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How Talented Women Thrive

"To love what you do and feel that it matters - how could anything be more fun?" ~Katherine Graham, the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 enterprise (the Washington Post).

Working under the belief that all men and women with the brains, the desire, and the perservance to lead should be encouraged to fulfill their potential and leave their mark; last fall, the McKinsey Quarterly published a new approach to leadership in order to help women become more self confident and effective business leaders. The model was based on a distilled leadership model comprising five broad and interrelated dimensions. It was originally implemented by women, but no sooner had the programs been established, before men began to "want what the women were having." Suffice it to say that both men and women can benefit from what this model has to offer.

The Five Dimensions (listed below) preconditions are intelligence, tolerance for change, desire to lead, and communication skills.

  1. Meaning - finding your strengths and putting them to work in the service of an inspiring purpose.
  2. Managing energy - or knowing where your energy comes from, where it goes and what you can do to manage it.
  3. Positive framing - or adopting a more constructive way to view your world, expand your horizons and gain the resilience to move ahead even when bad things happen.
  4. Connecting - or identifying who can help you grow, building stronger relationships, and increasing your sense of belonging.
  5. Engaging - or finding your voice, becoming self-reliant and confident by accepting opportunities and the inherent risks they bring, collaborating with others.*

After 1398 women and 539 men in executive leadership positions were surveyed, it appears that meaning is the #1 contributor to happiness. So let's explore what this means.

Meaning is the motivation that moves us. For life to be authentic, it must be a life of meaning. Meaning enables us to discover what excites us and then stretch ourselves to full potential. It makes us get up in the morning; makes our heart beat faster, provides energy and inspires passion. Without meaning, we can't wait for weekends and with meaning our job and our journey become a calling.

Psychologists have defined a progression of happiness that leads from pleasure to engagement to meaning. For example, eating chocolate provides a short-lived (although yummy) pleasure, but the satisfaction that comes from making a difference to another or to your work lasts much longer.

Why is this important to leaders? Studies show that meaning translates into greater job satisfaction, higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased loyalty. Contributing to something bigger than yourself generates a deeper sense of meaning and fulfillment, which in turn fosters happiness plus allows you to take new paths and accept risks associated with your desired goals.

So how does one find meaning? You can begin by being honest with yourself about what you're good at and what you enjoy doing. Building your signature strengths into everyday activities at work makes you happier in part by making them more meaningful. (I recommend www.strengthsfinder.com) Look for patterns not only in the activities in your current work, but in jobs that haven't worked out and talk to others about your experiences to gain combined insights.

You might also ask yourself about purpose? What was your dream as a child? Are you realizing that dream? Are there any portions of your life that are what you dreamed of, is it possible to create more activities around your dream? Meaning will give you peace, comfort, a sense of utility, doing some worthwhile, and a connection with others. Purpose is the direction in which you're headed. You're reason for being, and without a purpose, it's more difficult to taste the sweetness of life.

What I've noticed with the retired persons I've worked with is that meaning is often missing once there is no job. Little did the average retiree think about the structure a job provided (getting up and heading to the office each day); or the self-worth that was attached to meetings and a pay check, until they were no longer there. Saying that you'll travel, or spend time with the grandkids, or take care of the 'honey do' list your wife has been creating for months just doesn't seem to 'cut it' after a while.

One more point, priorities can change, whether you're new in a position, beginning a new business, a new Mom or moving into retirement; the key to success is in being aware of the shifts needed and making conscious choices about them. Take into consideration bigger goals, personal and professional responsibilities and what brings you joy.

Next time, we'll talk about #2 managing energy.

*The McKinsey Quarterly: The Online Journal of McKinsey & Company


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