Advice to Female Professionals: Be a Bit More Selfish and a Lot Less People-Pleasing

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No doubt about it: Women need to be more focused on themselves and their career goals and less interested in pleasing their supervisors if they really expect to advance, says Canadian careers expert Leah Eichler.

Eichler confides that one of the best pieces of advice she ever received from a manager came during a performance appraisal very early in her career while she was a Reuters reporter focusing on digital media.

As the conversation began to wind down, she asked him what else she could do to provide value to the company.

He told her point blank to forget about trying to be a valuable employee and to start thinking about how to get the most from her own job experience and what skills she could hone for herself.

Too many women try for the “A-student approach,” doing all they can think of to please the higher ups. Instead, “Women should think about themselves,” Eichler tells eFinancialCareers.

Do-gooders finish last

This doesn’t mean you’re not a team player, and it doesn’t mean you don’t do great work. It means you don’t really want to be the person who’s asked to organize the office Christmas party, since that won’t help you get ahead. It's much better to be the person who’s assigned the plumb client or the promising career opportunity, Eichler notes.

Eichler is founder of Femme-o-Nomics, a networking and content portal for professional women. It’s something like a dating site, “but for your career,” she explains.

She was recently cited by the site Canadian Career Gal in its “Gals We Admire” section.

In a recent Globe and Mail article, Eichler quotes Susan Bulkeley Butler, the first female partner at business consultant Accenture (then Andersen Consulting), saying that early in her career she would throw herself into each project assigned to her and was surprised when time and again she wasn’t being promoted.

“I didn’t know, but I learned this later, that I needed to perform the job I wanted before I got promoted,” said Butler, author of Become the CEO of You, Inc.

The book recommends approaching your career as if it were your own company, including formulating business plans and assembling a team of supporters who are able to open doors for you. It calls for committing on paper to a five-year goal and writing it down to turn that goal into a concrete idea you can put your energy into as well as share with others, who can’t do much to help if they haven’t heard about your plan.

For her part, Eichler observes that in many demanding roles, it can easily become routine to focus your attention solely on achieving specific business objectives.

“Remembering to distinguish your needs from those of your company plays an integral role in career planning,” she told Globe and Mail readers.

“The more you focus on equipping yourself to advance, the more indispensable you become to your company. It’s a win-win situation,” she says.

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