as confidence and assertiveness, it appears that many women desire to be more powerful and influential in getting their voices heard and their ideas accepted at work. This fits in well with the most significant challenges women perceive at work – something we’ll explore in the upcoming blogs.

From there on, the issues really fizzled out, receiving only one, at most two mentions each.  These include leadership (leadership skills and leading a diverse team), interpersonal skills (working with under performers, working with a diverse team/colleagues), strategic thinking ability (especially being less execution oriented) and operational awareness (“a better understanding of business operations”). These themes are clearly still emerging, and we’ll need more responses to better understand their significance as development areas for women.

3. What can we take away from these?

So what? What can we take away from these results? I was surprised that more than 80% of responses were clearly “inner game” related. As a coach and psychologist, I know that many people (men and women) struggle with inner game issues, but I never imagined that it would feature so prominently in the results. I definitely see it as an indication that my respondents were honest and willing to make themselves vulnerable, which is very encouraging for the future of this study. In addition, it is also worth noticing that “soft” issues (inner game and soft skills) cover almost all the development needs of women. Operational understanding and strategic thinking were so far the only two “hard” issues emerging from the survey receiving one mention each. The question then is whether the “soft” issues feature so prominently because women’s other training needs are already taken care of or whether these are truly the more important issues for them. In my experience, the development programmes available to leaders often focus on quite the opposite with some soft skills development and nearly no focus on inner game development.  I’d like to focus for a moment on the bigger need with the least attention – the inner game.

Practically speaking the results indicate that organisations interested in developing and empowering women leaders will clearly do well if they create opportunities for inner game development for their women leaders. However, addressing this issue poses a dilemma for women as well as organisations. Attending inner game programmes may serve to reinforce gender stereotypes at work and undermine the very power and influence women hope to gain from attending such programmes in the first place. Perhaps making it part of all leadership programmes will remove this dilemma.

Another consideration is that developing the inner game capabilities is best done early, not when leaders start to encounter problems at work. This only serves as confirmation that leadership development should start earlier rather than later in leaders’ careers. The development of inner game capability is ideally suited for coaching as it is much more personal. Unfortunately coaching is rather expensive and most leaders do not get access to coaching until their leadership style and behaviours have been shaped to a significant degree. Training workshops, however challenging, must form an integral part of the solution to reach more leaders earlier in their careers.  The results indicate the need for organisations to balance their coaching bench with coaches who are not only business focussed but who are also able to help their leaders access and address inner game-related issues. This fits in nicely with the findings about what women are looking for in a coach – someone who listens and who accepts them unconditionally.

On a positive note, the nature of women’s development needs emerging from this study confirms the importance of women’s initiatives that are already in place in many organisations. These include women’s networks, mentorship programmes, coaching and the like. I hope that reading about the development needs of other women will serve as a source of validation for those experiencing similar challenges. You are not alone.

Women Leaders’ Perceived Development Gaps
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