How Women Rise

Sally HelgesenSeason 5Episode 7


Sally Helgesen, an expert on women’s leadership, discusses her book “How Women Rise” and effective strategies for women to rise in the workplace. Sally emphasizes how feedback should be based on recognizing strengths and provides insights into overcoming common habits that hinder women’s career advancement. She shares her observations on the evolution of workplace dynamics throughout her career. The conversation also highlights the importance of inclusive behaviors and how women can actively contribute to creating more inclusive work environments.


Sally Helgesen

Sally Helgesen

Best-Selling Author

Sally Helgesen, cited by Forbes as the world’s premier expert on women’s leadership, is an internationally best-selling author, speaker, and leadership coach. Inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame, her ideas have shaped global leadership. Ranked number 3 among thought leaders by Global Gurus, her latest book, “Rising Together,” topped Amazon’s charts. Building on her success with “How Women Rise,” co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith, Sally offers practical strategies for inclusive workplaces. Her other works include “The Female Advantage” and “The Web of Inclusion.” For over 30 years, Sally has inspired leaders worldwide through workshops and keynotes. 


Sally Helgesen (00:00):
Every one of the habits, for example, in this book, is rooted in a strength. And I think that is a good point of departure when giving feedback. You want to acknowledge, you want to give a little thought so you don't sound like you're just, you know, trying to be nice before you give them the bad news. You give a little thought about why the what's getting in their way or what's tripping them up, or a response that doesn't serve them that well. Why and exactly how that is rooted in a strength that you've seen them exhibit.
Troy Blaser (00:46):
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Simply Feedback, the podcast brought to you by Learning Bridge. I'm your host, Troy Blaser. It's great to be with you today. I'm super excited to introduce our guest, Sally Helgesen. Sally, cited by Forbes as the world's premier expert on women's leadership, is an internationally known bestselling author, speaker, and leadership coach. Sally was inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame, and her ideas have shaped global leadership ranked number three, among thought leaders by global Gurus, her latest book, Rising Together topped Amazon's charts and building on her success with How Women Rise, co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith, Sally offers practical strategies for inclusive workplaces. Her other works include The Female Advantage and the Web of Inclusion. For over 30 years, Sally has inspired leaders worldwide through workshops and keynotes. Sally, welcome to Simply Feedback is so great to have you with us today.
Sally Helgesen (01:47):
Thank you so much, Troy. It's wonderful to be here
Troy Blaser (01:50):
And somewhat unusually for Simply Feedback. We have another guest joining our conversation today. I'm pleased to introduce Julia Einfeldt as the daughter of our longtime producer, Michael. Julia is joining us today. She's a recent college graduate. Just starting out in her career. She has read How Women Rise and found it very helpful with a lot of fantastic ideas. And so we thought it would be interesting to have Julia join the conversation today with Sally just to give some different perspectives, ask some of the questions that occurred to her as she read through the book. So Julia, welcome to our conversation today.
Sally Helgesen (02:25):
Thanks Troy. I'm happy to be here.
Troy Blaser (02:26):
Sally, we almost always like to start with a question related to feedback, just as a way to help us even get to know you a little bit too. But could you tell us about a time that somebody gave you feedback that maybe had an impact on your life or your career, or marked a turning point for you?
Sally Helgesen (02:41):
Certainly I've had a lot of feedback in my life, but I think the thing that was most helpful ultimately, although I really didn't like hearing it, was my friend and colleague, Marshall Goldsmith. This is about 20, 25 years ago, and we were at a big conference together, together, and he came up to me and he said, Sally, can I give you some coaching? And what he means by coaching is feedback. So I said, of course Marshall. He said, when you get ready to say something, it might be helpful to you to, "think, am I right? Probably so, do I need to make that point? Probably not." I love being right. I have to say. So that was really, really helpful to me. And I heard it surprisingly in the spirit it was intended. I only made one big mistake, which was I told my husband. So now whenever I sort of score a point in a conversation, he always says, remember Marshall's coaching. So, I wish I hadn't done that, but it's been very helpful to me.
Troy Blaser (03:51):
So feedback that has had an impact on your life and your marriage for many, many years, because he, your husband remembers that feedback.
Sally Helgesen (03:58):
Oh, he does. Exactly.
Troy Blaser (04:00):
As we have raised our kids, you know, Christmas time rolls around, there's gonna be presents happening or a birthday where they're gonna be getting presents. We try to remind them as you receive these presents, say things that are true, kind and necessary, is the thing I'm saying true. And is it necessary to be saying the thing? It's, it is great feedback to have.
Sally Helgesen (04:22):
Troy Blaser (04:23):
Julia, I know that you have read how women rise in the past, and I understand that it's had an influence on you. Can you share with us kind of your experience reading that and some things that have happened for you since then?
Julia Einfeldt (04:36):
So I read the book probably a year and a half, two years ago. And some of the habits that I think kind of stood out to me the most were the first two, which I think kind of go hand in hand about being reluctant to claim your achievements and just kind of expecting other people to spontaneously notice and reward your hard work. And since reading that book, there have been three times in my current job where I have gone out of my comfort zone and asked for a raise, citing the things that I had done and my job to that point. And I have gotten that raise every single time, which is awesome. And a couple months ago, my boss even told me that the first time that I did it was able to kind of be the push that he needed to get raises for everyone else on the team too, which I thought was great.
Julia Einfeldt (05:21):
So I think there's some really great advice in the book, and it's something that I appreciated. And one question that I thought as I was reading the book, I feel like a lot of the ways that women can rise in the workplace is in some sense being more like men. But I do think there are some aspects of the way women are naturally that are not inherently bad, just bad in a workplace that is run primarily by and created by men. And so I just wonder where there is room for more femininity and more traditionally feminine habits, and could organizations be better if everyone, including the men, adapted some habits that are more traditionally feminine. And I just maybe hope for a day that success can be achieved more easily by women because of, and not in spite of some of our more traditionally feminine habits. And so I was just wondering what you see as, as a possibility for that.
Sally Helgesen (06:11):
Well, I do think that's happening. I mean, I have been actively observing how the workplace has evolved for, for really 50 years and writing about these issues for 35. And I have seen a tremendous evolution. Do I believe we're where we would ideally like to be? Absolutely not. But I see men much more comfortable listening, asking questions. I see less tolerance for leaders who bark out orders or take the sort of my way or the highway approach, which was very, very popular. Say you go back to the eighties or early nineties, you know, when the leaders who were lionized and looked up to tended to be men who were known for their toughness and even in, in cases brutality toward their employees. And this is no longer considered leadership at its best. We certainly still see it, but it's no longer considered leadership.
Sally Helgesen (07:18):
So, so one of my observations is that women have changed how we perceive excellence in leadership. And it is be precisely because a lot of the characteristics they bring to the workplace, which is a strong value on building relationships of feeling a recognition that what they learn at home is also valuable at work and vice versa. These various characteristics that women bring, which I actually wrote about in the Female Advantage back in 1990. I think they're more accepted now. I know they are. And that that has served women well. And we need to recognize that part of the change that has happened, again in how we perceive excellence in terms of leadership, is the result of women's active participation and growing influence.
Julia Einfeldt (08:22):
That's cool. I appreciate the insight that you have seen a change over the course of your career. Like Troy mentioned earlier, I graduated college just a few months ago and I've not been in the workforce very long, and it's cool to know that there has been change happening. And I would also ask then, for somebody who is just starting out in their career, what advice would you give for somebody younger to not only be successful in a career, but also be a part of an active change in making the workforce more inclusive for everyone?
Sally Helgesen (08:54):
Well, I think that, and we'll get into this later when we're talking about rising together, but I think that trying to identify inclusive behaviors and practicing them is very powerful way of creating an inclusive culture. And if you find in the organization that you're part of that those are not being appreciated, then you'll probably have a pretty good idea that this is not an inclusive culture and you may want to look elsewhere because this will serve you very well. You know, the workforce is going ever more diverse. So organizations understand that they need to build inclusive cultures. It's not, you know, them trying to be nice people. It's them recognizing what they need to be able to motivate and engage today's workforce, so that will serve you well. And then I think the other two things are, number one, be very clear about what your strengths are, because that's a whole, being able to articulate what your contributions are, be very clear about that, and seek to gain an understanding.
Sally Helgesen (10:06):
And if you are not clear, you can ask for feedback. You know, I'm, I'm wondering what do you see as my real strengths? What do you see as the primary contributions you can ask people you work with? You can ask people you work for. You can ask clients and customers, you get a real idea of what your strengths are, and then find a way to articulate that, that you're comfortable with and rehearse it so that you become comfortable with it. They're also for feedback, you know, I've realized that one of my real strengths is helping people feel good about themselves. And this really motivates the people on my teams. And is that something that you think I demonstrate or make clear? You know, what are your impressions and then I'm trying to learn how to talk about that in a way that's really compelling and fresh, and here's what I've come up with. What do you think? Does that capture it? I know you can really use feedback very powerfully to begin to understand your strengths.
Julia Einfeldt (11:13):
I appreciate that. Thanks. Yeah, I, I like the point of asking for feedback. I do think sometimes it's a little difficult to just kind of sit and think oh, what am I good at? But there's nothing wrong with asking people for, for their feedback. I think that's helpful. Thank you.
Troy Blaser (11:27):
You know, one of the things that in rising together, you talk about informal enlistment, and that's really a key way to get feedback. I really liked that idea. It's kind of, you know, pulling someone aside prior to say a meeting and say, "Hey, I'm working on habit X", maybe it is that I go on too long about a point and I'm working to be more concise. So you pull someone aside prior to a meeting say, and, "could you just be on the lookout for, for that and gimme some feedback?" And Sally, you talked about all kinds of benefits that that informal enlistment has, not only for the person receiving feedback, but strengthening the connection between you and that person that you've enlisted. And I thought that was just a, a marvelous way to get some feedback on a particular thing that you're working on.
Sally Helgesen (12:13):
Yeah, there are a lot of ancillary benefits. First of all, you get a lot of ideas. Secondly, you're sort of informally enlisting another person in the service of your own development, your own leadership development, your own skill development. That's a big positive. It gives you a chance to expand your network of allies. You really, in however micro a way making that person your ally as you go into that room. Thirdly, you're more likely to be concise in that meeting if you've told someone going in that you intend to be concise, because you'll just look at them and it'll cue you to remember, "oh yeah, I'm, I'm trying to be more concise here". And then finally, you are advertising the fact that you're changing. And this is something that's really important because in organizations, uh, not so much in teams, because we work very closely with people, but in organizations we often acquire, I won't go so far to call it a, a reputation, but we get identified as something, "oh, she's the one who sits in the back of the room. She doesn't speak up." Well, we've been speaking up for six months. Uh, they just didn't notice because that's how they think of us. So when we're talking about this is something I'm doing, I'm working on speaking up in meetings more in sharing my responses, then people say, "oh, you know, I think I, I've noticed that she speaks up a lot more" because you told them that that's what you're doing. So tons of benefits.
Troy Blaser (13:57):
We talk about, people have a narrative in their minds about Troy, right? You know, if, if I work with you over time, you'll develop a narrative of your story about me. And like you say, if I'm visibly trying to make changes, that's the way that I can change the narrative that you have about me is if I'm telling you this is something that I'm working on. So we sort of have a motto or go-to motto is to receive feedback graciously and act on it visibly. That idea of sharing with people, here are the changes that I'm trying to make. So I appreciate sort of that little diversion into informal enlistment for just a minute. But going back to how women rise, are there habits in there or key points to keep in mind when giving feedback to someone or potentially when receiving feedback? Are there habits or advice you could give us about, about that?
Sally Helgesen (14:46):
Definitely. One of the things that's important to remember, and I make this point in the book but it's often lost, which is that every one of the habits in this book, and these are not bad habits, they're not characterological faults, they are simply habits that we've fallen into because we're trying to address a different situation or the experiences we've had. You know, we've been told, this happens to women a lot. You speak in a meeting and somebody goes, "well, you certainly got a lot of opinions" or you know, "well you are being a little aggressive in there" and really, you know, it's the first time I've spoken, but you know, we'll get that feedback. So we take it to heart and we incorporate it and act on it, and we expect others to notice. So that's why it happens, but it's not characterological. It becomes a habit that we're accustomed to.
Sally Helgesen (15:45):
And what's really important to remember is that every one of the habits, for example, in this book, is rooted in a strength. And I think that is a good point of departure when giving feedback, you want to acknowledge, you want to give a little thought so you don't sound like you're just, you know, trying to be nice before you give them the bad news. You give a little thought about why the, what's getting in their way or what's tripping them up, or a response that doesn't serve them that well. Why and exactly how that is rooted in a strength that you've seen them exhibit. And that is really helpful to people because then they kind of can see it as part of a whole. They don't have to like, "oh my bad", you know, which is meaningless. Uh, they don't have to feel that way. They can really understand. I see. Okay. Because I'm such a, an intense listener, I often default to listening because that's my comfort mode. That doesn't mean I shouldn't continue to work on my listening skills, which are an important part of my success or what has served me. It just means that I also want to be a little more active in sharing what my thoughts or responses are and making a real contribution to the general conversation.
Troy Blaser (17:21):
I love that. You know, one of the things I appreciated in how women rise was that you framed the habits as a, a rut that you might be falling into or a habit that you're falling into that you should try to get out of or stop doing, rather than here's a list of 12 things that you need to change to get better. Right? You didn't want us to read the book and come away with a longer to-do list. Rather read the book, come away with some behaviors that you can change and maybe lighten your load because you're not in these habits. You have been able to stop doing something. But I wanted to ask you, as you put the book together, did you find yourself doing some of those habits and was there one that was particularly difficult for you to stop doing to get out of that habit?
Sally Helgesen (18:04):
Oh, certainly the Perfection Trap, which has been something that has been with me for a very long time. I had also for years struggled with being able to articulate my achievements. I had to get over that at a certain point. And it's the kind of thing that women at a certain point in their career have usually their left behind. But the perfection trap, which is sort of one of the behaviors I call toxic at the top. The other is the disease to please, which fortunately I've been spared, but the perfection trap feeling that you're either doing a perfect job or you're failing. It's something that I found myself struggling with and it was especially important to think about ways to address it as I was working on the publicity for how women rise. Because if anybody doesn't have it, it's my co-author Marshall on that book.
Sally Helgesen (19:06):
I worked with Marshall because I've been influenced by his model on what got you here won't get you there. And had realized the extent to which the habits and behaviors he was focusing on applied very rarely to women. So I said, you know, let's do this together because it was his model, but let's focus on women. And he said, great, but he's not a person who gives himself a hard time kind of about anything. So working with him, that gives him a very relaxed and spontaneous presence on stage. Whereas I tend to, uh, place a lot of value on being hyper prepared. And that's good, you know, it's good to be prepared, but it can lessen your spontaneity. And really what I saw is it makes me more focused on myself than my audience, because I want to do it perfectly rather than, you know, "oh, I'm enjoying this change. This is, uh, oh, that's something I've never thought of. That's, uh, that's fascinating". I'm focused on being the expert on having the answers and delivering them in the best way possible. So I had to get over it. I had to work on that. But that's one of the habits that women often carry with them into the later stages of their career as well.
Troy Blaser (20:31):
I appreciate that. It seems like a lot of it is about finding a balance and not going to one extreme or the other. If you're talking about preparation, right. Not being hyper prepared, but also you have to have some idea of what, what you're gonna talk about. Right. There has to be some level of preparation there and finding that balance in the middle, I guess the Goldilocks approach, part of getting ready for this, I actually read the book and then I also listened to the audio book version of How Women Rise. I noticed the switching between chapters, right. Of a female narrator and a male narrator. Was that you and Marshall reading the book, or was that someone that was hired to read the book?
Sally Helgesen (21:14):
It was a very eccentric way they did it. Okay. This was the publisher's decision that they would hire a professional actor to read the initial chapter or two, and then it would be me and Marshall. So I did, I actually read about 65-70% of that book was me, and I had only done it once before. It's very tough. But I learned a lot. And the audio for Rising Together, I think I did a good job on. But yes, that's me and that's Marshall. It's funny you should say this, because when I finished the process, it was so hard and I felt like it was so bad because they go, "oh, that was a sibilant S you have to, it's very powerful, right?" And they keep doing it. "Oh, there was your, you know, plosive K or Plosive P again". So I said to my agent, I want it written into my contract next time that I'm not doing the recording. However, what I found was that all over the world, women would come up to me and say, I feel like I know you because I've been listening to you speak in my car. So I saw it was a real advantage. So I said, forget what I said.
Troy Blaser (22:32):
I'll be honest, I had similar thoughts as I was getting ready for today's conversation and reading the books and also listening to them, I thought, wow, this is really neat. I've never met Sally, but I feel a little bit like I know her. And I think hearing your voice read that does have something to do with that rather than just reading the, on the printed page. So that's an interesting point that you raised. Julia, I wanted to give you a chance, any other questions that you have as we kind of wrap up with How Women Rise. Anything else you wanted to say?
Julia Einfeldt (23:02):
Well, just to kind of piggyback off what you're saying, I also listened to the audiobook and appreciated that too. It feels maybe a little more personable and coming from a woman as well, it carries more weight than having a bunch of men tell you how to be a woman or whatever. So I very much appreciate that. And yeah, I just wanted to say that appreciate the work that you've done and what you were saying earlier about Marshall's model and kind of coming at it, "this doesn't super apply to women, so how can we go forward with that? How can we expand on this and make it apply to women as well?" I think is, I think is great. And it's been a helpful book for me, especially just barely starting out in my career, and this is making me wanna go read it again and, and some of your other works as well to kind of get some more ideas about how I can be more assertive and take charge of my career and my future a little better. So I just wanna say thank you.
Sally Helgesen (23:56):
Thank you, Julia. That was, I really appreciate what you just said.
Troy Blaser (23:59):
And Julia, I'll say, you know, I like your initial question about some of those feminine characteristics in the workplace, feminine habits, and so it makes me think, okay, if we're still doing this in 20 years, I wanna have you back on so you can tell us about the changes that you've seen starting from now and, and what the workplace is like in 20 years because of the influence that you and others like you have had. So I'm glad you joined us today, Julia.
Julia Einfeldt (24:25):
Thank you
Troy Blaser (24:26):
And thanks everyone for listening to this part of our conversation with Sally Helgesen. Today's episode was focused on her book, How Women Rise, but we had such a great time and had so much to talk about that we're going to save part of the conversation for our next episode. So in our next episode, we will discuss her most recent book Rising Together. If you're not already subscribed, please do so to be notified when that episode airs and join us then for another insightful conversation with Sally Helgesen.