How to get what you want in your professional career

women leadership
28 Sep 2021

How to get what you want in your professional career

Interviewee: Dr. Paul Vanderbroeck – Leadership Expert, “Maximizing Potential by Leveraging Difference”.

Interviewer: Lena Alnakhebi – Klass Academy

Dr. Vanderbroeck is an award-winning author, career and leadership coach, with an HR executive background at multinational companies like General Motors, Royal/Dutch Shell, George Fisher, and UBS.

Dr. Vanderbroeck has studied the history and theories of effective governance and has seen what really works and what doesn’t to produce quality leaders in complex organizations. He has a particular interest in how leaders and organizations interact most effectively and has a special affinity for Women Leaders, Career Transition, Performance, and Change Management.

He has joined Klass Academy presenting a Leadership for Women course. His half-a-day workshop entails stories and actionable steps on how women can be effective leaders.

LAWhy do you focus on gender balance and leadership?

PV: Many organisations in the past and still today recruit and select their talent and their leaders from a part of the talent pool. So, they do not leverage the entire collection of candidates. This is particularly the case for senior leaders. They hire and select talent from the “male half” and the other 50% – the “female half” is not being used. So that means, if you are an organisation that does that, you are not doing your best to get the best people to make you successful. If you were to do that, then you would select people from the complete talent pool.

I worked in HR, and later as a consultant and a coach. I have been working in three ways. On one hand, to help organisations to find and recruit the talent they were not using. Then, to help the individuals, meaning women, who want to have a career and be successful, particularly as leaders; to coach them into those positions. To grow my knowledge on what I am doing and to do it right, I’ve also been researching to see what works and what doesn’t work. I have written several articles and a book, which is called Leadership Strategy for Women. 

LA: Is there something that can inspire an individual, a man, to support the idea of women’s leadership? People are often ego-driven, so they look out for their self-interest. Will they encourage other people who are not doing so well and give them opportunities?

PV: I think that is where the key is. The “ego-driven”, as you said. From a selfish perspective, there is a reason to do that if you are a manager in an organisation, for example.

Organisations are not using the full talent pool. This means – if you, as a man, use that other candidate pool, which others leave aside, then there are a lot more people available for you than for others, making it much easier for you to compete for talent. 

Also, that talent, in this case, women, will be interested in working for you. Because they will say if I work for this person, my career will be better off than if I work with somebody else. So as a manager, as a male manager, so to speak, you become a talent magnet of exceptionally good people; and they will come to you. And that means you not only have diversity, but also a team filled with very good people, leading to you and your team being highly successful. You can imagine what that means for that manager’s career. And so, there is a very selfish reason if you do not want to do it for equality or politics or whatever. The very selfish reason is that as a manager, for your career success, you access that talent, which was set aside.

LA: Do you have any suggestions for how to change the culture of underpaying women? So where do we start?

PV: In many cases, women should be paid more than men.  We want more diversity and a more diverse organisation. Because statistically, if you have a diverse team, you have a more productive team.  If you are not a diverse team or not a diverse organisation, then the diversity you bring in is worth something. 

So often we pay people who do the same job differently because the one is 20 years older than the other. We think that is because of the value the older person brings; the experience, and perhaps the loyalty to the organization. If you pay people based on different attributes, then that should be the case with diversity as well. So, if an organisation wants more diversity, then pay those people who bring in diversity more than those who are already there.

LA: Imposter syndrome is about doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud and its disproportionality affects women. Why is this and how can it be changed?

PV: I know it is a very valid point, and it comes from both the person and the environment around. For me, it is about leadership cloning. What do we do?

We think there is only one leadership model, which we have seen working in the past. And that is based on men being successful in male-dominant organisations. But women are different. They can be as successful as men, and sometimes even more successful, but in a different way. If you do not realise this, you try to fit everybody into that single model and clone those leaders according to this model. Now, if you are different and try to fit that model, it makes sense that you feel like an imposter because you are. You will never be like the ones before you; you feel that, and others feel that too.

How can I be successful while being different? Use that difference to be successful. Be a successful leader in your way and create a different leadership model, which also works, and which is not the same as the ones before. Be your authentic self in the way you do leadership. That is more easily said than done, of course, but worth a try.

LA: You need courage to define a new way, which was not done before you – and to say; but this is a good way too and it is fine if I do it my way. It requires self-awareness too, right? Because “they” might do something else, but I am going to do it my way. And it is okay; I do not need to feel bad about it.

PV: Self-awareness, and particularly feedback. Feedback is especially important. Get as much as you can, formally and sometimes informally. So that you can see how what you do is being perceived. Then you can adjust it in a way that makes you feel successful.

LA: Who are you referring to when you say feedback? Who should women leaders and women turn to get that feedback from?

PV: There are formal ways. There is the performance appraisal or a 360-degree feedback instrument, where the people around you, colleagues, bosses, and so forth, fill in the questionnaire about how they see you. That is extremely helpful. You need, however, somebody to help you interpret the data to draw the right conclusions from it. Particularly as a woman, because there is also this risk that you are measured against a model that may not be fully yours.

Seek out informal feedback from the people around you. Your colleagues, your boss, etc. Ask questions. How did I do? What do you think about my behavior in this meeting? Do you feel that I am progressing, what do you think about our working relationship, how effective is it? 

And then, another possibility is to get a more senior person in your organization to mentor you. If you are in a male-majority organisation, it is beneficial to have a male mentor. Traditionally, men have leaned toward mentoring men, which reinforced the current state of more men than women in leadership roles, and we do not want that anymore.

This person will give you feedback, but also in general help you in how women are being perceived in that organisation. This will help you to calibrate how you work, and how you are being perceived, and help you shift if you need to. The goal is not to imitate men, but to adapt in a way that the results you want are being achieved. 

LA: Where can women learn more about leadership techniques if they look forward to improving themselves?

PV: Perhaps you are familiar with Harvard Business Review. They have a website. If you pay for it, you get access to everything. However, you do not need to pay for it. They always give you a few free articles per month. They have a regular stream of articles and podcasts and interviews around this topic, which can be helpful to get some information, particularly in this context of gender balance and diversity. 

LA: Measuring the Return on Investment in a person is much more difficult than let us say to measure the increase of the number of products produced per hour. So, when you do pieces of training and coaching, how do you measure success?

PV: In a one-on-one setting, I start with a good diagnosis of the situation, as well as the person. I will use some instruments as a personality test or a 360-degree evaluation. From there, I will set some clear objectives. It can be looking for a new job, get a promotion, etc. In the end, my client evaluates the results and by then, ideally, we achieved something meaningful, robust, and useful.  

In group training, particularly in Leadership for Women, we evaluate if the takeaways are interesting and applicable. More importantly, after some time, I get feedback from clients. That is where I think the effectiveness of training is being measured. The training was successful when the group has applied the knowledge and put it to use in their daily practice.

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